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Protecting (+ Fighting for) Reproductive Health Access Starts Today

26 Aug 2021

By Deja Foxx, she/her

I can’t be the only one who feels like I’ve been waking up every day to a new headline spelling out the death of Roe v. Wade and the end of legal abortion in this country. From Tennessee's 48-hour waiting period to Mississippi’s ban after 15 weeks to Texas’ bounty and the looming Supreme Court case, the doom articles not only are endless and scary but frankly make me feel really helpless. 

These battles over our bodies are being waged in courts at every level meaning that they’re shrouded in processes and obscured by legal jargon. Not to mention that state-by-state legislation makes understanding what is going on at local and national levels and the implications on our daily lives even more confusing. With nearly 600 new laws introduced in 47 states this year alone, a historic number, it makes sense that none of this makes sense. So if you’re feeling lost, know that you’re not alone—and it’s by design. If you want to check on what is going on in your state this is a great place to start.

But if you feel this is the first time abortion is facing a credible threat, I want you to pause. Because though abortion is still legal and constitutionally protected for everyone in this country, who has access to it is a very different picture. Let’s be very clear: a lack of access to abortion and so many other necessary reproductive health services has been the everyday reality for millions of people, particularly low-income BIWOC, long before we were seeing headlines about the courts every morning. Quietly and insidiously, access for the most marginalized has been the target. This isn’t a new threat. The only thing that is new is the boldness of the agenda to target even the most privileged among us. 

So while we absolutely have to continue to fight to keep abortion safe and legal, it’s not the only front in the fight for reproductive justice, and regardless of the outcome in the courts, we can’t stop there. Sister Song, a Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective formed in 1997 that coined the framework defines, reproductive justice as, “The human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” A core tenet of this movement is that reproductive justice is “about access, not choice.” 

But now you might be wondering: what’s the difference? If it’s legal, doesn't that mean it’s accessible? Nope! Legality is just one piece in the fight for access. Let’s take birth control for example. As of 2021, Power to Decide found that “more than 19 million women of reproductive age living in the US are in need of publicly-funded contraception and live in contraceptive deserts.” That means they “lack reasonable access in their county to a health center that offers the full range of contraceptive methods.” 

This physical barrier is then compounded with questions like, even if they find a clinic at a reasonable distance offering their preferred method, will they have transportation to get there? Will they be able to get child care or time off of work if they have to travel for an extended period? When they get there, will there be gender-affirming and culturally competent care available to them? What will be covered and can they afford it? 

With uncertainty at an all-time high in the courts surrounding choice, I want to put forward a call to action to refocus on these everyday uncertainties. Because as Sister Song states, “There is no choice where there is no access.”  

I got my start in this movement when at 15 years old, I experienced hidden homelessness, meaning that I didn’t have a home of my own. I saw firsthand how the sex education in my Arizona school district was built to disadvantage students like me—and I got active. I started going to local school board meetings and telling my personal story to push my elected officials to make change and bringing my friends along to do the same. At 16, I went on to hold elected leaders to account as they threatened my access to birth control. You can listen to a viral clip from that town hall here. And at 17, I helped to co-found the El Rio Reproductive Health Access Project. 

Our fight for a pro-choice country doesn’t start when the Supreme Court begins hearing this Roe v. Wade-deciding case in October. Our fight starts today. We have the power to advocate for access to abortion, contraception, sex education, and so much more right now in our local communities and across the country. 

So, let’s put aside the headlines and reframe this conversation. A country without abortion access isn’t a future possibility. it is a current reality for millions of people. This fight can’t wait—and you have a role to play. 

Written by Deja Foxx for Youth To The People. For more from Deja, listen to this episode of To The People podcast, watch her Beautiful People video, or read her writing here.
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