Netroots Nation 2011: Protecting Reproductive Rights in Your State

Netroots Nation Minneapolis: June 2011This panel focused on the attacks on reproductive and sexual health at the state level. This is a vital conversation that needs to be happening in the broader reproductive health, rights, and justice movements. The most extreme attacks are being introduced in states and they’re actually passing. Not only are they making abortion inaccessible in states, bringing us back to the lived reality of the days of illegal abortion, many bills are designed to make it through the courts and potentially overturn Roe v. Wade.

What I didn’t hear much of in this panel was discussion of a state-based strategy around legislation. I often feel there’s a defeatist attitude about attacks in states, without actually working on a way to win these battles. The movement mobilizes people at the federal level, and we’ve seen great organizing around cultural attacks in states like the racist billboards. But antis are networked across states, writing legislation together and introducing it in multiple places at once. We need a state-based strategy, which needs to be funded and supported, to fight these battles.

Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check framed the topic as not being just about abortion, but a broad attack on reproductive and sexual health. The frame, however, was somewhat stuck in the notion of these issues as “women’s issues.” As I’ve written about here before, I think it’s important to recognize hatred of women motivates the most militant anti-choicers, and women face much of the brunt of these attacks, but these issues don’t just impact women.

Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute shared some chilling stats – the number of anti-choice bills in states, about both abortion and family planning, has jumped higher than ever before this year. Since 1985 the number’s hovered between 10 and 40 bills. This year we’ve seen almost 80, and unlike previous years way too many are being enacted. Elizabeth did mention that we’ve only seen one race and sex selection bill move this year, and that’s very much thanks to the work of groups like Trust Black Women bringing attention to racist anti-choice campaigns.

Jordan Goldberg of the Center for Reproductive Rights talked about the shift of state legislatures into conservative anti-choice hands, which made it possible for these legislatures to focus on anti-choice bills as their number 1 priority. A number of state governors also shifted into the conservative anti-choice camp (and yes, we’re talking pretty exclusively about Republicans, though the Democrats aren’t all our friends either).

Our own Pamela Merritt (aka Shark-Fu), who also blogs at, spoke about her work in Missouri with teen and young mothers who are homeless. She learned from this work that these folks need to be at the center of the reproductive justice movement, that we must be lifting up their issues, their voices and activism. The right has a continued campaign to control women of color’s bodies and reproduction: in the past through keeping them from having children, now trying to force them to have children, as through the disgusting racist billboard campaigns designed to shame folks from accessing reproductive health care. There is a need in the face of campaigns like the one about “black genocide” and the new ones targeting Latinas for women of color-led organizing. Groups like Trust Black Women are doing vital (if, I must add, very underfunded and under-supported by the mainstream reproductive rights movement) work.

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