reproductive injustice

“What is it about us that we hide painful things deep inside? We all go through some of the same things. So why don’t we remove the stigma around certain women’s health care things, and tell people what it’s really like?”  

— Dr. Valerie Peterson discusses the joy her family felt at her third pregnancy, the news that changed everything, and the cruel legal obstacles Texas put in place that left her stranded in her own state.

CHOICE/LESS: powerful, personal stories of reproductive injustice experienced by real people, in their own words. Rewire Radio’s new storytelling podcast starts 4/19/2016!

What “defunding” means, essentially, is legislating that Planned Parenthood can no longer accept federal insurance programs like Medicaid. The Hyde Amendment has ensured that those programs could not pay for abortions since it was attached to an appropriations bill in 1976. But if ­Congress voted to bar Planned Parenthood from accepting federal insurance for any services, it would mean that overnight, the 1.5 million American women — 60 percent of Planned Parenthood patients — who rely on those programs for Pap smears, breast exams, STD testing, and, of course, contraception would no longer be able to get that care from Planned Parenthood. For many, that would mean not being able to get treatment at all; 54 percent of Planned Parenthood’s clinics are in areas that do not have other nearby health-care options. Seventy-five percent of the organization’s patients live at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

If you combine the defunding of Planned Parenthood with the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, which saved women around $1.4 billion a year thanks to its mandated coverage of contraception, we are looking at a crisis in women’s health care. It wouldn’t even take undoing Obamacare entirely to reverse the contraception mandate, which is not written into the text of the ACA itself but is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. Which will soon be headed up by one Tom Price, who has publicly opposed the mandate and who claimed in 2012 that “there’s not one” woman who can’t afford to pay for her own birth control.

The disadvantages heaped on poor women are why activists in the reproductive-justice movement view reproductive rights as a single thread in a tapestry of economic, racial, and social injustice. True reproductive freedom, they argue, is tied not only to abortion and contraceptive access but also to women’s access to affordable housing, education, and employment; from criminal-justice reform to paid leave, subsidized child care, paid sick days, and higher wages, there are many policies that determine if low-income women have any actual choice about whether to have children. Poor women have always paid the punishing price exacted by legislators who might wish to restrict all women’s ­autonomy but can only exert their force on the most defenseless. As Henry Hyde said himself in 1977, “I certainly would like to prevent … anybody from having an abortion: a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the … Medicaid bill.”

—  Rebecca Traister “Abortion’s Deadly DIY Past Could Soon Become Its Future”

I just want to make @get-yr-social-work-rage-on’s reply into its own post bc I know more ppl will read it that way.

It’s not like any of us disagree on anything fundamentally, like she says–even though at a core level I don’t understand why all these people I know would rather spend thousands on IVF &c, I also agree that being that focused on “their own child” would make them devastating adoptive parents, like that other woman I know who adopted and then got pregnant and publicly declared she’d “never loved anyone like this before” or wtf she said.

Just, this also explains why I think adoption is really really important currently.

Hey-o, I got the bat signal.

Adoption is a complicated beast. The idea of using adoption to solve the problem of a child who needs a family is a fairly good one. But what complicates it is that adoption gets used as the solution to many other problems that have deeper roots and horrifying contexts and consequences, and it’s a poor, poor solution to those things.

Adoption does not solve poverty. It does not solve colonialism. It does not solve racism. It does not solve the child welfare crisis. It is not a substitute for adequate physical and mental health care. It does not solve child abuse. It does not solve reproductive injustice and coercion. Instead, it’s co-opted by the same systematic forces that created and maintained those issues and becomes a propaganda piece for furthering those inequalities. Even though at the same time, the base idea, the good idea, the good solution, is also intended to occur. Which muddies the water significantly. You may have a child in the foster care system due to poverty, lack of reproductive options, domestic violence, lack of adequate health care for mental health or chemical dependency issues, and an entirely harmful and abusive child welfare system… but that child is going to be better off if we can get them into a family, and they also stand a decent chance of having a very positive experience of being in a family. That in no way justifies what came before, even though it will get used to justify what came before. But by the time you have that child in the foster care system, what came before has to become a concurrent fight, because that kid still needs to have permanent membership in a legal relationship with another human being. Entering into American adulthood without that permanent membership (to say nothing of the actual emotional and psychological importance of having a family and a sense of belonging) has so many enormously devastating consequences attached to it that it is ethically monstrous to let a child age out of care.

I think if you and I got down to the nitty gritty of all the horror and wrongness that leads to a child becoming available for adoption, you wouldn’t find we disagree on anything there. And that’s not a separate fight from adoption. The portrayal of adoption as an adequate solution and net positive and appropriate outcome to all those issues supports and bolsters and helps maintain those issues. The adoption industry can’t wall themselves off from the reasons for its existence and just focus on adoption, as if the pipeline that carries the kids to us is beyond our mortal ken. But at the same time, we need to get these kids into legal relationships. And I think here is where we might be running into some cultural differences.

