Five minutes is not a lot of time, but as a Black woman, when you have an opportunity to advocate for your sisters before members of Congress, you make it work.
Today I had the privilege of testifying to members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The members convened a hearing to examine state efforts to undermine access to reproductive health care. Other participants included Fatima Goss Graves, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Women’s Law Center and Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Chief Medical Officer, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, and Jennifer Box of St. Louis Missouri.
My remarks addressed how the lack of access to abortion and other reproductive health care services impacts Black, Latinx, Asian American Pacific Islander, and Native and Indigenous women, transgender and gender non-binary people, LGBTQ people, low income individuals, people in rural communities, disabled individuals, youth, and immigrants.
Here’s what I had to say.
“Acting Chairwoman Maloney, Ranking Member Jordan and honorable members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing. I would like to take a moment, first, to mourn the passing of Chairman Cummings, a fearless champion for human and civil rights. We promise to pick up his mantle and continue his fight for universal justice.
“I am Marcela Howell, Founder and President of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, a national/state partnership with eight Black women’s Reproductive Justice organizations: Black Women for Wellness, Black Women’s Health Imperative, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, SisterLove, Inc., SisterReach, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW!, The Afiya Center, and Women With A Vision.
“Reproductive Justice is the human right to control our bodies, our sexuality, our gender, our work and our reproduction. That right can only be achieved when all people have the complete economic, social, political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, our families, and our communities in all areas of our lives. This includes the right to choose if, when, and how to start a family. When it comes to abortion, we focus specifically on access rather than rights, asserting that the legal right to abortion is meaningless for pregnant people when they cannot access such care due to the cost, the distance to the nearest provider, or other obstacles.
“Across the country, we are faced with an ever-complicated wave of abortion restrictions that continue to compound already existing barriers, making access to quality abortion care a privilege for the few rather than a human right for all.
“After the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court victory was immediately undermined and invalidated for people with low incomes with the passage of the Hyde Amendment. As the Guttmacher Institute notes, “because of social and economic inequality linked to systemic racism and discrimination, women of color are disproportionately likely to be insured through MEDICAID” — therefore subject to the Hyde Amendment’s cruel ban on insurance coverage of abortion. The decision of when and how to have a family or start or grow a family is a decision that should only be made by a pregnant person and those they trust, not politicians.
“Over the last decade, abortion access in the U.S. has become increasingly fraught with restrictive laws. Such abortion restrictions include everything from parental consent laws for individuals under 18, often coercive mandated counseling, mandated waiting periods, and unnecessary and burdensome regulations on providers and clinics. This web of restrictions and bans has ultimately created an unjust landscape.
“As the country grapples with a maternal mortality crisis, one that disproportionately impacts Black women, research has found that the states with higher numbers of abortion restrictions are the exact same states that have poorer maternal health outcomes. That is no coincidence.
“Reproductive Justice is Economic Justice. One reason people choose to have abortions is because of the significant expense of having and raising another child, given that many are already parents.
“We cannot afford to endure another abortion ban because we are already battling discrimination in healthcare, wages too low to put food on the table, debilitating childcare costs, attacks on immigrants, and threats to our voting rights. These issues cannot be separated or siloed. Together, they are an attack on our ability to live with full agency over our lives and to raise our children with dignity.
“I thank the committee for its dedication to addressing these issues through a lens of justice and equity and centering the valued lived experiences of marginalized communities, including Black, Latinx, Asian American Pacific Islander, and Native and Indigenous women, transgender and gender non-binary people, LGBTQ people, people with low income, people in rural communities, people with disabilities, youth, and immigrants. I explicitly name us all because all of our struggles are tied together and many of us live at the margins of multiple oppressed identities. I urge the committee to address these abortion restrictions with urgency, as we collectively work towards bodily autonomy and a world where full Reproductive Justice can be actualized. In Our Own Voice stands ready to work with the committee to make this vision a reality.”
Here’s a copy of my written testimony which includes statements from some of our partner organizations.