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Women of Color Need Human Rights, Not “Common Ground”

Submitted to and Rejected by: The Washington Post

I don’t agree that President-elect Obama should only seek “common ground” on abortion and avoid standing up for the rights of poor women in our society.

As an organization that represents both pro-life and pro-choice women of color, SisterSong believes that poor women should have the same rights and access as middle class women in making decisions about our bodies. But the Hyde Amendment and other federal rules prohibit federal funding for abortion services for poor women on Medicaid, for Native American women in the Indian Health Services, for women in the military and in the Peace Corps. As a first step, the Hyde Amendment should be repealed -- immediately!

The government should not be in the business of telling us what to do with our reproductive choices. These are our private decisions. The situation is comparable to choosing to fly in an airplane. The government should not tell us which airline to use, which destination to choose or if we should fly at all. But the government does have an obligation to ensure that the airlines are safe, that the airfares are affordable and that the airports are accessible. The questions of safety, affordability and accessibility are necessary to enable our private decisions to be meaningful.

The same is true when it comes to abortion. Poor women demand the right to safe, affordable and accessible conditions in which to implement our private decisions on whether or not to have children. A manufactured “consensus,” claiming that the new administration should not fight for the reproductive rights of poor women, is simply wrong.

For more than 30 years, we’ve fought as women of color for the rights of poor women. We will not stand silently or meekly while others advise the administration that our needs don’t matter, or that they don’t suit bipartisan politics. Fighting for the needs of poor women is truly bipartisan, and there are Republicans who agree with us, just as there are pro-lifers working within our reproductive justice organizations.

If we are really entering a new phase of politics, we have to stop selling out poor people to appease opponents of women’s human rights. There is nothing original in that strategy.

Our real allies know that abortion rights are a fundamental part of women’s healthcare and that women have the right to have children, to not have children, and to parent the children we have. Political expedience has sacrificed us for too long. “Conventional wisdom” is neither conventional or wise if it says we should only reach for “common ground” and forget that women who need birth control, sex education and other reproductive health services also need abortion rights.

As women of color, we helped elect Barack Obama – much more strongly than the 55 percent of white America who voted against him. He should not start his administration by betraying us to appease those who do not share his vision of human rights for all, especially protecting the rights of poor women of color.

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Loretta J. Ross
National Coordinator
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective
Atlanta GA


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