Panel discusses future of reproductive justice activism
For an event titled “Reproductive Justice: Uniting Activism and Politics,” a panel discussed the intersection of reproductive justice activism and politics on the state and local level.
The discussion was held in part due to growing fears that the federal government will continue to take away certain protections and freedoms that organizers believe not even a progressive state government such as Massachusetts could entirely guard against, according to a press release from Pioneer Valley Women’s March.
The event strived to start up dialogue between activists and politicians, hoping that working together closely within the state can secure equal access for all to reproductive healthcare, the press release also read.
“I fear for rights we have yet to achieve in addition to protections which we already have,” said Mason Dunn, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition and one of the discussion’s panelists, in response to the discussion’s first question on whether panelists had any newfound concerns regarding reproductive rights at the federal level under the new Trump administration.
The panel discussion, held on Tuesday was co-hosted by Pioneer Valley Women’s March and UMass Students for Reproductive Justice in the University of Massachusetts Campus Center.
“It’s very important to have these discussions and to ground this framework in reproductive justice. Getting people to not just think about abortion and contraception but also environmental racism, welfare, institutions of racism, etcetera,” said Josie Pinto, who moderated the event.
Pinto is a senior public health sciences major and president of the UMass Students for Reproductive Justice.
“It’s a great opportunity to get people talking about and to also have it framed in the experiences of black women,” Pinto said.
Dunn was one of six panelists in attendance who held the same goal of having a safe and comfortable conversation regarding reproductive rights.
Other panelists included Ellen Story, a former Massachusetts state representative, UMass professor and chair of women, gender, sexuality studies Laura Briggs, sexual and reproductive health nurse Cory Ellen Gatrall, Northampton City Councilor Alisa Klein and Marisa Pizii, co-director of the Prison Birth Project.
During the panel, Briggs said, “I don’t feel all that different about President Trump. The only striking difference between him and other politicians is that the others target minority women. Now, he is not afraid to target trans and queer folks as well as white women.”
The second question raised was what the panelists felt the key issues with reproductive activism are today.
“I think the foundation of reproductive justice is the right to parent with dignity. As of right now, support systems are being degraded. Mass incarceration is tearing families apart and is keeping people from being parents to their children,” Klein said. “Support systems are being degraded with institutions such as these.”
Gatrall responded with a similar line of reasoning to Klein, adding, “I want to see support for funding, access and transportation to abortion, prenatal and contraceptive services. I want to see more activism within institutions. I want to see policies implemented to maintain reproductive justice.”
“The thing that keeps coming up to me is how to look at our reproductive rights and separating it from our internalized oppression,” Pizii said.
Pizii clarified that reproductive justice comes from “a lived experience of women of color,” arguing that this fight is centered in women of color’s experiences.
“When we slow down as a community and start looking at that, what does that mean for all of the allies and how is the framework of your work shifted as an ally? To me this is where the work is – marrying the movement of reproductive justice and activism. Actually getting to work on the tenants of reproductive tenants is what actually needs to happen,” said Pizii.
Reproductive justice, according to Pizii, is defined more so as the idea that people have the right to have children if and when they choose. It also includes the right to not have children and the right to raise one’s children in healthy and safe communities.
Story discussed how activism is needed especially now in the United States, arguing that the US is not as progressive as other countries in terms of issues like gender equality and reproductive justice.
Story, who helped to pass the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in 2015 – which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy – discussed how amazed she was at the fact that this legislation came as late as 2015.
“We are asking for fair and reasonable conditions and accommodations for pregnant women. If a woman needs a stool to use while working, she should be allowed one, as this is a reasonable and fair request,” said Story. “We’re not asking incredible things of bosses and workplaces in fairness and rights reproductive justice.”
Diane Curtis, a UMass political science professor and former attorney who practiced in reproductive law, was in attendance for the event and asked, “How are we to reframe the discussion of reproductive rights to include cis white men? And what are your thoughts on engaging them?”
In response to this question, Dunn said, “I don’t have much of a capacity to include them and don’t feel the need. I am so sick of the ‘I have a mother, daughter, sister, etcetera’ line. ‘So that’s why I care.’”
“You are a human being. You shouldn’t have to look to a woman you know and love to care about the rights of other women you don’t,” Dunn added.
Hannah Kaplan, a sophomore public health and women, gender and sexuality studies double major, felt inspired by the panel.
“These people are staples of the community regarding reproductive justice. They are leading voices and always rejuvenate my spirit for this world. Hearing talks like this from these incredible voices help with the burnout sometimes experienced with this type of activism,” she said.
Jackie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.