Reproductive Justice Conference Report

This year, Hampshire College’s annual reproductive justice conference --held from April 9 to 11-- seemed to come at a ripe moment. Just two weeks earlier, President Obama had signed an executive order affirming that the new health insurance exchanges would have to conform to the existing rule prohibiting federal funding from being used for abortion. Feminists -- from those who had advocated compromise to others who were continuing to fight for single payer -- were debating the worth of the healthcare reform bill.

In the opening plenary, Marlene Fried, Director of Hampshire’s Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program, which hosted the conference, called for activists to “demand that President Obama rescind the executive order…[and to] demand that we get a Justice [to replace Supreme Court Justice Stevens] who stands for justice,” but for the most part Obama’s policies and the right in the US figured far less prominently than they might have.

Instead, the conference focused broadly on the ongoing struggles that simultaneously confront intersecting oppressions, such as better treatment for women prisoners, health justice for immigrant communities and reproductive self-determination for teenagers.

One exception was the workshop “Resisting the Right.” This workshop featured a predictable presentation that attributed far more power and significance to the Tea Party than I think it deserves. By far the best panelists at this workshop hailed from an abortion clinic defense project in Kentucky . These two young women described how the murder of Dr. Tiller and the closing of abortion clinics in the state impacted their work. This provoked some strikingly thoughtful and honest comments from audience members -- one of whom was a studying to be an abortion doctor and another of whom worked at a clinic and started a website to honor the work of Dr. Tiller and his colleagues--about lack of support, even among activist communities, for abortion practitioners.

The intersection between disability rights and reproductive rights received a refreshing amount of attention at this event. Mia Mingus and Sebastian Margaret led a two part workshop called “From Disposable to Desirable Bodies: Beyond Access and Abortion” that included a discussion about the recent anti-choice “black children are an endangered species” billboard campaign in Georgia. Most workshop participants couldn’t imagine an ad campaign with the message “disabled children are an endangered species” or “queer children are an endangered species” (much less “disabled Black children are an endangered species!”). This led us to explore how the misogynist and anti-Black subtexts of the ad mingle with a eugenicist one.

Immigrants’ rights were also a major focus. In the closing plenary, Liza Fuentes from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health rebutted the common liberal argument that the health care bill’s upholding of the five year Medicaid waiting period for legal immigrants was simply maintenance of the status quo. Instead, she argued, it represented a defeat, because it set a clear precedent for compromise of immigrants’ rights.

Next year is the conference’s 25th anniversary. Save the date. It’ll be April 8-10, 2011.

If you need more reasons, check out a clip of the presentation of Theresa Martinez, an activist who founded her own feminist anti-prison organization, Justice Now, while in prison herself:

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