Photo by Benedikt Geyer on Unsplash

Here’s What You Need To Know About The Abortion Decision, And How To Fight Back

These Black and brown activists give me hope for abortion rights

Women's Health

A draft Supreme Court opinion leaked to the press on Monday evening revealed that Roe v. Wade, the landmark SCOTUS decision that legalized the right to have an abortion, will be gutted officially in June. And I'm tired.

Like so many of us, I'm sad, I'm heartbroken, I'm angry. When news like this is delivered, I see people on my timeline immediately propelled into righteous action, as if acting off instinct. And I’ve been the same way many times when a tragic reminder of just how little control we have over our bodies is delivered to us. But right now I just feel numb with anxiety.

Restricting access to abortion has just been one of the numerous ways in which this country has told us our bodies are not ours to control. From forced sterilizations of poor Black and brown women to forced breedings during slavery to rape and incarceration, our bodies are battlegrounds for policymakers to keep us under their rule.

Fortunately, there are Black and brown reproductive justice activists and radical organizations like the National Network of Abortion Funds and the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda who have been doing this work for years and have been preparing for this outcome. What they have long since understood is what Justice Alito has made plain in his draft opinion attacking the legal precedents for marriage equality and the right to your sexuality along with abortion: everything is connected. It’s what legal scholar and founding practitioner of Critical Race Theory Mari Matsuda means when she implores us to “Ask the other question”:

“When I see something that looks racist, I ask ‘Where is the patriarchy in this?’ When I see something that looks sexist, I ask ‘Where is the heterosexism in this?” Matsuda challenges us to explore.

Likewise, fighting for abortion rights involves us contending with a number of things. Fighting for abortion also means fighting for a world in which prisons and police no longer exist. When even so much as having a miscarriage can lead to your incarceration especially if you are Black or brown, we need to collectively grapple with the true functions of prison as not a means for safety but one for subjugation. Fighting for abortion means fighting for transgender people. It’s fighting for the trans men and the nonbinary people who can also get pregnant.

Fighting for abortion means fighting for free access to healthcare. Abortion is healthcare, but something being healthcare in this country is not enough when our healthcare system is not accessible to everyone and can leave people in crushing debt. It's fighting for immigrants and for the disabled and the poor. When we understand the interconnectedness of our struggles, we can be more equipped to fight back and win.

I’m not pro choice, I’m pro abortion. There’s nothing morally wrong with wanting one or getting one. There doesn’t need to be any other reason to terminate a pregnancy other than a pregnancy not being wanted. Abortion access is just one of the ways we remove the chains this world has on our bodies. For today, I’m sad. I have no hope in the cowardice and cruelty of our elected officials. It’s the radical organizers, the ones who have compiled lists of abortion funds in every state if you need one or know someone who does– that’ll lead us into the direction of freedom. As abolitionist Mariame Kaba always says, “Hope is a discipline.” A new world where we are free is possible.

When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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