Shira Carmen Aji
Progressing from Pro-Choice to Pro-Choices
Dealing with the Fear That the Revocation of Roe vs. Wade Has Caused
In the current climate, with Roe vs. Wade having been revoked, it seems integral to address what exactly reproductive rights are and how broad of a field they truly affect. Typically, when we think of reproductive rights, we automatically go to abortion and the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate. But what we are forgetting is that the woman's right to choose what she does with her body transcends the question of abortion and touches on every aspect of life and birth. We must collectively look beyond the idea and the slogan of pro-choice and begin thinking more broadly and gearing toward pro-choices. Abortion isn't the only reproductive decision women face that has been illegalized, nor the only reproductive choice that has been stripped from us.
What am I talking about, you ask?
I'm talking about birth control, forced sterilization, eugenics, birth, pregnancy, and even about rape and domestic violence. I’m talking about every aspect of life in which our decision of whether to have children or not, and how, is taken from us and put in the hands of someone else. When our right to choose is taken away, when we are deprived of agency over our own choice to procreate, it doesn't stop at whether we are "allowed" to abort or not. Do we truly have the choice of how we give birth or whether we can or not? Every day women are coerced into pregnancy and birth interventions, while others are forced to take birth control or even sterilized unwillingly because the court has ruled that they are unfit to be mothers. On the other hand, many women are denied access to birth control and
forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to full term. What gives the court the right to decide whether any one of us cannot be parents or should be forced into becoming parents? The United States of America has a long history of eugenics and of committing forced sterilizations on Indigenous people, Black people, Latina women, incarcerated people, and people with physical disabilities, neurodivergence, or mental disorders. The practices of forced sterilization and forcing women to insert unwanted IUDs are still happening today in the prison system, in detention centers, and to people considered “unfit” by the court and placed in conservatorships.
It doesn't stop there. If, when, and how we conceive, and where, when, and how we birth are reproductive rights that will constantly be denied to us as long as we allow them to be.
As explained by Rebecca Kluchin in the book Fit to Be Tied: Sterilization and Reproductive Rights in America, 1950-1980, "American reproductive policy has historically rested on a central tenet: women cannot be trusted to govern their bodies "responsibly." Through bans on birth control, the criminalization of abortion, and the passage of eugenic sterilization laws, policymakers (lawmakers and judges) sought to substitute their politics and social goals for women's own and to reproduce citizens and a society that reﬂected the values and power of the dominant group, mainly white middle-class men. The notion that women could not be trusted to govern their reproduction dates back to the beginning of the Republic, when women lacked basic citizenship rights and were seen as incapable of equality solely on the basis of their sex. This distrust of women shifted over time, but never fully ended, even with the legalization of birth control and abortion in the 1960s and 1970s. Roe v. Wade, for example, requires that the decision to terminate a pregnancy must be made by a woman and her doctor, rather than a woman alone. Contemporary restrictions on abortion like mandatory waiting periods and parental consent laws function to deprive women (and girls) of the fundamental right to make independent decisions about their bodies and their reproduction. Forced sterilization and the age/parity policies operated in the same manner. They replaced women's self-determination with the will and the politics of physicians, social workers, and hospital administrators."
Kluchin expertly explains the inherent connection between anti-abortion policies and forced sterilization. I would like to add pregnancy and birth themselves to this debate. A woman's right to choose shouldn't end with whether she can decide to have a child or not. It should continue to the terms of how she wishes to do so. Laws criminalizing homebirth and freestanding birthing centers impair the woman's right to choose. Laws allowing doctors to perform caesarian sections and labor inductions without the consent of the birthing woman, under the guise of acting in her best interest, impair and assume that women are irrational and cannot make educated choices for themselves. Laws preventing doctors from performing abortions and necessary miscarriage procedures put women at risk. These practices are essentially an updated 21st-century version of the stereotypes relating to female sentimentality and hysteria. Around the world, women are losing the autonomy that generations of their foremothers have worked so hard to gain, and medical caregivers are being punished and criminalized for offering women the opportunity to choose whether or how they wish to bring children into the world.
These laws restricting our options put us at risk physically, mentally, and emotionally. Many people are already choosing to birth or perform abortions at home, unassisted. If done properly these acts can be empowering, but things can go wrong and when they do, we must have access to lifesaving medical care. We must be able to receive such care without risking legal repercussions.
As expressed by the legendary Ruth Bader Ginsberg, "The emphasis must be not on the right to abortion but on the right to privacy and reproductive control." Separating debates about abortion from the broader array of the woman's right to choose her reproductive and sexual preferences minimizes the issue. As does separating women’s rights from human rights. It makes abortion seem like a right-wing vs. left-wing problem, or a male vs. female problem, or the fault and problem of specific women in crisis, who are often painted as immoral or irresponsible by the media.
