‘Tool of white supremacy’: Abortion-rights activists discuss reproductive justice

Photo of a women's rights protest
Narih Lee/Creative Commons
Campus's Othering & Belonging Institute hosted a panel titled “Inside the Fight for Reproductive Justice in Critical Times” on Thursday. (PhotoNarih Lee under CC BY 2.0.)

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UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute hosted a panel discussion on the fight for reproductive justice Thursday, with panelists focusing on the role of white supremacy in anti-abortion activism and the need to center marginalized people in abortion-rights activism. 

The talk, part of the institute’s Rise Up for Justice series, was titled “Inside the Fight for Reproductive Justice in Critical Times.” The panel was hosted by longtime reproductive justice activist and physician Vicki Alexander, and panelists included Pamela Merritt, the executive director of Medical Students for Choice; Bia Vieira, the chief strategist of programs for the Women’s Foundation of California; and Anise Simon, an abortion storyteller at We Testify. 

The panel began with a poem about reproductive rights. After panelists were introduced, Alexander asked participants to define the term “reproductive justice” and asked what reproductive injustice looked like. 

Merritt said reproductive justice was a “human rights framework” that seeks to give every person the right to decide whether or not they are pregnant. 

“This work in reproductive justice to me is really the path in order to move beyond just fighting and resisting all the time and actually get to liberation,” Merritt said during the event. “We are constantly talking about ‘survive’ and ‘advance’ as opposed to, ‘What do we need to thrive and live in communities that are thriving and fulfilling for everyone who lives there?’ ” 

Vieira and Simon emphasized the importance of choice and bodily self-determination. 

Simon noted that the current circumstances for reproductive justice are rooted in national history and that anti-abortion legislature is most likely to impact groups such as women of color, young people, disabled people, transgender people and people living in rural areas. 

“We have to be really intentional about calling these laws what they are: tools of white supremacy,” Simon said during the event. “It’s important to tell the truth about who these laws target.” 

Alexander said California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his intention for California to be a place where people from any state can come to receive abortions. She noted the announcement may be an opportunity to provide increased resources if Roe v. Wade provisions are indeed rolled back in summer. 

The panelists also discussed the current state and causes of abortion-rights activism as well as actions people can take to address current circumstances.

According to Vieira, the Supreme Court may make a decision that would decrease access to abortion in June 2022. In light of this, it is important to connect reproductive justice work globally, she added.

Other panelists affirmed the need to find partners internationally to support reproductive justice, adding that it was extremely important for people to donate to organizations that support abortion-rights justice or abortion funds for individual procedures and associated costs. 

Merritt also urged listeners of the panel to reflect on the colonial and white supremacist roots of anti-abortion legislation in the United States. 

“They want to control women for a reason, and they want to control reproduction for a reason,” Merritt said during the event. “This is about population, this is about minority rule, this is about (how) white supremacy cannot function without white population growth.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.