One of my closest friends recently discovered she was pregnant. She and her husband had been trying to start a family since college, but were unable to because the women in her family suffer from grave fertility challenges. Once she reached three months in her pregnancy, she began to experience traumatic events. Her body was no longer strong enough to carry the baby to full term so her doctor advised her to terminate the pregnancy or risk dying of complications. Finding an abortion clinic in her area was nearly impossible. The few clinics that survived the massive state closings faced staffing issues, so their hours of operation were limited. Like so many women seeking abortions, these complications added mental, physical and financial turmoil to her life.
On June 27, 2016, in a long awaited ruling, the Supreme Court struck down a restrictive Texas abortion access law that would have shuttered all but a handful of clinics in the state. For months, women nationwide held their breath in solidarity with the women of Texas. The passage of this law would have had major implications for many states, especially conservative southern states like Louisiana.
A few months prior, as this case was being argued before the Supreme Court of the United States, I stood face-to-face with history. It was a somber yet powerful experience as over 1,000 reproductive rights advocates stood together on the steps of the Supreme Court. An attack on woman’s fundamental human rights was underway, and the reproductive justice community was literally on the front lines. In that moment, I realized that this country had placed more restrictions on my uterus than on my neighbor’s guns. On that day, I stood in solidarity with the many women across the U.S. who are constantly denied full autonomy over their bodies and their ability to make choices about their lives.
For black women, difficulty accessing abortion services is only a fraction of the reproductive discrimination that we experience. The era of forced sterilization has now turned to prescriptions of experimental birth control measures that are disproportionately distributed to the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Black women’s reproductive health issues are complex and often overlap with socioeconomic oppression. Not only are black women fighting for the right to decide when and how to start a family, but also the ability to raise their children in safe and healthy environments.
The black women that single handedly tried to save the world through a different election outcome on November 8, 2016 are the same group of women that constantly suffer from a lack of reproductive autonomy, racial discrimination, disproportionate poverty, overt and covert criminalization and the absence of comprehensive sexual education and resources.
This past year, I joined the global conversation on women’s reproductive health. Selected as Rise Up Youth Champions, my colleagues and I utilized this platform to educate the masses on the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues affecting women and girls in our communities. I appreciated the diversity of participants, the shared stories and learned experience and the unifying of SRHR advocates from all sides of the globe. Until of course, I noticed the minimal visibility of Americans, especially those who looked like me.
With the absence of African American representation, it was as if black people did not exist—and most importantly, neither did our problems, our struggles or our pain. I am probably the first to admit how overjoyed I am to see so many women across the world, especially white women, acknowledging that America is in a reproductive health crisis. But it is important to note that black women are not strangers to reproductive oppression—and have been fighting on the frontlines of this movement long before current Administration came into power.
Many people believe that in the richest nation in the world—the land of the free and the home of the brave—we could not possibly have problems. Too many people think that women’s rights, women’s reproductive freedoms and access to reproductive healthcare services could not possibly be in jeopardy in the United States of America. Despite this façade, I set out to change that narrative by sharing the many ways that institutionalized and systemic subjugation of minorities affect the lack of resources within marginalized communities. So I have begun to raise my voice.
From Bali to Copenhagen and many places in between, I knew that everything I said and did not only represented myself, but also the 23.5 million other black females living within the United States of America. As I join the Rise Up delegation heading to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the largest global convening on women and girls, I will continue to use my voice and influence to prove that America is in a state of crisis, too.
We are only one month into President Trump’s America, and once again we are fighting the uncertainty of reproductive rights. In an early executive order, Trump not only resurrected the Global Gag Rule, but expanded it. His appointees and their views on women’s rights could put reproductive healthcare out of reach for millions of women, especially those in our country’s poorest communities.
It is hard to witness the current American climate and not lose hope for the future. It is a climate where boisterous misogyny, racism and bigotry are widespread, and demeaning rhetoric and behaviors have become emboldened and normalized. While many in the world still perceive America to be an exemplary world power, we are literally fighting for our lives, especially when it comes to reproductive autonomy and abortion access for all women.
Everyone has a responsibility in this movement. We must attend town hall meetings, write and call Congress, join an Indivisible protest group or find existing movements in our respective areas. America’s reproductive health is at stake, and women of color are suffering the most. Like many women of my community, I will continue to amplify the voices and experiences of those whom otherwise would not be heard. As I prepare to take the stage at the United Nations next week, I will encourage everyone to rise up and advocate on behalf of those issues that are ideologically tearing us apart.
America may be in a state of crisis, but women of color are at war.
Nakita Shavers is a tireless advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights and promotes girls’ leadership and community development in her city of New Orleans. She is involved in movements to transform New Orleans’ communities by fighting for justice and opportunities for people of color. Nakita is a 2014 graduate of Rise Up’s Youth Champions Initiative.