The bloody truth about reproductive rights in America

Hannah Figueroa-Velazquez, Editor-in-Chief

Reproductive rights: such a timely topic as we now join Texas in solidarity for their fight against the unjust abortion ban placed upon its people. 

A movement largely headed by feminists since the late 1900s, the push for the right to have an abortion is a crucial aspect of feminist history. People often overlook, however, the racist and bloody past of the reproductive rights movement. 

In 1973, abortion was officially declared legal in the Roe vs Wade court case. Unfortunately, many of the women heading this movement were white, wealthy women, meaning a necessary part of the reproductive rights discussion was commonly left out- accessibility. Though abortion was made a constitutional right at the federal level, the 1977 Hyde amendment was passed by Congress and effectively withdrew federal funding of abortions. As a result, a large demographic of Latina, Black and Native American women found themselves unable to afford birth control or abortions. 

At the same time that a growing movement for “voluntary motherhood” began to gain traction among white feminists, women of color were more focused on the economic injustices that left them out of this conversation. In the late 19th century, hysterical talks of “race suicide” began, as the white birthrate was dropping rapidly. Although this was due to the disparity between the number of white women and women of color who were able to afford methods of birth control, many began to grow fearful. The president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, even claimed that “race purity must be maintained.” The hysteria of the white race slowly diminishing and other ethnic populations growing triggered a rise in eugenics propaganda. Because Black and Brown women disproportionately were unable to afford abortions, the government pushed for another effective and completely free birth control method: sterilization. 

Pushing the agenda that low-income families shouldn’t have children while at the same time imposing laws upon people of color that prevented them from moving up economically resulted in a mass decline in populations of color. Pamphlets and pictures were spread across poor Black and Brown neighborhoods, all sending a simple yet horrifying message: if you are low income, the responsible thing to do is to get sterilized. In 1919, The American Eugenics Society confirmed their racist tactic as they claimed birth control was a weapon to “prevent the American people from being replaced by alien stock.” 

Eventually, the practice of advertising sterilization to communities of color was addressed nationally and, for the most part, made unconstitutional. However, the results were devastating. By 1976, about 24 percent of Native American women at child-bearing age had been sterilized. 

Now, as we once again push back on government officials for dictating the right to choose what happens to our bodies, we must do better. As we know, we can’t move forward as a community until we’ve faced our past. The reproductive rights movement is inarguably an important cause, but one that cannot afford to be exclusive in who we’re getting justice for. This means not only fighting to legalize abortions everywhere, but also pushing for affordable and accessible forms of birth control. This means making sure that abortions aren’t a luxury or something to be earned through the accumulation of wealth, but rather ensuring that abortions are what they should be: a human right.