But that's just it- abortion is not divorced from all other human rights relating to what we choose to do with our bodies. It’s intrinsically connected to LGBTQIA+ rights, Black rights, Latina Rights, Indigenous Rights, the fundamental injustices committed on incarcerated and detained peoples, the class divide, and to the history of government intervention on the bodies of everyone and anyone who didn’t have the money, status, gender, skin color, or choice to say no.
Both in the case of access to abortion and birth control, and in the case of access to home birth and natural birth options, there is a societal divide. Women of color are disproportionately less likely to have access to options, as are low-income people. There is a direct correlation between the right to control our own reproduction and America’s tradition of controlling, enslaving, and experimenting on human beings.
Sadly, revoking abortion care has awoken deep-seated fears in the United States for people across society. These fears, like the issue itself, aren’t only abortion-related. They touch on and ooze into every part of our lives as human beings who seek agency and sovereignty over our own bodies. These problems aren’t new, they have been here all along, but now is a good time to address them and begin taking action to change them.
It's frightening for people who fear that one day they may need an abortion for any reason, it's frightening for people who have had abortions in the past, and it's frightening for women who've been fighting for their rights their whole lives, only to see their hard work erased and the generations they fought for at risk. It’s frightening to think one could be raped, it’s frightening to report having been raped, and it’s frightening to think that one could be prosecuted for having an abortion after being subjected to rape. It’s frightening to think that women may suffer worse legal repercussions for having an abortion than their rapists will. It’s frightening to know how common unnecessary obstetric intervention is in hospitals. It’s frightening to be a homebirth midwife without insurance or backup. It’s frightening to birth at home without skilled assistance.
But it's more than that. It's also frightening for women who fear that they may one day have a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy and require a lifesaving procedure because guess what?
Medical professionals are scared too. Scared to cross the line between saving a life and breaking the law, scared to be prosecuted for aiding and abetting. Scared of intervening with a foetus because of new regulations and scared of not intervening enough at birth because of lawsuits.
In the future, there may very well be broader medical repercussions. Medical residents in states where abortion has been outlawed may very well stop being taught how to perform abortions, putting women going through life-threatening miscarriages at risk. Statistically, up to 26 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. This means that 1 in 4 pregnancies will require some medical assistance. If doctors are too scared to help and perform the necessary medical procedures, where does that leave us?
Miscarriage care and abortion care are incredibly similar. Often, the exact medicine or procedures used to help women pass miscarriages are the same medicine or procedures used in abortion.If medical professionals aren't taught these skills, how will they save lives?
How can we call attention to the fears posed by the revocation of Roe v. Wade and the fears that are so common in regards to all reproductive rights without contributing and adding to these fears? How can we deal with these fears? How can we overcome them?
We must remember to take a pause, be present in the moment, manage our fear and our frustration so that it doesn't consume us. We must direct it where it needs to go and learn how to overcome and work through it.
In the past, these laws and regulations were changed for one reason and one reason alone- because people stopped agreeing to them and went elsewhere, to places where they maintained autonomy over their bodies and their choices, because people fought to change their reality.
The struggles to abort, to miscarry safely, to birth without intervention, to birth at home, to birth at a natural birthing center, to birth with a midwife, to birth naturally, to birth at all, and how we choose to, is all the same struggle. It all comes down to having autonomy over our bodies and having the right to choose.
Remember. Change starts with each individual person's decision to act and take control of their own life.
On the practical level, we must continue to fight for our rights, to regain them, and make sure that they can never be revoked again. We must demand that people will receive care without having to face legal repercussions. We must ensure that medical professionals learn, practice, and perform lifesaving procedures without needing to fear prosecution.
When all else fails, we must educate ourselves properly on how to care for ourselves without putting ourselves at risk. Knowledge is power, or as B.B. King once said, “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”
Here are some resources that can help us learn more about what’s going on and give us the knowledge to change and overcome –
(Please message us with more resources to add to this list and let us know about any need for clarification)
Learn about sexual and reproductive health and rights from The Guttmacher Institute
Check out the Center for Reproductive Right’s list of resources
Check out the ACLU’s list of resources
Download Natural Liberty by the Sage-Femme Collective
Learn about the Fertility Awareness Method
Listen to a Podcast about miscarriage, abortion, and the legal gray area for doctors
Listen to a Podcast about Black Women’s experience with forced sterilization and fight for reproductive justice
Learn about the history of forced sterilization in America
Learn about the history of American eugenics
Learn about sterilization and reproductive rights
Contact Women on Waves to access to safe abortion methods
Gain access to home abortion pills
Learn about Pre-Roe v. Wade America
Learn about the intersections between reproductive freedom and violence against women
Learn about government interventions in reproductive decision making
Understand why Roe v. Wade's revocation disproportionately hurts Black women
Learn about unlawful sterilization on inmates in California
Read about how medical students aren’t being trained in abortion procedures
Read about how revoking Roe can impact miscarriage care
Read about the fight against America’s legacy of forced sterilization
Read about racial solidarity and abortion rights
Understand why Roe v. Wade is a voting rights issue