Saturday, February 27, 2010

Andrea Smith: beyond pro-life vs. pro-choice

Andrea Smith is a Cherokee scholar, feminist, and anti-violence activist. A lot of her academic work focuses on the intersections of Native studies, feminist theory, and theology. She co-founded INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, the Boarding School Healing Project, and the Chicago chapter of Women of All Red Nations. Smith is brilliant; I strongly recommend all of her writings. She spoke at my school a few years ago on state violence against women of color, and I got to have lunch with her.

Anyway, today I read a paper she wrote in the National Women's Study Assocation (NWSA) Journal titled, "Beyond Pro-Choice Versus Pro-Life: Women of Color and Reproductive Justice." I have always been pro-choice. In high school, I volunteered at Planned Parenthood. This paper really opened my eyes and made me think more critically about the problems with both movements. She argues that ironically, the pro-choice and pro-life movements "are more similar than they are different." Both movements marginalize women of color, poor women, women with disabilities, and women from other marginalized communities.

On the side of the pro-life movement, she points out that even if one does believe that a fetus is a life, it doesn't necessarily follow that someone should be punishment for it. She proceeds to debunk the criminal justice system in the United States, also known as the prison industrial complex. Basically, since the prison system in the United States completely fails to address social problems (except to make them worse), it is actually counterproductive for someone who supports life to support the criminalization of abortion. And it is defintely counterproductive for women of color and other marginalized women, because the prison industrial complex is extremely racist.

Like I said, I considered myself pro-choice, so it's not like I need to be persuaded against aligning myself with the pro-life movement. But it was interesting to read a new argument instead of the usual ones that constantly get rehashed. Which reminds me of why this topic has everything to do with religion and childbirth. I am becoming a birth doula. Doulas are there to support whatever choices a mother makes. But how can we talk about birthing options and choices when not every woman has a choice? (See previous posts for more on that.) And the choice to not have a child is not a separate issue; that is also a reproductive choice. So social issues like this are certainly relevant to childbirth. Furthermore, the pro-life movement makes many religion-based claims. It's important to keep in mind that these sociopolitical issues are very tied up in people's religious and spiritual beliefs.

Her analysis of the pro-choice movement is what really surprised me. I had known that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was involved in Eugenics, but I thought that Planned Parenthood and the pro-choice movement in general now made an effort to cut ties with Eugenics and to truly support women of marginalized communities. Smith argues that the pro-choice movement "often supports population control policies and the development of dangerous contraceptives that are generally targeted towards communities of color." She provides solid evidence that Planned Parenthood is invested in population control and sterilization in third-world countries.

Finally, back to the question of having true reproductive choice, she points out that "both positions do not question the capitalist system—they focus solely on the decision of whether or not a woman should have an abortion without addressing the economic, political, and social conditions that put women in this position in the first place." Definitely read this paper if you get a chance. You can find it here, but unfortunately access is restricted to those with a subscription to Project Muse. I can send a pdf to your e-mail address, though.

1 comment:

  1. Hi my name is LaQueita I was wondering if it would be possible to get this paper Betond Pro-Choice Versus Pro-Life:Women of Color and Reproductive Justice. If possible would you please email it to me at