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The “Pro-Life” War on Women Has Always Been About Race and Class, Too

Handmaids of Handmaid's Tale

Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!

As you’ve surely read by now, this week, Planned Parenthood was forced to withdraw from the Title X program, which provides federal funding for reproductive healthcare and preventative services. This is, of course, due to the Ninth Circuit Court’s recent decision to allow the Trump administration’s cruel, discriminatory domestic “gag rule” to take effect, allowing the administration to deny funding to any organization that offers abortion services or referrals.

The cold, hard truth about the gag rule is that it won’t really affect abortion services, as organizations like Planned Parenthood and the many independent reproductive health clinics across the country are already barred from using federal funding for abortions. (Thank you very much, classist, discriminatory Hyde amendment.) That is, of course, an awful injustice in itself that stigmatizes and differentiates abortion care from all other safe, legal healthcare, prioritizes the personal beliefs of a select few Americans over the health needs of roughly half the population, and shifts abortion access from human right to socioeconomic privilege.

But the gag rule is especially cruel and deceitful, as it pretends to take a grand moral stand against abortion, all while impacting something else entirely: birth control, sexual health education, and preventative care, such as STI testing and breast and cervical cancer screenings. Roughly half of all women on Medicaid rely on Planned Parenthood as their only source of healthcare. As a result of Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health clinics being forced off of the Title X program, many low-income, disproportionately women of color will literally be unable to afford birth control and life-saving preventative care—all because a few powerful old white men loathe abortion and women’s bodily autonomy.

All of this, of course, is a harsh, costly reminder of the fact that the so-called “pro-life” movement’s War on Women—a war that, make no mistake, kills—is also especially a war on low-income women and people of color. Access to affordable contraception and sexual health education empowers women, pregnant people, and families with the most basic control over their lives, futures, and certainly, their economic situations.

It’s easy to forget that the eugenics movement and forced sterilization targeting black and Latinx pregnant people were just a couple generations ago, and racist, classist reproductive coercion is hardly a thing of the past. From laws incentivizing inmates—who are more likely to be low-income, people of color—to undergo sterilization to “family cap” policies that prohibit mothers and families on welfare from having more children if they want to continue to receive assistance, to repeated efforts to defund women’s health clinics that offer subsidized family planning services, reproductive coercion remains an everyday reality encoded into our state and federal laws, today.

The domestic gag rule and its disparate impact on poor people of color comprise an act of reproductive coercion, too. It’s not just forcing black and brown people who don’t meet white supremacist standards of being ideal humans to not give birth; it’s also denying them the resources, such as birth control and abortion access, that they need to make meaningful, independent decisions about their bodies and families. Policies of forced sterilization and forced birth are similarly about control—and placing control in the hands of powerful, wealthy white men—and denying bodily autonomy on the basis of race and class.

The defunding of Planned Parenthood and all women’s health organizations and clinics that continue to offer abortion services and referrals, contrary to smug and ignorant rhetoric by Vice President Mike Pence, isn’t a choice. Sure, Planned Parenthood and other clinics could have “chosen” to stop offering abortion care and referrals, but to do so would forfeit all recognition of abortion as the crucial, absolutely necessary healthcare that it is. Everyone, especially low-income women of color, would hardly be better off.

Unfortunately, the domestic gag rule and its targeting of poor women of color aren’t isolated incidents, amid a backdrop of abortion restrictions passing at rapid rates (more than a third of all laws restricting abortion access that have passed since Roe v. Wade were passed in the last seven years alone), and creating barriers that disproportionately impede on poor women of color’s access to care. This week alone, conflicts in Kentucky and Indiana over licenses for clinics to provide abortion services escalated; in the absence of nearby abortion providers, women and pregnant people in rural states are forced to travel great distances to access essential care—a costly endeavor that many poor women can’t afford.

Whatever Trump chooses to call his domestic gag rule—be that “defunding Planned Parenthood,” or anything else—it’s important that we get a couple things straight: The policy is not going to make abortion vanish into thin air, contrary to this administration’s claims. If anything, it’s likely to increase unwanted pregnancies significantly by limiting access to and increasing the costs of preventive care. It’s a dangerous act of reproductive coercion, and low-income women, and families, of color will pay the price most of all.

Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!

(image: Daniel X O’Neil on Flickr)

Kylie Cheung writes about feminism and politics, with a focus on reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kylietcheung, or learn more about her writing at

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