Tag Archives: Reproductive Rights

Infertility is a Reproductive Justice Issue

As a reproductive justice (RJ) activist I have spent years advocating for abortion rights and access to birth control. Simplified, the movement often focuses on how not to get or remain pregnant. However, there is little to no time spent on discussions of infertility or one’s ability to get and stay pregnant. Even organizations that hold themselves out as “full spectrum”, may address miscarriage and other forms of loss but rarely confront issues of infertility. Similar to other forms of reproductive loss, infertility is stigmatized and people are often silenced. It is our responsibility as RJ activists to shed light on this issue.

Infertility is impacted by issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. In my own journey, I was privileged enough to have health insurance to cover appointments with reproductive endocrinologists, a myriad of tests, and ultimately several forms of assisted reproductive technology (ART). Lack of economic resources can prevent someone from not only receiving a diagnosis but also engaging in ART, if they so choose. I know many people whose options were limited due to financial means. This is unacceptable. ART is not something that should be available to a lucky few who can afford it. Not to mention that there is also lack of access that isn’t due to finances. Some insurance companies won’t cover ART if it is due to “social infertility” meaning single women and queer couples. If I had fallen in love with a woman, I may have been denied coverage. In addition, studies have shown that there is a “knowledge gap” for people of color on fertility options. Many non-white racial groups struggle with infertility at high rates without the same access to resources. The group most likely to access ART are white, educated, wealthy women. After decades of forced sterilizations of women of color, there is no coincidence that the government is not invested in marginalized communities gaining access.

On a personal note, as a Latina, there has been an added pressure around family building as a indicator of success. I have 2 degrees and own a home, indicators towards upward mobility that it very hard to do in this country. It is something I am very proud of. However, to many in my community, accomplishments are nothing without children. The expectations around pregnancy and parenting have made speaking out about infertility struggles that much harder. I would venture that many other women of color share this sentiment. I know that the feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are not strictly culturally specific, but I think there are added cultural standards in various communities of color, including religion, that add to the silencing of this issue.

The reproductive justice community needs to provide space for people to discuss infertility. It needs to talk about the ways in which infertility is stigmatized in various communities. I did not consider these issues as part of my RJ work before experiencing them myself. I always viewed the tenant of RJ, “right to have children” through what I thought was an intersectional lens, but did not include infertility. Like so many of us, the personal becomes political. Since experiencing infertility, I have provided workshops for people who have experienced reproductive loss and infertility. I have been lucky to collaborate with local yoga studios and the organization Holding Our Space, but there is more work to be done. It is our responsibility as RJ activists to call out inequity in ART and make space for those who need support in their infertility journeys. We need to destigmatize discussions of infertility and include these experiences in this movement.

SPC Feminist Teach-In Feedback

On Saturday, August 13th I attended a Feminist Teach-In hosted by an organization called Stop Porn Culture (SPC). Now I have to say at the outset that as I feminist I agree that porn and it’s infiltration into mainstream culture is a problem and is damaging to women and children as well as men. However, I do not think that the complete abolition of pornography is the solution. With that being said, I knew that attending this event would provide some opportunities for me to disagree with people, which I am always down to do especially if it is productive. Unfortunately, what I was not prepared for was the outright dismissive comments and frankly in my opinion un-feminist commentary.

The event began with a talk on Radical vs. Liberal Feminism and Why it Matters. As a women’s studies major, this was a very women’s studies 101 talk however I did appreciate it because a refresher is always good and one shouldn’t assume everyone at a conference is up to par on the theoretical frameworks attached to movements. As a radical feminist organization SPC follows in the vein of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon, both women I admire, in their condemnation of pornography. Towards the end of this discussion I asked Lori Watson, the presenter, if she could talk about Sex Positive feminism and its response to pornography. Although I do not agree with all aspects of Sex Positive feminism, I thought it was a viewpoint that should be addressed in the discussion and that the speaker would be remiss to leave it out. After I asked, the speaker used air quotes around the term Sex Positive feminists. Instead of simply pointing out the viewpoint, she seemed completely dismissive of the movement in a way that she did not do around Liberal feminism. Isn’t there a way to recognize women’s sexual autonomy while still understanding the patriarchal structure that harms women and that we internalize?! I think so. What is even stranger to me is that apparently so does SPC. While checking out the website under their FAQs they state that yes there can be feminist pornography. Unfortunately that viewpoint was never once expressed or mentioned during the discussions I attended.

The second talk given by Rachel Ivey was on Reproductive Rights and the War Against Women. It was excellent! Her presentation was eye-opening and informative. She broke down the pro-choice narrative and discussed which areas worked and which ones we needed to rethink as activists. She did not put down anyone fighting to oppose laws but instead championed our need to use “a diversity of tactics.” It was all going so well, and then the discussion was opened up for questions. And quite honestly to my surprise the speaker was bombarded by anti choicers. I won’t take the time to talk about why pro-life feminism is not possible. For more on this and why me saying this does not make me a hypocrite read The Myth of “Pro-Life Feminism.” I will say the speaker was attacked by these women but did a great job of basically saying thank you for your thoughts but we’re going to have to agree to disagree. She remained calm although I can imagine she was probably seething on the inside as I was.

The third discussion called Race, Racism and the Second-and Third-Wave Feminism had me super psyched. I mean this is my thing, race and racism within feminists movements and intersectionality. It started out pretty well with the speaker Gail Dines describing the different feminist movements and how they have never made room for women of color. She stated, “the empowerment of white women was on the backs of women of color.” I smiled, nodded. She put into words a major issue I have with Third-Wave choice feminism being that no other movement claims that it is individual to each person. For instance, she pointed out that one would ever say the labor movement is something individual to each worker, why can we say that about feminism. And she was right, if we accept the notion that feminism is what any person says it is, then we would have to accept pro-life feminism as real (which it is not). But then she threw the baby out with the bath water and began talking about “those third-wavers” and throwing out prominent Third-Wave feminists names, many whom I love, and dismissing their ideas. My reaction: wait, what?!! This again, calling discussion number 1 on repeat. But that wasn’t the kicker. She then ended her discussion of how feminism has often excluded women of color by criticizing A WOMAN OF COLOR FEMINIST. Don’t get me wrong, she has every right to discuss how her and Melissa Harris-Perry disagree, but to end this topic with this was not good look. We acknowledge how difficult it can be for women of color to identify as feminists and here is a prominent WOC feminist who openly discusses her feminism on television. She should have been used in the discussion as an example of how some women of color are able to embrace feminism, period.

We broke for lunch and I was already emotionally exhausted. Luckily the last two discussions I attended Patriarchy vs. Planet Earth and Male Violence: A Cultural Endemic were great. Although during the Male Violence discussion half the people in the room said they hadn’t heard of the Steubenville case and at that point I was done. It wasn’t so much that I gave up 3 hours early, it was more so that I realized that these were not people that were going to aid me in the struggle I was fighting. We all have our issues, the battles we choose to take on. If you truly embrace intersectionality, as I do, you can recognize that participation in one part of the struggle will help other areas. So I’ll let them work on theirs and I’ll work on mine and hopefully will meet at equality in the middle.

Feminist theories, like any other theories must be put to action. They need to be tested. To continue to operate under theories that have not proven effective does not allow for progressive change in the movement. I can honor my fore-mothers and yet move forward. Maybe I should have stuck it out. Maybe I should have raised my hand and said more. At the end of the day, I’m saving my energy to fight the patriarchy.