Last night, our greatest fears became a reality in Texas under Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion before most people even know they’re pregnant and deputizes strangers to sue anyone who supports or assists another person in accessing abortion in violation of the law. As young lawyers fighting for reproductive justice, we are confronted every day with the growing threat of diminishing abortion access, where our reproductive rights are no longer protected and anti-abortion politicians and legislators are robbing us of our right to determine our own futures.
This tactic is not new. For decades the anti-abortion agenda has operated under the guise of “protecting women’s health” while simultaneously claiming to speak for the interest of all people and orchestrating laws depriving them of their right to make decisions about their own health, families, and lives.
Those of us on the side of autonomy, self-determination, and freedom know that these laws fly in the face of any form of justice, especially reproductive justice. At its core, reproductive justice centers and amplifies the voices, needs, and lived experiences of those most impacted by abortion restrictions. It also acknowledges the inherent right to build our families if, when, and how we see fit, and to do so in a safe and habitable society free from oppression, discrimination, or coercion. Reproductive justice doesn’t begin or end with abortion access—contraception, sexual education, maternal health, voting rights, racial equity, immigrant justice, and accessible health care are all critical to providing the resources we need to build the thriving futures we want.
As women of color from different parts of the country, we each bring different experiences and personal journeys to our work as young lawyers for reproductive justice.
For years, one of us—a fat, Black woman—suffered with painful and heavy menstrual periods experiencing symptoms that would force me to take days off from school or work. When I went to the doctor, I faced discrimination in a way that can only be described as racialized and felt that doctors were not taking my pain seriously. Black people experience excessive deaths beyond the expected mortality rate. They are ignored when they are in pain, brushed off when they complain of issues, and are given less pain medication when they are listened to. This tendency to ignore Black pain has deadly consequences. After years of suffering, I switched to a BIPOC doctor and was diagnosed with PCOS, which piqued my interest in reproductive justice and its human rights framework. This experience really opened my eyes to the racism BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQ+ folks experience while seeking health care services, and as I delved deeper, I realized that reproductive justice centers the needs of marginalized people. It uplifts the voices and experiences of those who have been ostracized and sidelined by the very health care system that is supposed to provide the care they need to live happy and healthy lives. People like me—fat, Black, children of immigrants, people living with chronic health conditions—need to be the final arbiters of how their lives are lived. For that to occur, people need to have access to necessary health care services, like abortion.
And for the other, a first-generation daughter of Pakistani immigrants, it’s not lost on me that my career and the rights I zealously advocate for would not be possible in my parents’ home country, where the legal system continues to ignore and fail women. I continue to watch in horror as women and girls abroad face attacks to their most basic freedoms and autonomy—like education and the ability to move freely—that will set them back decades. And yet, even here in the so-called “land of the free,” access to abortion and full reproductive autonomy are being pushed out of reach and criminalized.
As lawyers who have found a home in the reproductive justice movement, we’re well aware of the privileges we have in order to be able to help lead this critical work. We see how these attacks on our rights impact the most marginalized communities: BIPOC individuals, LGBTQ+ communities, young people, undocumented folks, those living in rural areas, disabled people, and those working to make ends meet. This year has already been a record year for attacks on these communities’ rights and reproductive freedom, but we are fighting back as a broad coalition of advocates, educators, policy makers, providers, and practical support networks.
We are committed to using the law to protect reproductive freedom and ensure reproductive justice. In the midst of a pandemic that has further highlighted the harm of politicizing medicine, we are urging the FDA to follow the science and increase access to medication abortion by lifting medically unnecessary restrictions. And with the most pivotal Supreme Court case for abortion rights since Roe v. Wade on the horizon, we are mobilizing to ensure people of childbearing age do not find themselves living in a country where the constitutional right to abortion is no longer protected.
In the wake of state level attacks to abortion access, we’re urging Congress to act now to pass federal legislation to protect equal access to abortion nationwide. We’re also driving federal legislation that ensures non-stigmatizing, medically-accurate sexual education, recognizing the gaps current sex ed curriculum has in meeting the needs of young BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people. We’re working to end discriminatory insurance policies that restrict abortion coverage. We’re organizing and mobilizing people across the country to educate and advocate. Most importantly we’re having the “tough” conversations with those not deeply embedded in the movement, showing them how attacks on reproductive autonomy and freedom is an attack on equality for all people, and are part of a coordinated effort to oppress all of our rights. As the newest generation of reproductive justice lawyers, we aren’t leaving anyone behind.
Why do we keep showing up in the face of countless skeptics who think we’ve aligned ourselves with a losing battle? The passionate belief that the principles of reproductive justice—a human rights framework conceived by Black women—can guide us to a more equitable world for all. We’re able to do this through the strength of our communities and the power of our voices and the needs of those most impacted by barriers to care. Ask any reproductive justice lawyer. We have a lot to say and we’re just getting started.
Despite constant efforts by anti-abortion proponents to villainize our work and spread misinformation, we’re proud to take on this responsibility. In the words of Ruth Bader Ginsberg: “How fortunate I was to be alive and a lawyer when, for the first time in United States history, it became possible to urge, successfully, before legislatures and courts, the equal-citizenship stature of women and men as a fundamental constitutional principle.” And so we ask ourselves, “How fortunate are we to be on the side of justice?”