Get Out My Uterus: The Lies Conservatives Tell About Black Women & Reproductive Health8/23/2014
by Michelle Denise Jackson On June 30th, 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other businesses whose owners ...
by Michelle Denise Jackson
On June 30th, 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other businesses whose owners had deeply-held religious beliefs could refuse to pay for certain types of birth control for female employees who had the company’s health insurance plan. Hobby Lobby’s reasoning being certain types of birth control methods, like the IUD and Plan B, prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus. Without implantation, the fertilized egg is expelled from the woman’s body, and they view this as abortion. This is scientifically and medically incorrect. Hormonal IUDs and emergency contraception work the same way as other hormonal birth control methods: preventing an egg from being released from the ovaries; thickening cervical mucus to make it harder for sperm to travel through the uterus to fertilize an egg; and thinning the uterine lining. And while thinning of the lining does make it more difficult for a fertilized egg to implant, a fertilized egg is not yet a baby. It is not even an embryo or fetus.
It is no surprise to anyone that the U.S. is experiencing a conservative backlash right now. Many Republicans and Tea Party members and Libertarians can shout from the rooftops, “I’m not racist! I’m not classist! I’m not sexist!” But the fact is, we have a Black President with an impressive Black Woman as his First Lady and they do not like it. More women and people of color are sitting at the proverbial table. Communities are organizing and fighting back. The world is changing and social progress is being made and that is a disruption to the status quo. America has never been “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave”. It has always been “Land of the Old, Wealthy, Heterosexual, Cisgender White Man, and We Just Let Everybody Else Pay Rent”. (I know I’m going to catch shit for this one day soon, but still… Yeah, I said it!)
The Supreme Court’s ruling is further proof of this.
What has always bothered me about conservatives is the way they defend their politics. They are the first to say that we need less government interference in personal affairs, that people should be able to live their lives freely… but they want to tell us who can get married, who can live in the U.S. (which is still stolen land from Indigenous Peoples), who can work and how much they can get paid, and what women are allowed to do with their bodies. They are not friends to women, they are not friends to people of color, and they damn sure are not friends to Black Women.
And when it comes to reproductive rights and sexual health, women of color have always gotten the shit-end of the stick. Black Women and our bodies, especially, have always been policed by White Men. During slavery, we were raped by our “owners” and forced to have sex with male slaves to “breed” more slaves. For centuries since, we have been both hyper-sexualized and punished for our sexuality. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan created the image of the Black Woman as a “Welfare Queen” to gain support for his economic and social policies—another way to victimize and vilify Black Women, their bodies, and their reproductive choices.
During my time as a sex educator, I also discovered another way that conservative anti-choice propagators distort the narrative about Black Women, our bodies, and our reproductive autonomy. More times than I can count, I’ve encountered anti-choice literature wrongfully accusing Planned Parenthood of being dishonest to women about their reproductive options and purposefully seeking out poor women of color for abortions. They incorrectly posit Planned Parenthood and other reproductive healthcare providers as carrying out “genocide” on Black babies. A colleague of mine (also a Black Woman) was told by an anti-choice protester that “she should be ashamed of herself for working at a place that’s intentionally killing Black babies”. (Some of these lies stem from Planned Parenthood’s early connection to Margaret Sanger, her views on race-based eugenics, and misinformation about the organization as it exists now.)
The truth is that Black Women are statistically more likely to live in poverty. Thus, they are probably living in communities where it can be difficult to access quality healthcare. They are also more likely to be the sole breadwinner and caretaker in their family. Not only does this affect a woman’s ability to seek out birth control, but it also makes the ability to easily access birth control even more important. We no longer live in 1892, where a woman’s sole purpose is to give birth and raise a hoard of children. Access to birth control and other reproductive health services affect and is affected by a woman’s ability to take care of her health, to work and earn income, to provide for herself and her family, and to make decisions that will improve her life.
Organizations like Planned Parenthood provide high quality services to individuals who may not have access otherwise. Instead of our lawmakers and policymakers focusing on eliminating poverty, improving our public education system, reforming our criminal justice system, and granting better funding to low-income communities—they police women and our bodies. Indeed, Planned Parenthood is not “targeting” Black Women, but rather showing up for us in a way that our government and other healthcare providers will not.
When conservatives talk about their idea of a woman who needs access to contraception and/or abortion services, she is always poor, uneducated, promiscuous, and irresponsible. By painting this image, they make it easy for women to distance themselves from each other. Not only is the debate around restrictions on birth control and abortion gendered, it also becomes classed. We stop caring that these restrictions impact all women on some level because we tell ourselves, “Well, I am not like ‘that’, so I do not care if that woman has access to the services she needs.” Furthermore, this picture of the woman who is “poor, uneducated, promiscuous, and irresponsible” is also how conservatives have historically stereotyped Black Women. Thus, this image is gendered, class-specific, and racialized. And I would argue that so are their restrictions on reproductive health services.
Conservatives’ obsession with limiting access to birth control and abortion is one that affects all women. But their reasoning also lets me know they are, indeed, targeting Black Women. It is time that Black Women become more vocal about our right to make decisions about our bodies, sexualities, and reproductive choices without interference or regulation from others. In the same way that we are speaking up about their right to define ourselves and narrate our own lives, we must also be vocal about reproductive justice.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, performer, storyteller, and teaching artist living in Southern California. She is a graduate of NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She has performed in New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Washington D.C., and Southern California. For more of her wit and work, visit her website (michelledenisejackson.com) or follow her on Twitter (@MichelleJigga).