March 30, 2010

Stories relevant to the fight for reproductive justice

Posted in Feminism, Human rights, Reproduction at 4:57 pm by The Lizard Queen

It’s often the case that when people talk about reproductive freedom or reproductive justice, the conversation centers around abortion access.  And don’t get me wrong, that’s an important conversation to have, particularly in this age of anti-choice concessions.  To that end, then, I wanted to highlight this story I came across today (via Two Women Blogging), written by Bridget Potter, titled Lucky Girl.  She details her experience with an unwanted pregnancy and illegal abortion in 1962.  A brief excerpt:

Michael was Roman Catholic and at twenty-two was willing to get married but unenthusiastic. We could, he supposed, live with his parents in the Bronx. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My upper-class English parents would have been appalled and, I was sure, unsupportive. Confused, ashamed, scared, and sad, I decided to try to get an abortion.

Try was the operative word. I asked the gynecologist for advice. He told me that the law prohibited him from helping me in any way but he offered to check me later for infection. The idea of infection alarmed me but I thought his gesture was nice.

Potter’s story, alongside the statistics she cites, is an excellent illustration of the importance of keeping abortion legal.  It is not just for women who do not wish to bear children to be forced to do so.  Also important in the struggle for reproductive justice, though, is the idea that women who do wish to bear children, or who might wish to bear children someday, should not be forced not to.  The tragedy and injustice of involuntary sterilization is something we need to be talking about, too, and so I wanted to highlight an excellent article (heartbreaking, but excellent) published on Indyweek.com last week that tells the stories of several survivors of North Carolina’s mid-20th-century eugenics program.  (Hat tip to Feministing.)  Here is a brief part of Elaine Riddick’s story:

Elaine was 14 when she gave birth to what was to be her only child, a son, in 1968 at Chowan Hospital in Edenton. She doesn’t remember much about her hospital visit, but she was told that she almost died and had to stay in the hospital a week longer than her son.

For the next few years, Elaine says she remembers having frequent stomach pain and hemorrhaging so severe that at 16 she was admitted to a hospital. The doctor gave her little information, but she remembers he remarked that she’d been “butchered.”

These stories are important.  Some folks are horrifyingly quick to decide that certain people, people society deems less valuable for any number of reasons, shouldn’t have children.  (Here’s an example from less than two years ago.)  But those people deserve the freedom to procreate (or not, should they so choose) as much as anyone else does.  They deserve justice.

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