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From Abortion Rights to Social Justice

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On the weekend of April 14, Reproductive Health Access Project (RHAP) team members (staff, fellows, and interns) attended the 37th annual  From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom Conference at Hampshire College. The conference aims to “…inspire, educate, train and support new activists and leadership to secure reproductive and sexual rights, freedom, and justice for everyone.” This student-led conference creates a space to cultivate new leaders in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement.

Prior to the workshop, two RHAP staff members (Rosanna Montilla-Payano, Development Officer and Natalie Kopke, Program Associate) attended New Leadership Network Initiative (NLNI), a project of Hampshire College’s Civil Liberties and Public Policy program (CLPP) that aims to create a collaborate network of diverse, emerging leaders in the reproductive justice movement. At the first session of the pre-conference, Miami-based intersectional organizers and co-founders of Spring Up, Nastassja (Stas) Schmiedt and Lea Roth, presented on Transformative Justice and its potential as a tool and framework for addressing the root causes of rape culture and building the foundations of consent culture. The second session, Brienne Colton (BC) and Sade Swift from Brown Girl Recovery, a Bronx-based organization dedicated to providing community healing sessions for women of color in uptown areas of NYC, presented on Healing Justice and its importance within the reproductive justice movement as a means of collective liberation. They also addressed a critically important question in that needs to be asked more often in our movement: “What do we need to give up in order to get free?”

As an organization, RHAP gave two different presentations at the conference. Laura Riker (Senior Program Manager) and Natalie Kopke (Program Associate), facilitated “Demystifying MVA Abortions: The Papaya Workshop.” Presenters demonstrated a manual vacuum aspiration abortion on a papaya, after which the audience was able to practice what they learned on their own papayas. We also discussed what access looks like for reproductive health care in the US and “myth-busted” common misconceptions about abortion. Laura Riker, along with Simone New (The Doula Project), Oriaku Njoku (Access Reproductive Care – Southeast), and Lauren Boc (Physicians for Reproductive Health), also presented “Building Power Through Health Care Access: Direct Service Providers Organize for Change.” Panelists discussed different models for provider advocacy and the diverse ways that the spectrum of direct service providers organize to advance access to reproductive health care in their respective communities.

In addition to RHAP’s presentations and the NLNI sessions, our team members attended several different panel presentations at the conference itself. 

  • Nora Eigenbrodt, our Program and Communications Intern, attended “Reproductive Justice & State Legislative Abortion Trends: A Discussion on Innovative Intersectional Strategies.” The speakers, representatives from the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Guttmacher Institute, discussed emerging anti-abortion laws in state legislatures across the country, focusing specifically on those targeting marginalized communities.
  • Hana Raskin, our Network Research Intern, attended “Reproductive Politics in Latin American and Muslim-Majority Countries.” The panel focused on how abortion laws vary widely across Latin America and Muslim-majority countries. Both panelists stressed that even though countries may share a common religion, interpretations of religious doctrines vary. Also, regions are not monolithic; countries have different histories and political contexts, which directly impact their law-making around abortion.
  • Kallie McLoughlin, our Development Associate, attended “Criminalized Bodies: State Violence in the 21st Century.” Panelists discussed the criminalization of women and people of color in their communities and their efforts to stand up for themselves and defend their rights while under attack. The workshop included discussions of what it means for justice when a domestic violence survivor is seen as an “imperfect survivor,” the effect on sex workers when surveillance and saviorism are combined, how to mobilize around privilege, and how to most safely organize and communicate with fellow activists.
  • Rachael Pelton, our Social Work Intern, attended “Black Mamas Matter: Film and Talk Back,“ where she watched “Death by Delivery.” In the United States, black maternal mortality is 4x as high as that of white women- and in New York City, this disparity increases to 12x. According to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, this disparity can be attributed to the different ways the medical establishment treats Black mothers often not taking their pain and symptoms as seriously as those of their white counterparts. When Black mothers utilize midwifery services, their health outcomes are significantly improved, as midwives are trained to listen to mothers and let them lead the experience rather than have the doctor call the shots. This presentation is a snapshot of a toolkit that SisterSong and the Center for Reproductive Rights collaborated on in order to identify strategies to improve Black maternal health.

As always, we are so thankful to CLPP for creating and fostering this space for us and so many fellow activists and leaders in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement. To learn more about CLPP and the amazing work that they do, please visit them at: clpp.hampshire.edu.

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