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January Is a Month to Recommit to the Struggle for Reproductive Justice

Opinion:”We have come a long way. We’ve made gains against impossible odds. We have much to celebrate and much more to do.”
by Marcela Howell, January 16, 2018

With the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade—the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion—and the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March quickly approaching, this is a good time to reflect on the state of women’s rights and the lessons we’ve learned over the last year.

We started 2017 with women and activists putting Trump on notice as the Women’s March crowds amassed almost 4 million people just in the U. S. The power of the Women’s March continued to fuel activism in 2017, eventually resulting in tide-turning electoral victories.

Black women voters were responsible for the race-gender gap that propelled Democratic candidate Ralph Northam to victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race against Trump-backed Ed Gillespie. Black women voters turned out in larger than expected numbers to support Doug Jones in his victory against a staunch conservative backed by the president in Alabama.

Black women leaders, combating the heightened threats of racism and sexism in the current climate, have defined and led the last year of resistance. Progress has been made. The #MeToo campaign has had an earthshaking impact on many industries and promises to result in new accountability around sexual harassment and abuse. Tarana Burke, a Black woman who started the #MeToo campaign nearly two decades ago, is finally being recognized for her role in raising this issue. Elected officials like California’s Sen. Kamala Harris and Reps. Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee are among the most outspoken leaders in the fight against Trump’s policies in Congress.

We have come a long way. We’ve made gains against impossible odds. We have much to celebrate and much more to do.

The dual oppression of gender and race continues to create huge gaps in social and economic equality that are especially heightened by the policy agenda of the Trump administration. According to recent polling of Black adults nationally, only 18 percent believe it is a “good time” to be a Black woman in America and a large majority (75%) of Black women are “worried” about life under a Trump Administration.

Even after 45 years of having abortion legalized in America, Black women continue to be systematically denied the resources, services and information they need to make reproductive health decisions. For many Black women, having the legal right to abortion and birth control is meaningless without the ability to access reproductive health care. The comprehensive report, Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Voices: The State of Black Women and Reproductive Justice, reminds us that in “just the first three months of 2017 alone, legislators introduced 1,053 provisions related to reproductive health.” Enemies of women’s rights and health are more determined than ever to enact new restrictions on abortion and birth control. Following the passage of the huge tax break for rich people and big business, Rep. Ryan promised that Congress would begin work on dismantling the social safety net programs that women in poverty count on to raise their children.

Ensuring that all women have access to the full range of reproductive health and family planning services, including abortion and birth control, is a fundamental step toward complete bodily autonomy and the ability to lead healthy lives. Black women led the resistance last year. In 2018, we have to continue to lead the fight.

Too often, Black women’s work and leadership are not acknowledged. For example, Oprah Winfrey gave a powerful speech at the last Golden Globes Awards, calling Hollywood and the nation to continue to take action to end the sexual harassment and abuse. The immediate social media response of #Oprah2020 highlights the tremendous power of Black women’s leadership and signals that the country may be ready for a Black woman president.

Almost as quickly, we saw a backlash against her, with people questioning Winfrey’s qualifications. Sen. Kamala Harris faced the same premature criticism because of rumors of her possible presidential bid. Clearly, these two women are more qualified than the sitting president. Yet, the double oppression of racism and sexism spurred a lot of “progressive” or “liberal” white people to suggest that neither of these Black women should run.

Despite continued resistance to Black women candidates, the country constantly looks to Black women to save the day — as the most progressive voting block. We saw this with the #ThankBlackWomen social media trend following the outcome of the Alabama special election.

Stop thanking us and start supporting us. Start voting for us. Start funding our campaigns.

Black women are not here to be handmaids for progressive movements. Yes, Black women vote “right.” But we lead even better.

Marcela Howell is the founder and executive director of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.

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