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To Achieve True Reproductive Justice in California, We Must Look Beyond Roe v. Wade

Photo: ACLU Nationwide

ACLU California Action fights for Californians’ bodily autonomy and the right to have children, not have children, and parent the children we have with dignity and safety. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a devastating step back by overturning Roe v. Wade and nearly 50 years of precedent guaranteeing the constitutional right to abortion, we know that Roe was never enough to make our vision a reality, and that it does not define our vision for reproductive justice and liberation.

In light of this ruling, we must reaffirm our fight for true reproductive justice in California and dismantle reductive narratives about reproductive freedom in this state.

The rosy picture of California as an abortion haven state has been far from a reality for many low-income people; Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color; LGBTQ+ people; immigrants; people with disabilities; people living in rural communities; and people living at the intersections of these identities. Despite our state Constitution and state laws that protect the right to an abortion, these communities still struggle to access abortion care due to lack of funds, transportation challenges, childcare, and well-documented racism within the healthcare system.

However, if we are to achieve reproductive justice for all, and especially for communities who have been systematically and historically excluded from power, we must look beyond abortion rights and work to build a California where all people are able to make decisions about their bodies, their families, and their futures.

To get there, we need to advance bold policy, organize and build power, and shift harmful narratives away from those that stigmatize reproductive healthcare, abortion, and gender-affirming care to ones that honor and celebrate an inclusive right to bodily autonomy and self-determined family formation.

Those two concepts—bodily autonomy and self-determined family formation—have formed the backbone of the reproductive justice movement since its inception. The movement, in turn, has been firmly grounded in human rights, racial and economic justice, and a strategy that addresses intersecting oppressions: race, class, gender expression, sexual orientation.

Our work builds on that framework, with calls to action for policy changes that reflect and improve every aspect of our lives.

Reproductive justice means economic security so that California families can thrive.  Reproductive justice means rebuking white supremacy, a legacy built on the desire to control the reproduction of Black peoples’ bodies, and the bodies of other people of color. Reproductive justice means being free from all forms of violence—including gun violence—so that we can raise the children we have in safe communities, with dignity. Reproductive justice means being free from criminalization for decisions that we make about our bodies.

So, while we support efforts to clarify and strengthen protections for abortion access in our state laws and Constitution, abortion access is just one part of a larger struggle to create a state with liberation, freedom, and dignity for all, where racism and socioeconomic status no longer stand in the way of people of all genders, gender expressions, and sexual orientations thriving.

We have a lot of work to do here in California to end this struggle. Far too many laws and systems in our state present obstacles to true bodily autonomy for the most marginalized. Here are just a few examples:

  • Reactionary forces in this state have tried to use the criminal legal system to coerce and control pregnant people and reproductive decision-making. Two women in California, Chelsea Becker and Adora Perez, were recently prosecuted and imprisoned for stillbirths.
  • Black and Latinx people, and people living in poverty, face profound barriers to accessing abortion care. Forty percent of California counties have no clinics that provide abortions, according to the most recently available data. And for people who rely on Medi-Cal, it can be even harder to find care. One study shows that people—disproportionately Black and Latinx people—have had to travel more than 100 miles to find an abortion provider that accepts Medi-Cal.
  • Laws and policies continue to drive the disproportionate criminalization of LGBTQ+ people, and especially transgender women of color. California law criminalizes loitering with the intent to engage in sex work, giving law enforcement a tool to harass and discriminate against Black and trans communities.
  • Like the criminal legal system, California’s racist, classist family regulation system (a.k.a child welfare system) allows government agents to surveil, control, and punish families—primarily the families of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. Conditions of poverty are falsely characterized as “neglect” and allow for the disproportionate removal of Black children from their families. The system is built on a legacy of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their families and communities.

We can’t achieve equitable abortion access for all without fighting for the right to bodily autonomy for all. If we view abortion access as divorced from that framework, then we risk upholding abortion care—and all other aspects of reproductive decision-making—as a right that is only available to the privileged few.

This advocacy framework is especially critical now. California has become the closest state to provide abortions to over one million out-of-state people. The rights and identities of marginalized groups throughout the country are under attack.

We must continue to work toward building a California where all people, including all people who may seek refuge here, have the power and resources to make decisions about their bodies. That is the universal right on which all of their freedoms rest.

What can I do to help?

We can never just rely on court decisions to enact justice in our communities. Here are some things that you can do today to advocate for true reproductive justice in California:

  • Support the following proposed state laws:
    • SCA10 would spell out the rights to access abortion and contraception in our state Constitution, further solidifying existing privacy and equal protection guarantees.
    • AB2223 would ensure that no one in California is investigated, prosecuted, or incarcerated for ending a pregnancy or experiencing a pregnancy loss. 
    • AB2085 would clarify that poverty is not “neglect” and should never trigger mandatory reporting to the family regulation system.
    • AB 2199, the Birthing Justice for California Families Pilot Project, would advance birth equity by funding doulas to work with communities who suffer from high rates of negative birth outcomes, including people in jails.
  • Support the many other bills that are being developed at the state level, which include efforts to secure more funding for abortion services in California.
  • Ensure that your schools are providing comprehensive sexual health education as required by California law including information about abortion and rights to access sexual and reproductive health care. See our know-your-rights webpage on this topic.
  • Donate money and/or time to ACCESS Reproductive Justice, California’s only abortion fund providing practical support for people seeking care, or to an abortion fund in a state where abortion rights are endangered.
  • Educate yourselves and those around you about abortion rights, reproductive justice, and how barriers to accessing care disproportionately impact low-income communities and the communities of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color:
    • Read our know-your-rights webpage on abortion access in California.
    • If you’re on Twitter, Follow reproductive justice organizations and leaders like @BW4WLA, @Latinas4RJ, @SisterSong_WOC, @michelebgoodwin, and @dorothyeroberts.

Arneta Rogers is the Director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Reproductive Justice Program at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California.