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Motherhood and Reproductive Justice
An interview with Loretta Ross and Marlene Gerber Fried

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MMO: Do women of color organizations working on reproductive rights issues work well together?

Loretta Ross: Women of color come together as the universal outsiders, which gives a sense of unity. At the same time, tensions don’t just disappear. As women of color we can practice oppression upon one another and sometimes I think we make a hierarchy of oppressions, trying to outdo each other to prove which group is the biggest victim.

I’m also struck how many of these organizations are run by lesbians who remain closeted. These organizations aren’t dealing with homophobia. It’s telling how hard they think the issue would be to deal with, because powerful women put themselves on the line for many issues but keep that one private. And class? No one deals with class issues.


MMO: Can you speak to the differences between the mainstream reproductive rights groups run by white women and the women of color groups?

Loretta Ross: They aren’t all the same as one another. NOW is a more multi-issue organization than NARAL is. After the march, all four of the mainstream organizations— NOW, NARAL, Feminist Majority and Planned Parenthood— are apparently considering a broadening of their frameworks from abortion rights to reproductive justice. We’ll see what happens.

MMO: The big march experienced an in-house or in-the-movement struggle before the major organizing got going. Could you describe what happened?

Loretta Ross: Originally, it was the big four organizations deciding to do a march and they called it the “March for Freedom of Choice.” Within these organizations, there were many people protesting the narrow focus on choice. The four groups came to Sister Song’s conference in November of 2003. Sister Song is the organization that’s created a national coalition of women of color groups organizing on reproductive rights issues. At the conference, Sister Song’s coalition demanded that the march’s name be changed to demonstrate a broader commitment to reproductive justice. I don’t want to have Sister Song or women of color take all the credit because, as I said, there were people within those organizations arguing for this too. Two weeks later, the march’s name was changed to “March for Women’s Lives.” The organizing took off. Over a million people were there, I’m sure.

MMO: Do you think that the march’s redefinition of itself from choice to reproductive justice means that women of color organizations will redefine the white women’s abortion rights-driven movement?

Marlene Fried: White women have for so long feared the dissolution of abortion rights, even from within the movement because abortion rights have become so profoundly compromised. Women of color have the belief and confidence to create a more holistic picture of reproductive justice. That’s inspiring. When the Planned Parenthood signs at the march had the words “reproductive justice” that was exciting. Those words represent motion. I’m not sure what will happen, over time.

What’s clear is that many women of color groups are doing grassroots, in-the-trenches social justice work, such as anti-poverty work. There’s a tremendous amount to be learned from this work, which isn’t theoretical. Grassroots organizing like this is very tangible. We all have to do this work, which focuses on access. It’s politically important work and it’s necessary work. To reshape the reproductive rights movement means that abortion rights activists will have to embrace a wider variety of issues and to see how those connect to their own.

MMO: Can you speculate about why feminism has become such a dirty word?

Loretta Ross: I always say, “Don’t flatten women out to their wombs.” For one thing, this is exactly what the right does by seizing upon fertile women and ignoring the rest. They make it all about fertility. Feminism is so inclusive; it takes on all issues. For instance, how can you talk about anything in America right now and not address the war in Iraq?

Feminism is stigmatized. I think that for white women the religious right makes a greater impact than for women of color, who aren’t so influenced by the religious right. The Center for Advancement of Women did a study that showed more women of color consider themselves feminists than used to while at the same time white women are more reluctant to call themselves feminists. When feminism was “The Feminine Mystique,” it didn’t speak to women of color. Women of color have never been housewives; women of color have always worked. To hear women whining about having to work is a symptom of the owning class, nothing to do with the reality of most women of color’s lives. One of the major goals of the feminist movement is to make better conditions for women to be mothers. I always saw it that way. The feminist movement is talking about that more now, about women and work and family.

The Mothers' Movement and the Reproductive Rights Agenda

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