Jalessah J, Leila A, and Salome A discuss how the movement for reproductive justice must be anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.
On June 29th, ARC-Southeast and the Decolonial Feminist Collective gathered (on stolen Muscogee land) for a ‘Lunch & Learn’ teach-in event during the Stop Cop City week of action, to connect the struggles against Cop City and Reproductive Justice (RJ). We opened the teach-in with a land acknowledgement, in order to take responsibility and give respect to African and Indigenous ways of knowing, being, and resisting. Below are edited grounding remarks by the organizers of the event – Leila A, Salome A and Jalessah J.
Reproductive justice upholds four human rights: to have children; to not have children; to parent children in safe communities; and bodily autonomy. While the RJ movement has identified policing and criminalization as key issues since its inception, engagement with the role of capitalism as it relates to RJ has been limited, as has a clear anti-imperialist stance. As a Black parent and RJ practitioner, my entry point into this analysis is my own impatience in waiting for the right to safely raise my family, and working every day at ARC-Southeast, where 82% of people seeking abortion access are Black people who face criminalization.
The overturning of Roe epitomizes an escalation of state violence through surveillance, criminalization, incarceration, and genocide, and Cop City represents the militarized policing used by an imperialist “democracy” to control and marginalize vulnerable populations domestically and internationally. Attacks on queer and trans rights show increased criminalization of already oppressed groups, and simultaneously, laws criminalizing pregnancy often target those who already face the brunt of criminalization and police violence, especially Black women. As author and activist Toni Cade Bambara stated, “I start with the recognition that we are at war.” The U.S. exercises control over human reproduction to ensure a steady pool of exploited laborers and soldiers. In this regard, restricting bodies is central to empire-building, from slavery to current violences upholding colonial gender binaries.
Internationally, the ‘Global Gag Rule’ bars foreign NGOs receiving U.S. aid from providing abortion services or counseling, restricting healthcare access; similarly, U.S. imperialist policy such as the 60-year-old blockade against Cuba creates nightmarish public health scenarios for birthing people in their home countries, effectively denying full reproductive autonomy for foreign countries. Despite this fact, health outcomes such as infant mortality and life expectancy rival or surpass capitalist countries, healthcare is not tied to employment, and everyone has the same access to quality care through the public system–the kind of state-level radical vision RJ should work towards, all made possible by socialism.
While reproductive rights highlight legal limits, the mainstream movement has not substantively engaged the larger genocidal and anti-Black foundations of the United States. Significant resources still flow to the military and police, for example, over life-saving social supports like housing, universal healthcare and childcare, and education. The mainstream movement’s narrow focus on policy solutions has bred fragmentation. Issue silos and single-issue organizing prevent collaboration between maternal health and abortion access groups, as well as between reproductive justice organizations and (Black) grassroots organizations doing important work, though the oppressive strategies underlying these struggles are shared: capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. We must develop a praxis keeping these connections visible.
Honestly confronting the realities of U.S. empire allows us to move beyond reformism. Our demands must transcend “choices” within current constraints, and move toward notions of collective liberation. Reproductive justice in practice means having resources and community support to raise families with dignity — not just legal rights. Access must be centered over choice, and building alternative models to meet collective needs allows us to live otherwise.
As Audre Lorde reminds, “We are members of an international community of people of Color, and must see our struggles as connected within that light.” Our interdependent struggles against Cop City and for reproductive justice require an anti-imperialist analysis situating them globally in order to fully understand these struggles. The path forward lies in collective liberation through building transnational solidarity. Solidarity means rejecting false divisions between local and global, or different groups’, liberation. Our struggles are interconnected across borders; winning substantive change requires making broader demands of the existing order, and seeing RJ not as a single-issue but as one component of a larger struggle against capitalism and imperialism.
We must build a shared praxis that centers community power in connecting these struggles. Only then can we ideate and manifest alternative paths beyond the violence of the current system. Reproductive justice requires stopping Cop City. Our liberation is bound together.
As a revolutionary African that currently finds myself working in women’s health as a labor & delivery nurse and midwifery student, the silos that the non-profit industrial complex have created are it is abundantly clear. With the understanding that imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, it’s alarming that there’s little-to-no collaboration between those working in maternal mortality & abortion, while the racist and imperialist strategies that make both struggles necessary are one in the same. A movement devoid of anti-imperial consciousness breeds segmentation. We are weakened and spinning in circles as we fight on an issue-by-issue basis, never quite tackling the systemic causes of our oppression— histories shaped by neo-colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade.
The height of reproductive justice today, as pushed by mainstream white feminist thought, can be encapsulated as the right to abortion and choosing when not to reproduce. We even see this play out locally, looking at some of the biggest proponents of RJ in our region we see spaces like the Feminist Women’s Health Center, and Access Reproductive Care (ARC-SE) [both doing invaluable work], an abortion clinic and network for accessing abortion care respectively. This dichotomy obfuscates the causes for the conditions that keep people from reaching the heights of their reproductive freedom by only providing a surface level alleviation of restricted choice.