The American foster system is brutal. Whether a child is cared for on an adequate level (has food to eat, has clothing, can attend school unimpeded, gets physical and mental health care, has a bed, is not physically or mentally or sexually abused) is mostly a matter of luck. Whether a child has a foster parent who is kind, who cares about them, who advocates for them and supports them and shows up to conferences and takes them out for ice cream, that’s a matter of tremendous luck. To give you a basic idea of how bad it is here, my state recently had to hire a person whose full time job is investigating child deaths in foster care. We literally are not even capable of keeping children in foster care alive. And if you think hiring that person implies accountability, it does not – that person’s job description is 75% public relations. Whether the foster home is county, corporate, or non-profit (because yes, America has corporate foster homes), there is no accountability. Homes where children have been beaten, raped, and killed are still open for business, still accepting new children. I don’t know what it would take to shut a foster home down. I have literally never seen it. What all this means is that getting children out of foster care and into permanent homes in America is a literal life or death crisis. It also means that this often takes priority over addressing the foster care system itself, or what brought the child there, which is a perpetual problem of manufactured scarcity. We already don’t have enough foster homes for the amount of children in foster care, which means many children are housed in shelters or psychiatric wards. Which is partly why shutting down abusive foster homes isn’t a priority – there would literally be nowhere for the children to sleep.

Another big issue in the American adoption industry is the stigmatization of children, which is why you got such a tremendous response for bringing that up. Our child welfare system perpetuates inequality and takes away children from marginalized populations at a higher rate. But it also does a terrible job of removing children who actually need to be removed. This gets compounded if there’s domestic violence or divorce and custody happening, because our Family Court system is a dystopian nightmare. Our front line workers are paid little, trained not at all, not supervised, and have a turnover rate of a year or less. Whether children are removed or not, or what outcomes happen, is essentially a numbers and blame game. If you can generate a data report that says you have done no wrong, what actually happens to the kids doesn’t matter. Suffice to say, my state has ALSO had to convene a special task force to address how many children have been getting murdered in their birth homes, even when they’re currently in the child welfare system.

So because of all that, kids who finally do enter foster care are more likely to have experienced a greater degree of trauma than they should have, if our system worked as intended. That makes things tougher, but in no way impossible. There is ample and adequate research that targeted interventions can regain most of what is lost or damaged in the brain by early childhood abuse and deprivation. But if we’re taking kids from abusive homes and putting them into abusive foster care, clearly that’s not going to happen. What instead happens is that kids adapt naturally and with great talent to the environment they’ve been placed in, because that is exactly what their brain is supposed to be doing during that developmental period. They become survivors who know that adults are not to be trusted, and that their inner sense of how wrong this all is will always be used against them. If you or I had to experience what foster kids do, even as adults, we would develop the same coping skills. But as adults, we would have the privilege of explaining those as coping skills (instead of behaviors or damage) and we would be believed and potentially empathized with. Children are diagnosed. We should diagnose them with “foster care,” but instead we diagnose them with RAD and ODD and CD and ADHD and BPD and APD. And then we dope them up. And put them in homes that might abuse them or kill them. And then talk about how they’re clearly unadoptable – after all, look at all those behaviors!

I’m not saying kids who have experienced a lifetime of abuse in foster care aren’t difficult sometimes. But I am saying that progressive people have a strong tendency to get very up in arms over any insinuation that nobody would ever want to partner with a rape or DV victim ever again because they’re so traumatized and broken, but then turn around and say exactly the same victim-blaming things about foster children. Can you imagine if an adult rape victim suddenly had guardianship put over them, and a team of professionals got to decide whether they were “ready” to date again? That’s what we do to foster children. Their birth parents abuse them, the system abuses them, and because of what was done to them, they no longer have the right to forge permanent relationships with other human beings. Not until they’re “ready” (i.e. become compliant or dissociate enough to appear to no longer have symptoms). And if foster children try on their own to have these relationships, by contacting their birth family, by dating, by forging friendships other adults don’t like, they’ll be punished. Imagine if a rape victim had a committee and a therapist deciding if they were allowed to ever date again, and then fell in love with their friend and started to date them without clearing it first. That committee would have the right to move the victim to a new city, a new home, and a new job. They would have the right to erase their phone and Facebook profile and read all letters to ensure they could not have contact with their lover. The therapist would have the right to commit them. And all of that power rides on the immutable belief that the rape victim’s trauma is so strong, so monstrous, so intense, that this level of oversight is necessary, that the victim cannot be trusted or allowed unmonitored contact with the world. When we stigmatize foster children, we provide more fuel for that victim-blaming fire, and bolster the entire reasoning behind why the child welfare system (broken and horrific as it is) and adoption industry work the way they work.

