We Won’t Wait: Linking Economic Justice to Reproductive Health Access

“Economic justice is reproductive justice,” said Amanda Williams of the Lilith Fund when sharing her abortion story to the crowd of hundreds of organizers from across the country for the We Won’t Wait 2016 National Summit in National Harbor.

The summit, born of a historic nonpartisan coalition of nine national groups, including Make It Work, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Caring Across Generations, Forward Together, Moms Rising, ROC United, Ms. Foundation, Black Women’s Roundtable, and Family Values at Work, took place in September. The coalition amplifies the power of women of color and low-income women to advance a new economic security agenda, which includes workplace protections such as paid family and sick leave, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, trans liberation, voting access and rights and reproductive justice.

Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC) stands in solidarity with We Won’t Wait and its issue and policy platforms—because we know that economic justice is an essential component of maintaining a safe and fulfilling life. At PPNYC, we see over 64,000 patients every year, many of whom are women of color, low-income and poor, immigrant and undocumented, and young people. Last year, we gave financial assistance to 10,600 patients and time after time, patients at PPNYC have reiterated the importance of our low-cost and free services for those who cannot afford health insurance, are uninsured, and who are undocumented.

As I listened to speakers and chanted “we won’t wait,” I was continually moved by the opportunity to hear directly from activists around the country. Their inspiring initiatives and stories illustrate the link between economic justice and reproductive health.

Neha Mahajan of 9to5 Association of Working Women, Colorado spoke to how women of color are disproportionately segregated into work sectors that are least likely to have access to paid family leave, paid sick leave and protections for pregnant women. Without these protections, women are left to choose between being with their child, taking care of their loved ones, tending to their health or losing their job.

We won’t wait for workplace protections that allow us to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.

Saru Jayaraman of Restaurant Opportunities Center United spoke to the crowd about #OneFairWage, sharing that 70% of tipped workers are women and they are three times more likely to be in poverty and experience five times the rate of sexual harassment. When the minimum wage goes up to $15, tipped workers will still be left at $5—#OneFairWage demands that everyone be paid a fair wage. Earlier this year, PPNYC supported Fight for $15.

We won’t wait for everyone to have access to fair living wage.

Emily Uy, a care worker and member of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, emphasized the importance of recognizing and valuing care work, and demanded a fair wage. She also shared her experience with lack of healthcare access: “I had cancer. I was taking care of others and I could not get care.” As one of our patients similarly shared with PPNYC: “There are many of us who don’t have medical care as domestic workers… it’s very difficult to get medical attention when you don’t have resources to pay insurance.”

We won’t wait for domestic care workers to be treated like professionals and receive fair workplace protections, including equal pay and healthcare access.

Ana Canenguez of the National Domestic Workers Alliance shared her experience with deportation and a broken immigration system tearing apart her family. Rosana Araujo of Women Working Together USA emphasized that when we talk about domestic abuse, we have to consider the experiences of undocumented people who do not report out of fear of deportation. PPNYC’s doors are open to all people, regardless of immigration status and we know that many undocumented people face barriers to health care access.

We Won’t Wait to fix a broken immigration system and ensure that all immigrants can live healthy and safe lives.

This week, PPNYC turned 100 years strong, and we celebrated our legacy of high-quality and compassionate care. But even after all the progress we’ve made in our first century, we know we still have so much work to do. In support of We Won’t Wait and other economic justice organizations, activists and advocates for our community, we will continue to work towards a reproductive justice framework to ensure that all people are able to pursue their dreams and lead healthy lives.

In the words of Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”


Michele Ko is the Government Relations Associate at Planned Parenthood of New York City. She is a reproductive justice advocate, abortion doula and recent graduate of Wesleyan University, where she studied cultural anthropology. Follow her on Twitter at @_komichele.