Sparking a national defense of reproductive rights

Reproductive rights activists protest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on Oct. 3, 2021. PHOTO: Elias Holtz
Share with your friends


“There is a war on women in this country,” declared Martese Chism, R.N., a board member of National Nurses Organizing Committee, in a statement to an abortion rights rally in Naperville, Illinois on October 3. “We are demanding action to dismantle the racist, misogynistic, classist, and xenophobic systems that are actively harming our communities and our patients.” Chism’s urgency conveys the mood of all who mobilized nationally that day to fight for reproductive justice.

A spark is lit. In the summer of 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear a Mississippi challenge to Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973.

Radical Women (RW) immediately put out a national call for actions on October 3. The date signaled the start of the court’s term and is also a crucial day for feminists. On October 3, 1977, Rosie Jiménez became the first person to die from a back-alley abortion after the Hyde Amendment curtailed all federal funds for the procedure. The ban affects the millions of Medicaid recipients, military families, and Indian Health Service clients. Jiménez’s death exposes the deep tragedy when abortion is not freely available for all.

That message was at the heart of RW’s call for actions with the theme “Remember Rosie Jiménez: Reproductive Justice for All.” RW reached out to hundreds of women’s clinics, labor unions, feminists, and civil rights groups.

A band of dedicated grassroots activists and groups responded and came together to form the core of the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice, which adopted an expansive perspective and a plan for action. Their demands:

  •  Protect & expand Roe v. Wade; safe, legal abortion on demand without apology.
  •  Repeal the Hyde Amendment.
  •  Overturn state barriers to reproductive choices.
  •  Stop forced sterilization.
  •  No to caged kids, forced assimilation, & child welfare abuses.
  •  End medical & environmental racism; for universal healthcare.
  •  Defend queer & trans families.
  •  Guarantee medically sound sex education & affordable childcare.
  •  Uphold social progress with expanded voting rights & strong unions.

Fifty organizations endorsed the effort. There was crucial involvement of labor: 15 workers’ organizations and unions cosponsored. Over a dozen feminist groups signed on, including Sistersong, the pre-eminent reproductive rights advocate for women of color. Left and radical organizations, people of color groups, religious associations, and other community groups rounded out the list. The full list of endorsers is at ReproJusticeNow.org.

Actions were planned in 12 cities. The Bay Area boasted a “honk and wave” for abortion rights in Redwood City and a speak-out at the San Francisco Federal Building. Naperville and New York City held well-attended rallies that scored significant media attention. In Phoenix, a candlelight vigil drew out people’s personal stories.

Online forums were held in Los Angeles, with strong participation of feminist radicals of color, and Portland, Oregon, where a panel of unionists discussed labor’s stake in the battle. Seattle activists gathered at a Catholic cathedral and marched to the U.S. District Court to dramatize the slogan “Not the church! Not the state! Women will control their fate!”

Missing in action. Tellingly, most of the feminist/reproductive rights establishment was not present on October 3. Repeated attempts to collaborate met with silence. These groups seemed uninterested in building a movement that they did not control.

When the Supreme Court refused to block the vigilante-enforced anti-abortion Texas law, the Women’s March machine finally kicked into gear. But it did not join the organizing already underway. They instead called for national marches on the day before October 3.

Radical Women urged Women’s March organizers to work together around the intersectional demands of October 3. When this was ignored, RW encouraged people to support a full weekend for reproductive justice.

Fan the flames. Legal, free and accessible abortion is a survival issue for the poor and oppressed. The fight cannot be won without building a powerful militant movement that demands full reproductive justice. Polite moderation didn’t win Roe v. Wade, and won’t save it now.

It’s time to rock the boat. Radical Women and the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice urge people to come out on the streets on Wednesday, Dec. 1, when the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the Mississippi case. Watch for details at ReproJusticeNow.org.

This is only the start. Community groups can show the way, but they lack the massive mailing lists and bank accounts of the major feminist and reproductive rights groups. These national organizations, who say they represent everyone, must join with grass-roots groups to build for a gigantic march on Washington, DC. Or they have to get out of the way.

To build a movement takes ongoing work, with a democratically decided plan and meaningful program that represents the people most at risk. If newly inspired activists are deprived of a voice and just funneled into supporting the next ineffective Democratic Party contender, as happened after the initial massive Women’s Marches, it only leads to demoralization.

We can’t afford this. It has never been more urgent to harness people’s anger and push for full reproductive justice. This is no time for thinking small.

Email Helen Gilbert, National Radical Women Organizer, at RW.us@radicalwomen.org.

Share with your friends