The struggles have looked like the anti-eugenics movement fighting against the forced sterilization of Black and Indigenous women, rampant until 1970’s popularizing terms like the “Mississippi Appendectomy”, the routine removal of Black women wombs. The documentary La Operación highlights the rampant sterilization in the U.S. colony that is Puerto Rico. The fight to choose when to reproduce, we see periodically thrust into public discourse with the overturning of Roe V. Wade, which served as the precedent for protecting the right to abortion. This has been a long standing fight for Black women who were stripped of bodily autonomy through chattel enslavement, which required the colonization of Black wombs to reproduce endless generations of labor to be exploited for capitalist gain.
While these struggles may make it legal to choose abortion and make the sterilization of colonized peoples illegal, they do nothing to address the conditions that force birthing people into the decisions affecting their reproductive life, such as finances, housing, childcare, healthcare, etc. Within this lens, the fight over the Black body becomes restricted to the bourgeois courts and legal arena. Our people are pushed to the polls every election cycle to elect one of two bourgeois parties, under the guise of protecting our reproductive freedoms, while the imperial class gets free reign to continue perpetuating the conditions that limit our ability to raise healthy families and communities, both domestically and abroad.
Built into my midwifery study is the nature in which Black midwives were systemically eradicated and removed from their communities, as White male obstetricians had to grow their patient pool and did so through the medicalization of birth; a model that under capitalism serves to raise profits, creates dependency of the colonial subject, and perpetuates the inherent racism our society was built on. Predominantly White Institutions (PWI’s) have now moved towards pushing the “Social Determinants of Health” and shifted language around race-based medicine, making the distinction between race being a risk factor for illness versus identifying racISM as the cause for increased health risks in POC. These conditions are also the reason for the maternal mortality rates in the U.S. being 3x that of other high-income countries.
Knowing these conditions were created means that we can tear them down and create different worlds..I’m excited to build out a shared praxis of struggle that keeps this in focus.
I was born in Acholi land, at a refugee camp in Uganda where there was ongoing war – a war facilitated and funded by this settler colonial state called the United States of Amerika. Through programs like the 1033 Program, the weapons used in wars such as the one I was born into are transferred to local police departments in order to repress African Black peoples in the U.S..
When I think about the tenet of reproductive justice, “the human right to raise our children in safe and sustainable communities,” I think about war. There is no possibility of safety or sustainability under conditions of war. African Black children in the U.S. South and Global South deserve more than war, which means everyone else deserves more than war. Having safe and sustainable communities for children means having safe and sustainable communities for everyone.
When we say reproductive justice means Stop Cop City, we mean a complete end of the current world and a rebuilding of new worlds. A state built on genocide cannot make safe and sustainable communities. These two cannot co-exist. We cannot keep begging masters for crumbs. Anything they “give” they can take away. Our demands must be greater than “the right to choice” or things like getting the president to say “abortion.” There is no such thing as choice under empire.
So much of mainstream reproductive health, rights and justice is under the illusion of choice. We live under an illusion of choice. Under capitalism the “decisions” we make are limited by resources. We cannot live safely and sustainably under capitalism. We cannot autonomously have children or not have children.
Toni Morrison once said, in order to survive and thrive, empires must exercise complete control over human reproduction. It must ensure that there is a steady supply of laborers to feed to the rich and soldiers to defend their plunder. When we understand reproductive restrictions such as abortion bans through the lens of capital and state building interests, our demands can be greater.
Restricting and controlling our bodies is central to empire building — from slavery to the Gates Foundation’s forced birth control programs in the ‘global south’, to the very binary categorizations of men and women — empire building necessitates control of our reproductive bodies to maintain capitalist production.
The fight for reproductive justice will remain a losing battle so long as we continue to center white supremacist institutions and legitimize the settler colonial state.
Solidarity means we do not celebrate presidential budgets where restrictions like the Hyde Amendment (legislation restricting the use of public funds for abortion) are excluded, yet ignore the $773 billion in that same budget allocated to fund wars. Wars that destabilize African/Black communities in the U.S and abroad. If our liberation is tied to each other’s struggles against the empire, how much of a win is this actually? It is crucial to put an end to the Hyde Amendment AND it is also important to fight against imperialist wars. We must do both if we want a world where reproductive justice is realized.
In the words of Malcolm X, “Any kind of movement for freedom of Black people based solely within the confines of America is absolutely doomed to fail.”
The fight to stop cop city, the fight for reproductive justice must connect the local and global. We must refuse to see any win that is harmful to Black African people’s anywhere, as dangerous to us all. Because it is. Our battles are interconnected. This is not a single issue battle. It requires a complete undoing. One that requires us all to be honest with ourselves and each other. I hope to build out these new worlds with you all.