Feminism in Real Time: Reproductive Justice

Author and Visionary Amy Richards gives us a glimpse of the New York-based event “Feminist Camp”, a week long immersion in which women and girls have a chance to intimately explore the realities of religion, incarceration, media, philanthropy and, of course, reproductive justice. At this biannual event, participants confront their own beliefs and assumptions related to critical issues in reproductive health such as abortion, C-Section, and the vast disparities in birth outcomes among women from different racial or socioeconomic backgrounds. Here she shares inspiring stories, along with links to some fantastic organizations we should all know about.

Twice annually I have the privilege of hosting Feminist Camp. Taking place all around New York City, this is a week-long immersion in feminism created by Soapbox, dubbed the source for feminism today, which myself and Jennifer Baumgardner founded nearly a dozen years ago. Primarily targeting college and graduate students, the hope is that the week helps participants discover ways to put their feminist rigor and ideals into practice. Each day of the week focuses on a different theme—religion, incarceration, media, philanthropy and of course reproductive justice, which along with sexual assault, might be the primary staple in contemporary women’s studies.

What makes this week unique is that it is feminism in real time; a time to push past the theoretical and into reality. Someone might fiercely believe in a “woman’s right to choose,” but what does that mean when they have to confront late term abortions, an exorbitant C-section rate in the United States or an incarcerated mother who was prosecuted for committing a horrific crime? Luckily, the participants get to grapple with these issues in a supportive environment of more than a dozen of their peers, including the gracious hosts. While understanding and underscoring the complexities of some of these issues, the professionals we meet with are firm that a woman’s right to choose (anything) is undeniably hers.

Be it in meetings with National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Choices in Childbirth or with the creators of Mothers of Bedford, a provocative documentary about life inside one of the most well-known women’s maximum security correctional facilities, participants come into  direct contact with those who are ushering forward a reproductive justice framework that far outpaces a reproductive frame from eons ago. Specifically, the work these organizations do illuminates the intersection of so many issues – poverty, race, legal injustice, and gender. One of the most exciting meetings the students always engage in is with the Doula Project, an organization providing support to women during their abortion procedures. What is so profound about this day is the experience of the women saying “yes” in a society attempting to make women deferential.

Participants leave challenged and yet more established than ever in their feminist values – precisely because they had them tested. While the focus might be “the rising rates of C-section,” what they take away is that women are distrusted and their choices are challenged, especially when it comes to those who are developing or raising children. Guised as “we want the best for you,” what is often revealed by the hard work of these organizations is the translation of the message  “women can’t take care of themselves, so society must intervene”. Be it laws, societal inclination, insecurities or intimidation, women are rarely allowed to be in control of their own destiny, despite any Hallmark-esque sayings to the contrary.

By the end of the week students also have learned to experience each session as a collective and weave together the threads of the overall experience. For instance, one host told us about one women’s prison that had a C-section rate well-above 50 percent. Many women were opting for C-sections because of prison rules that allowed them more time with their babies, compared to those who delivered vaginally. After a year of working with midwives who better informed them about the different birth options and simultaneously lobbied to change these unnecessary disparities, the C-section rate dropped to 3 percent. The day after hearing these statistics, some participants watched The Business of Being Born and reaffirmed what they had learned the night before; women are being manipulated to assume that a well-financed medical establishment knows more about their bodies than they could ever know.

During our most recent session I had two particularly illuminating experiences. One was sitting with a group at the Reproductive Health Access Project, where we shared stories of living outside of the United States and of counseling friends from religiously extreme families and I was again reminded that as much as reproduction might be a science, we can not ignore the human rights of the women they depend upon.

While I was waiting for this session to begin, I stood bundled and cloaked on a cold rainy day and ran into one of our “campers,” Katrina, from three sessions before. Just as I remembered her, she was bubbling with energy and enthusiasm for all things feminist, and happy to report to me that, one year out of college, she had become a Prenatal Coordinator and Full Spectrum Doula. We certainly don’t run the camp expecting converts, but nothing is more exciting than seeing someone put their values into practice.

As much as this week is designed for others, as I’m just the guide, it’s also an annual reminder to take myself out of my comfort zone, to listen and learn.

Amy Richards is the author of Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself and presently overseeing educational outreach at MAKERS: Women Making America. In addition to creating Soapbox, she is also the founder of the Third Wave Foundation and a founding board member of Sadie Nash Leadership Project, Feminist.com and Chicken & Egg Pictures.

What is Reproductive Justice?

The reproductive justice movement is a transformational approach to advancing reproductive freedom and women’s rights in the U.S. It addresses the full spectrum of reproductive issues that impact women’s lives: including the right to access reproductive health information and care; bear and parent children; receive treatment rather than incarceration for substance abuse; access a safe and legal abortion; live free from violence; and live and work in an environment free of reproductive toxins.

Source: Groundswell

Other organizations doing great work on Reproductive Justice:

  • Sister Song: The mission of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective is to amplify and strengthen the collective voices of Indigenous women and women of color to ensure reproductive justice through securing human rights.
  • Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice: ACRJ promotes and protects reproductive justice through organizing, building leadership capacity, developing alliances and education to achieve community and systemic change.
  • Groundswell: Groundswell supports a stronger, more effective U.S. movement for reproductive justice by mobilizing new funding and capacity building resources to grassroots organizing and policy change efforts led by low income women, women of color and transgender people.