(Ben Green) #1


As Democrats increasingly see women and
people of color as key to their 2020 strategy,
the leaders of the reproductive- justice move-
ment believe they can provide a model for how
to mobilize people across the country. “This is
a moment for a reckoning,” says Kimberly Inez
McGuire, the executive director of URGE: Unite
for Reproductive and Gender Equity, which fo-
cuses on mobilizing young reproductive- justice
advocates. “It’s not enough for our progressive
comrades to sit on the sidelines anymore.”

The reproducTive-jusTice movemenT
came into its own in June 1994, when a group of
mostly white women gathered at a conference
in Chicago to hear about the Clinton Adminis-
tration’s proposal for health care reform, which
de-emphasized reproductive health care in an at-
tempt to head off Republican criticism. The few
black women present were concerned. There was
little focus on health services like pre- and post-
natal care, fibroid screenings or STI tests, and
seemingly no understanding of how black wom-
en’s “choices” around parenthood and reproduc-
tive care were often constrained by things like
income, housing and the criminal-justice system.
So 12 black women leaders gathered in a hotel
room to discuss how to address these disparities.
The group called themselves the Women of
African Descent for Reproductive Justice and
bought full-page ads in the Washington Post and
Roll Call that featured over 800 signatures calling
for any health care reform package to include the
concerns of black women. Three years later, 16
organizations including black, Asian-American,
Latina and indigenous women got together to cre-
ate SisterSong, a collective devoted to the repro-
ductive and sexual health of women and gender-
nonconforming people of color, based in Atlanta.
Over the years, SisterSong and other
reproductive- justice groups have remained sepa-
rate from more mainstream reproductive- rights
groups. While they support each other’s work,
reproductive- justice leaders have sometimes felt
that the bigger organizations
wanted to collaborate
only when it was conve-
nient. “We have the lan-
guage, we have the con-
nections, and we know
how to talk to our peo-
ple,” Simpson says. “For a
long time it was very trans-
actional.” But in 2014, there was a shift. After a
New York Times story about reproductive- rights
groups expanding their “pro-choice” message did
not mention the efforts of reproductive- justice
advocates, Simpson, joined by other movement

“My campaign began with the notion that you
could center communities of color and you could
speak to the marginalized and the disadvan-
taged,” she says. “More importantly, you could
hand them the microphone.” By the end of her
talk, the room is on its feet again. Everyone must
help ensure that “justice becomes a verb in the
United States,” she says.
This mix of fury and joy, celebration and ac-
tion, defines the weekend at SisterSong’s bien-
nial Let’s Talk About Sex conference, which de-
spite its name is about much more than sex. It’s
a training institute, healing retreat, information-
sharing opportunity and 2020 strategy session
for people working to advance the cause of re-
productive justice. “My campaign was a love
song to SisterSong,” Abrams says in her speech.
Reproductive justice, unlike the more main-
stream phrasing reproductive rights, goes be-
yond contraception, abortion access and the
idea of being “pro-choice.” According to the
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Jus-
tice Collective, it’s “the human right to main-
tain personal bodily autonomy, have children,
not have children, and parent the children we
have in safe and sustainable communities.” The
framework demands consideration of all the
ways reproductive health can be affected by
other factors, from race, religion or sexual ori-
entation to financial, immigration or disability
status to environmental conditions. “It’s about
liberation,” says SisterSong executive director
Monica Simpson, “and it’s about dismantling
systems of oppression that make our lives hard
in this country but also that make it impossible
for us to have the access and the choices that
we want to have.”
While women’s-health groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL
attract the most national attention, today’s po-
litical climate, the country’s changing demo-
graphics and a growing recognition of the im-
portance of women of color to progressive
politics have combined to put new focus on
the work and ideology of reproductive jus-
tice. In recent years, groups committed to
this work have added chapters and attracted
new volunteers and donors. And in June, Sister-
Song became the named plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging Georgia’s
new law prohibiting abortion once cardiac activity from a fetal pole
is detectable— sometimes known as a “heartbeat” ban. It was the first
time the group has gotten involved in such a high-profile lawsuit, and it
catapulted SisterSong into the spotlight.


SisterSong’s Danielle
Rodriguez, Monica Simpson
and Christian Adams
in Orlando on Nov. 16







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