Reproductive justice: It takes a global movement

Radical Women in action! The group led a decade-long defence of the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne. Photo by Debbie Brennan.
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“Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide,” the demand of women throughout the world, keeps getting angrier. Access to abortion, childcare and housing, equal pay, safety from violence, a world without war, and an unpolluted environment are some of the yardsticks measuring the distance to reproductive freedom.

“Reproductive justice” is a term coined by African American women in 1994 to express all that women need to make genuine choices about if or when to have children and how to raise them. And women have never stopped fighting for it.

Reproductive rights is a tug of war. What women win, the patriarchal system pulls back. For example, Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which legalised abortion across the U.S., has been gnawed back, state by state, to a skeleton. The anti-abortion movement is pushing “personhood” laws — giving the foetus rights over the mother — to bury it. Tasmania decriminalised abortion in 2013, but spiraling operational costs forced the state’s only abortion provider to close. New South Wales recently decriminalised abortion, after 119 years, despite blatant sabotage by the far right, which protracted parliamentary debate for months. Yet the newly reformed law contains dangerously misleading amendments driven by the anti-abortion side. These enshrine in law the obligation of medical care if a termination “results in a live baby being born” and a ban on sex-selection abortion. 

There are other, less recognised, fronts of the reproductive rights war — from welfare support for single mothers that is non-coercive and enough to live on, to childcare that’s available and free. Forty-one percent of Australia’s homeless are women, 34 percent escaping domestic violence. Eighty percent of Aboriginal women in prison are mothers. Women and girls with disabilities in Australia are still subjected to forced sterilisation, contraception and abortion disguised as medical care. Women earn 79 cents to a man’s dollar, while wages for all workers continue to drop.

With global profit rates sinking, capitalism needs women at home to breed a steady supply of workers kept in good working order — all at no cost to capitalists. In a system so racist, ableist and contemptuous of those it impoverishes, women who are Aboriginal, disabled or poor are considered unfit to reproduce.

The misogynist backlash is getting meaner. Women are getting madder, from Argentina to Ireland, the U.S. to Spain and Australia. Reproductive justice is a fight of all women for social, reproductive equality — leaving no women behind. 

It’s time for an international, militant reproductive justice movement. When we rip the rope from these patriarchal controllers, the system will come tumbling down. 

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