To show me what rural poverty looks like in Hidalgo County, Planned Parenthood promotora (outreach worker) Dora Alicia Proa takes me to a colonia nearly 15 miles away from McAllen, in San Carlos. Colonias are unincorporated subdivisions founded in the 1950s by predatory developers who sold lots of barren and flood-prone land to poor Latin American migrant workers without installing basic infrastructure. They are synonymous with poverty. Literally. The Texas Secretary of State defines these communities as “residential areas along the Texas-Mexico border that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water and sewer systems, electricity, paved roads, and safe and sanitary housing.”

Last year, Hidalgo County’s Planned Parenthood offered free birth control, STI testing, Well Woman exams and men’s health screenings at the San Carlos Community Resource Center. Now, to get the same services, patients have to drive up to 20 miles to the Edinburg clinic, where a physical, HIV test and Pap smear costs at least $60 and a monthly supply of birth control pills costs $20 at minimum.

The Hidalgo County Health and Human Services Department runs eight clinics where people of all ages can get a range of services, from tuberculosis treatment to newborn screenings. However, wait times are reportedly brutal, and the health department’s STI testing site is located in McAllen. Ostensibly to fill the void created by Planned Parenthood closures, the University of Texas Medical Branch opened a maternal health clinic in Hidalgo. But that site is also in McAllen; it specializes in pregnancy and prenatal care, and it doesn’t have weekend hours.

In one San Carlos household Proa and I visit—a cramped trailer on concrete blocks where the kitchen sink collides with bunk beds—Proa informs two young women that the Edinburg clinic is running a special on annual exams. They shake their heads at the mention of cash, then tsk tsk at six young boys and girls who are smiling shyly, pointing and calling me chocolate.

Next, Proa introduces me to a young woman standing in front of a three-room track house with dirt floors, a chunk of the roof missing and the toilet located in a crumbling shed next door. My Spanish is pitiful and neither Proa nor the homeowner speaks much English. But I can see that four small children and two adults share this space.

Within this context, it’s unclear how defunding conveniently located sources of free birth control, STI testing, Pap smears, clinical breast exams and other women’s health care is a pro-life activity. But this is what counts as logic in today’s abortion wars.

Akiba Solomon, “Collateral Damage In The War On Women,” Colorlines 10/11/12 (via racialicious)
Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Faye Wattleton


I remember the joy I felt when I saw former Planned Parenthood president Faye Wattleton appeared on the cover on Ms. Magazine in 1989. Finally, I felt like there’s a Black woman who thought being for the right and the accessibility to the full range of reproductive health services—including abortion—wasn’t inherently anti-Black and, through this, I felt affirmed in my own position regarding the issue, even when I slogged through the years after seeing this cover in reproductive-health organizations and business way too rooted in white female privilege, which played out again and again in their office politics. 

I give a longer love-up at the main blog, but just a few facts about Wattleton:

  • She’s trained and a nurse-midwife, receiving her bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University in nursing and her master’s degree in maternal and infant care from Columbia University. She also taught nursing classes.
  • When she took over Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in 1978, she was its first African American president, first female president since Margaret Sanger, and the youngest president. When she left in 1992, she also served as the longest-running president. 
  • After she left PPFA, she co-founded and ran a think tank on women’s issues.
  • She, among with several other African American women, founded the pro-Roe v. Wade group African American Women for Reproductive Freedom in 1990. 

This is a excerpt of the African American Women For Reproductive Freedom statement:

This freedom—to choose and to exercise our choices—is what we’ve fought and died for. Brought here in chains, worked like mules, bred like beasts, whipped one day, sold the next—244 years we were held in bondage. Somebody said that we were less than human and not fit for freedom. Somebody said we were like children and could not be trusted to think for ourselves. Somebody owned our flesh and decided if and when and with whom and how our bodies were to be used. Somebody said that black women could be raped, held in concubinage, forced to bear children year in and year out, but often not raise them. Oh, yes, we have known how painful it is to be without choice in this land.

Those of us who remember the bad old days when Jim Crow rules and segregation were the way of things know the hardships and indignities we faced. We were free, but few or none were our choices. Somebody said where we could live and couldn’t, where we could work, what schools we could go to, where we could eat, how we could travel. Somebody prevented us from voting. Somebody said we could be paid less than other workers. Somebody burned crosses, harassed and terrorized us in order to keep us down.

