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Reproductive oppression has been defined as the control, exploitation, and regulation of our bodies, sexuality, labor, and reproduction (see A New Vision). We are responding to this era of political tyranny, regressive policy, and fear mongering, all of which foment discrimination and hateful actions toward marginalized groups, by working with movement partners and leaders, legal professionals, law students, and other advocates to combat and eliminate five forms of reproductive oppression — our Strategic Initiatives: decriminalizing self-managed and supported non-clinical abortion; improving young people’s abortion access; securing public insurance coverage of abortion; enhancing birth options and experiences; and increasing support for families using public benefits. We employ five modalities — litigation, training, organizing, advocacy, and support— in our work toward ending these iterations of reproductive oppression.
In lawyering for reproductive justice, we know that our work would be incomplete and inadequate without having at its heart a focus on racial justice, economic justice, immigrant justice, gender justice, disability justice, and LGBTQ liberation. We believe that lawyers, law students, and legal professionals have a key role to play in dismantling the systems, institutions, and practices that inhibit or prohibit reproductive freedom.
While the five Strategic Initiatives do not encompass the totality of the work we do at If/When/How, we focus on these Strategic Initiatives because they are issue areas where If/When/How can play a novel role, marshal intellectual and practical resources, and can make a real impact. These Strategic Initiatives are deeply interconnected — both at their root causes of classism, sexism, and racism, and in the ways they play out in people’s lives — in many ways because of, rather than in spite of, the legal system, including the criminal (in)justice system, in the United States.
“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” — Audre Lorde
We recognize that people inhabit intersecting identities. The same person may experience all five forms (and more) of the oppressions that our Strategic Initiatives seek to address in the course of their reproductive lives. Imagine a young person who is pregnant and excited to become a parent. However, they find out from the school counselor that their baby won’t qualify for cash assistance, because there’s a welfare family cap in their state, and another person in their family is already receiving aid. The young person quickly realizes that without this public support, they won’t have the financial resources needed to move out and take care of the baby in a healthy environment like they had hoped. So, they reluctantly decide to have an abortion — not by choice but under the duress of their economic circumstances.
They seek abortion care in a reproductive healthcare clinic, only to discover they cannot receive an abortion in their state without having a parent’s permission. Knowing they wouldn’t get such permission, they try to navigate the confusing court forms for the only other alternative: the judicial bypass process. In the midst of their research, they discover abortion isn’t covered by their state’s Medicaid plan. A quick call to a clinic reveals that the out-of-pocket costs for an abortion would be more money than they’ve ever seen. Nonetheless they do their best to come up with the cash — sell their possessions, borrow from friends, and do odd jobs for money. But it’s still not enough.
When they confide in a friend about their conundrum, she responds by saying there’s another way: her cousin ordered pills online and ended her own pregnancy at home not that long ago. So the young pregnant person starts Googling every search term they can think of that might lead to information. The first pages that pop up are full of scary headlines about people getting arrested and going to jail for self-managing abortion. They can’t bear the thought of getting locked up, and they realize they’re left with no choice but to have the baby.
They get scolded when they seek prenatal care for not having come in sooner, and no amount of explanation seems to garner compassion. Their preferences and plans continue to be ignored all the way up through the labor and delivery process, which involves unwanted interventions and unnerving interactions. Nevertheless, they and their baby survive.
But it shouldn’t be so hard. To have an abortion or to have a baby. The cards are stacked against pregnant people living in poverty, particularly people of color, youth, and immigrants. Our interventions on these forms of reproductive oppression certainly won’t fix everything. But we believe they can bring relief to people who live pieces of this story every day. And, eventually, alongside communities, activists, and experts of every kind, we’ll be able to dismantle the very structures that make such stories common and rebuild systems that make these stories impossible.