The Reproductive Rights Movement

Essay by iwantyourskullCollege, Undergraduate April 2006

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Much has been gained in the struggle for equality as a result of the Reproductive Rights Movement, and as we continue to fight our battles there is a great deal we have to look back and learn from. I believe that of these lessons, the biggest key to the success of a movement is based greatly on how inclusive it is. This message of inclusion is one that both Jennifer Nelson and Elizabeth Martinez expressed in their articles. Nelson used examples of the Black Panthers, YLP, CARASA, NMNG, and CESA to name a few who strived to make this lesson a policy. Since systems of oppression are interlocking it would be impossible, or at least unsuccessful to focus only on one oppression. I love the way Martinez put it the best when she wrote, " In other words, feminism must be anti-racist (since vast numbers of women suffer racism) and anti-racism must be feminist (since half of those suffering racism are women)," (Martinez, 183).

The Black Panthers found this to be true within their group, although it was basically inevitable, since power within the group shifted toward women leadership. In the beginning the " Black Panthers rejected all forms of reproductive control as genocidal for blacks," (Nelson, 102). This made sense since there was the racist thought that low income black women with children should get abortions while white women are to be discouraged from them . It was not until Elaine Brown took over the Black Panthers that feminism really began to be integrated into Black Panther politics. This was an important step in making the Black Panthers more inclusive to women of color, because they were being recognized for their struggles with racism as well as sexism. I think that the opposition that the women of the Black Panther movement faced from male authority figures before Brown took leadership may have discouraged any earlier forms of feminist activism, especially since the women's liberation movement had a very negative association to the Panthers since it was a predominantly white, middle-class oriented movement. In many ways, the women of the Black Panthers had to focus on different issues than this mainstream movement who made abortion and birth control their first priority.

Similarly, the Young Lords Party of New York integrated feminism into their politics through woman leadership. They too, distinguished themselves from mainstream feminism, having to focus on issues that white women did not have to worry about, such as sterilization. "Women in the Lords distinguished themselves from mainstream feminism, by stressing what they viewed as the absolute right of all women to have as many children as they wanted, to rid themselves of the poverty that could discourage childbearing and to end involuntary sterilization or any other form of coerced fertility control," (Nelson 119). These activists, could see this kind of racism not only at home but also in Puerto Rico, they recognized the governments false justifications that sterilization could help with over-population. The YLP rightfully believed that it was not up to the state to decrease their population but to rather provide a living wage for the poor.

Martinez also talked about the division within the women's reproductive movement, because of the exclusiveness of the mainstream struggle. "White feminism's biggest mistake was not working with poor, working class women. The problem isn't just racism on their part, it's also a middle class perspective, it includes a failure to study the lessons of history about white feminism's mistakes in relating to women of color," (Martinez 119). The mistake that Martinez is referring to is that the movement was so exclusive, it would have been much more affective in truly helping all women if it was more inclusive to all women, and the issues that concern them. This is where coalition politics play an important role, they are usually the way by which many different kinds of people are able to work together so that they can create a more inclusive atmosphere. CARASA was one coalition group that Nelson wrote about that strived to exemplify how the Women's Reproductive Rights Movement could include more than one group of women's issues. "CARASA members applied the terms reproductive rights/ reproductive freedom to a series of linked requirements that would provide a material context for reproductive decisions without coercion: they demanded welfare rights, subsidized childcare for low-income women, workplace safety, and an end to sterilization abuse," (Nelson, 137). When we are trying to bring down such a huge institution such as sexism, of course we need as many numbers as we can have to help us, and the only way we could possibly reach these numbers is if everyone feels they are being included.