Choice and Reproductive Justice: “Not an Either/Or”

By Eleanor J Bader, Truthout | News Analysis –

pro-choice demonstration

Demonstrators in Washington DC during the Planned Parenthood National Lobby Day 2011. (Photo: American Life League)

When voters in Colorado, Nebraska and North Dakota head to the polls on November 4, abortion will be one of the issues they weigh in on. In Colorado and North Dakota the electorate will cast ballots on “personhood,” while in Nebraska they’ll decide whether to give the state legislature “the power to repeal any measure that protects abortion rights” should Roe be overturned.

But despite the fact that the remaining 47 states have no pending abortion initiatives, reproductive health remains a pressing issue for many voters. In fact, two recent Supreme Court decisions – one finding that buffer zones separating clinicians and patients from anti-abortion protesters is a violation of free speech, and another affirming that private employers can refuse to cover birth control in employee health plans – have pushed reproductive health concerns to center stage throughout the country.

NARAL Pro-Choice America is endorsing candidates vying for House and Senate seats in 27 states. They’re also endorsing four candidates for governor and lieutenant governor – men and women they believe will advance women’s health. The need, they say, is critical since only 40 percent of Congress members are presently pro-choice. Even worse, their research reveals that only 30 percent of governors support the protections offered by Roe. “Seven in 10 Americans are pro-choice,” NARAL’s website reports. “But anti-choice politicians have overrun Congress, governor’s seats and state legislatures. They aren’t listening to the people they represent.”

Like Emily’s List – a 30-year-old DC-based group whose mission is to “elect pro-choice Democratic women to office” – NARAL’s focus is firmly fixed on reproductive health, with state affiliates working to keep abortion and birth control as available and affordable as possible. What’s more, both organizations rely on the language of choice to steer voters toward candidates and incumbents who support a woman’s right to choose.

After all, in its most simplified form, one is either pro- or anti-choice.

For many activists, this language serves as a kind of shorthand, a way to quickly assess where a person stands on reproductive health issues. “The words pro-choice quickly put an idea into a category,” writer Susan Elizabeth Davis, author of a “pro-choice novel” called Love Means Second Chances, told Truthout. At the same time, she cautions that the issue is often far more complicated than the phrase suggests.

“You can’t just say ‘choice’ and leave it at that. There has to be a longer, more complex discussion about what choice means, because if a woman does not have access to services, choice is a meaningless concept.”

Many feminists, women’s health, and reproductive rights activists agree and are working to address the nuances of reproductive health, including abortion, when and where they can. For some, this turns the conversation toward reproductive justice, (RJ) a concept that includes the right to terminate a pregnancy, access effective birth control, express sexuality and have the children one wants, free of coercion. It also involves working to ensure that the material supports to make having a family possible are in place. The move beyond abortion as a single issue, say a host of organizations including the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has been a long time coming and by all accounts, is gaining steam.


Reprinted with permission