April 16, 2015

BRAVE and United for Reproductive Justice

By Shafia M. Monroe, DEM, CDT, MPH and Kara Carmosino. Shafia Monroe serves as the Midwife, President/CEO of the International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC). Kara Carmosino works as the Training Manager for the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO).

On March 25, a coalition of more than a hundred Oregonians stood outside the Capitol, proudly chanting “We are brave and united!” Taiko drums heralded our approach to the Capitol steps as we rallied in support of SB 894 Comprehensive Women’s Health. We joined Western States Center, Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health / NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, and the Oregon Health Equity Alliance to fill the halls of the Capitol Building—carrying sunflowers, sharing our stories, and fighting for policies to support all affected by reproductive justice: children, elders, mothers, young people, immigrants, queer folks, transgender folks, and people of color.

We Are BRAVE (Building Reproductive Autonomy and Voices for Equity) is a new, powerful reproductive justice coalition that includes ICTC and APANO. We joined BRAVE because we see the impacts of harmful policies on our families and our communities. For Shafia Monroe and ICTC, “Reproductive justice means being part of a national movement of women of color who are on the front lines protecting the autonomy and decision-making of women—decisions ranging from whether to parent children or not; how, where and with whom to birth; to have the freedom to breastfeed our infants in public; to be protected against forced sterilization, and to have access to quality and full range of reproductive health care. It also means that we are empowered to advocate for ourselves and be protected and nurtured by a national movement that honors the bodies of Black women.”

For APANO, once we started to engage our members around reproductive health, we saw how linked reproductive justice was to the other issues our communities face, particularly the impacts of healthcare exclusions on low-income families, immigrants and citizens of the Compact of Free Association (COFA) nations of Palau, the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. BRAVE participation also allowed members to reflect on their own stories. For Kara, she notes that “Personally, I realized I care about family security as an adoptee separated from my family of origin because of an unplanned pregnancy. All people should be able to choose whether and when to parent—and as a society, we should invest in resources so everyone, not just people with wealth, have the support to carry out these decisions. ”

At a political moment when hundreds of anti-choice bills were being introduced across the country, BRAVE led proactive legislation to close gaps and ensure affordable reproductive health care. We reject the shame and stigma projected onto our personal reproductive decisions, and believe that all people deserve equal access to all reproductive health services, including abortion.

At this point, the Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill will not be moving this legislative session. In the end, the fact that the bill included abortion as a reproductive service felt too controversial for legislators. While we will not be able to enact this important legislation this year, we did accomplish these critical gains and victories:

  • More than 300 community leaders lobbied their legislators on SB 894 and courageously shared their stories on why insurance coverage for the full range of reproductive health services, including abortion, is critical and why affordability makes choice meaningful;
  • 6,000 constituent calls and emails were made to legislators that filled phone lines for two hours;
  • A new and powerful coalition of reproductive health, rights and justice organizations came together to collaborate and work together with authenticity, accountability and transformative values-based relationships.

The urgency and need to work on these issues remain as true today as when we started. We continue to center the voices of women, people of color and transgender people—those who are disproportionately impacted by attacks on reproductive rights and family security but who are often excluded or the first to be left behind. Together, we share a vision of reproductive justice grounded in body sovereignty, self-determination and family security, when all people have the power and resources to make healthy decisions about their bodies, genders, sexualities and families for themselves and their communities in all areas of their lives. Our next horizon for Comprehensive Women’s Health is the February 2016 legislative session. Join us! Sign this petition today to show your lawmakers you support this important piece of legislation.