Many of the people I went to school with already have at least one child, some have two children. In small town Southern Oklahoma, life centers on children. Most people have kids, and they have them at a young age. The idea that you might not want to have children is practically unthinkable.
This focus on reproducing is not limited to where I grew up. The United States is a very child-focused culture. It fits into our whole American Dream, individualism-but-not-too-much-individualism, “bootstraps” metanarrative. You will meet a person, fall in “love,” get legally married, and spawn two or more brats. This is the blueprint for happiness according to mainstream American society. In the eyes of the dominant culture, an individual’s failure to marry and reproduce implicates deep wrongness. Indeed, there must be some tragic reason that they didn’t do what they were supposed to be happy. And even in communities and movements that willfully reject many of the narratives about American society, some of these narratives leave their ghosts behind to complicate and influence discussions and focuses.
A major difference between the mainstream feminist “pro-choice” movement and the reproductive justice movement is the focus on pregnancy and reproduction. This may seem counter-intuitive. Isn’t reproduction right there in the name? It is, of course, but I mean that under the umbrella of “reproductive justice” we tend to talk about health care and sexual needs that do not have anything to do with trying to become or remain un-pregnant. The pro-choice movement is exclusionary in that it is very focused on the single issues of abortion and birth control – the line “the right to decide when and how to become a mother” might sound familiar. Sometimes you will get some discussion of birthing rights, but that is about as far as it goes. Reproductive justice provides space for people whose concerns may have little to do with preventing pregnancy.
The narratives around pregnancy in the pro-choice and mainstream feminist movements tend to be cissexist, ablist, classist, heterosexist, and altogether problematic. The idea that preventing or ending unwanted pregnancy is the major focus for all people is patently false. Poor people and people without insurance have trouble accessing basic reproductive health care such as STD tests, wellness checks, and the treatment of reproductive tract conditions and illnesses.
Queer people have reproductive and sexual health care needs that may have little to do with pregnancy. Trans* people are routinely denied access to health care, including care related to transition. The idea that people can simply access infertility services such as IVF if they cannot conceive is problematic since these services are often prohibitively expensive – even for people with insurance – and absolutely inaccessible for people without insurance.
Your ability (including your desire) to conceive or otherwise physically reproduce is not a measure of your worth as a person. It does not determine the weight your voice has in the reproductive justice movement or any other movement you want to be a part of. Your health concerns and needs are as important as access to abortion and birth control. None of these things are the be-all end-all of the movement – they are all simply a part of the larger movement toward health and justice of all kinds for all people.
Katie is a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She is currently living and working in the Magical Midwest where she wrote this in a Christian coffee shop because there is a profound lack of decent coffee shops here. You can follow her on twitter and tumblr.
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