I work all day with foster care and adoption and child welfare professionals. And every day I have to argue, yet again, with statements like “why can’t they just stay in foster care” or “I don’t think they’ll ever be ready for a family.” And again, all I hear is “if you were raped as a child, I would think you never deserved to have a mother again.” All I hear is, “If you were beaten as a child, I would think you deserved to be homeless when you turned eighteen.” And of course not all abused children ended up in foster care, so they’re saying these things around grown adults who still had the privilege of legal protection in a family despite abuse.

I don’t know what foster care is like in Australia, or what happens to kids when they age out. Here, when kids age out of foster care, they become homeless. Here, when they age out without being adopted, they have no legal connection to any human being in the whole world. Think of all the issues inherent in banning gay marriage, and you can get a sense of what that means. If a birth family member or a foster parent they loved ends up in the hospital, they have no right to visit them. Think of how many forms you have ever had to put your parents’ names on. They legally do not have parents they can write down. They have no legal right to visit their siblings, because legally they no longer have siblings. They have no inheritance. They have no health care plan they can stay on until 25. And, of course, there’s the logistical items that nobody thinks of when they have parents. Who do you call when you’re 18 and you blew your first tire and don’t know how to change it? Who do you call when you have a personal accomplishment? Who do you visit on holidays? Who do you tell you’re pregnant? Who do you ask for help with your taxes? Who taught you how to write a check or open a bank account? Who taught you how to drive and helped you get your license? Who taught you how to pack a suitcase? Who taught you how to grocery shop? Who taught you how to cook? Children who age out foster care have these skills only if they were very, very lucky.

And with IVF and the fertility industry, that shit gets sketchy, too. It again stratifies reproductive care along class and race lines – women with means can have children, but nobody else can. Women with means can ask women without means to carry children for them, or donate their own eggs. I will also say as a side note that people coming to adoption after many failed fertility treatments automatically have a red flag. It’s my firm opinion that nobody just wants to raise a child. People want to raise their own child or they want to adopt a child (or both!).Those are two different desires with two different motivations and goals and outcomes, and they don’t translate. Somebody who went through failed fertility treatments and comes to adoption still wanting their own child are already thinking of foster children as their failure plan. They need to want to adopt, not just resign themselves to not having a child of their own. Because former IVF couples who have resigned themselves inevitably abuse adopted children, because they did not actually want them, and they are a daily living, walking and needy reminder of their grief and anger. I also don’t understand the impulse behind multiple fertility treatments rather than adopting, but 1) I’m not that person – I want to adopt, and 2) having seen what those people do to adopted children, I’m happy for them to stay away from my kids.

And this post is too long already, so let’s not even get into the clusterfuck of international adoption and how it interacts with foster adoption (so many white people open-minded and colorblind enough for a Somali child but somehow not enough for a child from Chicago, anyway)

Even conservative estimates show more than 25,000 children are now being born through surrogates in India every year in an industry worth $2bn. These clinics are not just spreading in big cities but in smaller towns as well. Domestic demand is increasing, but as fertility levels drop elsewhere, at least 50% of these babies are “commissioned” by overseas, mainly western, couples.

Whoever the prospective parents, the pattern is the same: it is only India’s desperately poor women who are tempted to rent their wombs. Since the cost of fertility treatment and that of the surrogate is comparatively cheaper in India than in the rest of the world, would-be parents are flooding in, eager to have a child that bears some part of their genetic heritage.

Most of the industry is operating unchecked. India’s medical research watchdog drafted regulations more than two years ago, yet they still await presentation in parliament, leaving the surrogates and baby factories open to abuse. And even many of the supposedly well-run clinics do not appear to be transparent in their dealings.


- Kishwur Desai 

This is appalling 

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, the idea that trans women don’t experience reproductive injustice or care about reproductive rights beyond like “””””””rich white trans women freezing their sperm””””””””* is obviously offensive and also PATENTLY false. When we talk about reproductive rights and the policing and legislation and medical defining etc of womens’ bodies we are missing out on a huge chunk of the landscape if we do not consider how medicalized, legislated, etc ideas about trans women and their bodies and their reproductive rights are both conceived and put into practice. I would venture to say that it even leads to a shallow and facile understanding of cis womens’ reproductive rights, if you don’t also take into account the reproductive rights of trans women. If you are not taking a holistic look at womanhood and how womanhood is constructed and (often literally) policed with regards to who gets to reproduce and when and how and why and to what end and whose bodies become legislative battlegrounds and who is erased and who is hypervisible (and who is both at the same time) etc etc then you are not understanding the full implications of like, institutionalized and systemic misogyny and the impact that that has on women and their (our) health and lives.

That is just my professional opinion as someone who is writing a book on the subject of reproductive rights organizing and history. 

*such a fucking disingenuous and shitty way of representing the concerns of low-income trans women who are often coerced into sterilizing medical procedures and want to preserve their fertility for the future, you would never see, like, cis women who have their eggs frozen before a necessary sterilizing procedure mocked in such a way, but that’s just my onion