Fighting Not Just For Rights, But Also for Justice

Fighting Not Just For Rights, But Also for Justice

Reverend DL Helfer minister of UUCSC

We’ve all witnessed it – state after state restricts access to birth control and abortion, and undermine other hard-won and rightful reproductive freedoms. Much of the South and some Midwestern states are implementing draconian policies without consideration for the impact on women’s health or self-determination. A few, mostly coastal or traditionally more progressive states, are opting instead to legislate proactively to protect these rights. Here in Rhode Island, we're fighting hard to enshrine the current level of access to abortion, one already not sufficiently inclusive.

 Even that is beginning to feel like a fight we might not win, a terrifying thought as the Supreme Court seems ready to chip away, if not entirely overturn, the rights achieved in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

 It seems both terrifying and inconceivable to find ourselves here, again. However, we are. So, the question becomes, what will be different this time?

 I’ve heard my mom’s generation reflect with regret of their fight for women’s rights; a battle sought by and for white women, primarily.  The argument was as it has been so many other times – “let us win our rights, and from there, we can help you with yours.” Black women most, Latinx women, Indigenous women, transgender individuals, and more – this was not legislation by or for them. Which meant that their rights were achieved years later, if at all.

 This time, we are learning from those grave mistakes.

 We’re fighting this time more intersectionally. Many organizations have worked towards building a more inclusive movement ensuring that women of color and young people, folks from different socioeconomic backgrounds and religious experiences are not just at the table, but leading and empowered to develop and implement a strategy.  This time we are more explicit about whose voices must be heard and whose lives are most threatened: poor women, women of color, trans* and non-binary folx.

 As we fight for the future, this is what is guiding us.

 We know that unless Medicaid covers abortions, for example, many people will be unable to afford care even after we protect and affirm the right. Reproductive justice includes the right to parent and to give birth with dignity.  We must ensure people can obtain pre- and post-natal services, care for postpartum depression, access to doulas and other birthing coaches, and the full range of care for maternal health. Women of color and young women are far more likely to experience complications and even die in childbirth. These are problems that can be fixed with affordable access to services and supports. All that and more has been at least considered in the RI legislature this year.

 This fight isn’t only about access, but also about justice. Not the kind of justice that says we all deserve equality, but the type that recognizes those most impacted must be the ones whose voices are heard, and that looks at the very real systemic barriers that get in the way of realizing our rights and liberation.  This is what we are fighting for.