Now once again, somebody is trying to say that we can’t handle the freedom of choice. Only this time they’re saying African-American women can’t think for themselves and, therefore, can’t be allowed to make serious decisions. Somebody’s saying that we should not have the freedom to take charge of our personal lives and protect our health, that we only have limited rights over our bodies. Somebody’s once again forcing women to acts of desperation, because somebody’s saying that if women have unintended pregnancies, it’s too bad, but they must pay the price.

Somebody’s saying that we must have babies whether we choose to or not. Doesn’t matter what we say, doesn’t matter how we feel. Some say that abortion under any circumstance is wrong, others say that rape and incest and danger to the life of the woman are the only exceptions. Doesn’t matter that nobody’s saying who decides if it was rape or incest, if a woman’s word is good enough, if she must go into court and prove it. Doesn’t matter that she may not be able to take care of a baby, that the problem also affects girls barely out of adolescence, that our children are having children. Doesn’t matter if you’re poor and pregnant—go on welfare or walk away. 

We understand why African-American women risked their lives then and why they seek safe, legal abortion now. It’s been a matter of survival. Hunger and homelessness. Inadequate housing and income to properly provide for themselves and their children. Family instability. Rape. Incest. Abuse. Too young, too old, too sick, too tired. Emotional, physical, mental, economic, social—the reasons for not carrying a pregnancy to term are endless and varied, personal, urgent and private. And for all these pressing reasons, African-American women once again will be among the first forced to risk their lives if abortion is made illegal.

There have always been those who have stood in the way of our exercising our rights, who tried to restrict our choices. There probably always will be. But we who have been oppressed should not be swayed in our opposition to tyranny of any kind, especially attempts to take away our reproductive freedom. You may believe abortion is wrong. We respect your belief and we will do all in our power to protect that choice for you. You may decide that abortion is not an option you would choose. Reproductive freedom guarantees your right not to. All that we ask is that no one deny another human being the right to make her own choice. That no one condemn her to exercising her choices in ways that endanger her health, her life. And that no one prevent others from creating safe, affordable, legal conditions to accommodate women, whatever the choices they make. Reproductive freedom gives each of us the right to make our own choices and guarantees us a safe, legal, affordable support system. It’s the right to choose.

The latest available figures show that only 48 percent of voting-age women with ready access to their U.S. birth certificates have a birth certificate with their current legal name. The same survey showed that only 66 percent of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name.

Ultimately, these measures make the voting process more confusing and place additional burdens on groups who each had to struggle to obtain the right to vote and the right to access quality & affordable reproductive health care.

What are leaders in the movement saying?

“If you can’t access the ballot box, how do you ensure access to reproductive health care?” — Aimee Thorne-Thompson, Advocates for Youth

For reproductive justice advocates, voter suppression is a reproductive justice issue. Many groups like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (RCRC) and NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition (NYC RJC, formerly SisterSong NYC) and Advocates for Youth work year-around to educate communities on the issues and mobilize them to vote for progressive candidates and ballot measures.

Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Justice Director at RCRC, Angela Ferrell-Zabala says voter suppression has the potential to affect down ballot measures and local races in states like Florida.

“Down ballot issues like Amendment 6 will open the state’s constitutional privacy laws and make it very difficult for women to seek abortion care’’ Ferrell-Zabala states.

If Amendment 6 is passed, politicians will be allowed to intrude on personal medical decisions and take away access to healthcare that many women who are Florida public employees currently have.

There is much at stake and “we have to look at the repercussions, it all leads back to reproductive justice. Accessing healthcare and education — making informed decisions about your sexual health and family planning.” Ferrell-Zabala explains.

This is about agency and the power to transform communities.

“To limit the agency of women and youth who are disenfranchised by the social conditions of our race, gender, age and socio-economic status is unacceptable at best, and a direct violation of our human rights at its worst.” says Jasmine Burnett, NYC RJC lead organizer.

Gloria Feldt, author and past president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America argues that “the young, the poor, the women struggling to make ends meet for their families are most vulnerable to disenfranchisement yet have the most to lose if right-wing perpetrators of voter suppression succeed.”

The power of the women’s vote can only be effectively leveraged if every woman who is eligible to vote is able to enter the voting booth and have her vote counted. If they are not counted in 2012 then, “reproductive rights, health, and justice would be among the first freedoms to go, and economic justice not far behind.” said Feldt.