LWVUS joined 189 organizations addressing Congressional leadership and standing in solidarity with Black Women’s Reproductive Justice advocates to protect the bodily autonomy and reproductive rights of all people. The letter details how institutionalized violence has impacted Black women and women color. The letter calls for federal action to divest from the over policing of Black people and invest resources into communities.
August 04, 2020
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Speaker Senate Majority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20505 Washington, D.C. 20505
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy The Honorable Charles Schumer
Minority Leader Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20505 Washington, D.C. 20505
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, and Leader McCarthy,
We, the 189 undersigned local, state, and national organizations, write to you in solidarity with Black women reproductive Justice advocates leading the work to ensure Reproductive Justice for all, which includes the ability to make decisions about our lives, bodies, sexuality, and reproduction free from interference and violence. We call on you as federal leaders representing constituents who have been directly harmed by police violence and other state sanctioned violence to support the efforts and leadership of Black women and other reproductive and racial justice leaders in each and every one of your districts and states across the country.
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective defines Reproductive Justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe, and sustainable communities.” The 1 term “Reproductive Justice” was coined by 12 Black women in 1994 after they recognized that the larger women’s rights movement, led predominantly by white women, could not account for the needs of women of color, other marginalized women, and trans and non binary people.2
The ability to live and thrive in communities that are safe from interpersonal and state violence, including freedom from coercion, police terror, and violence is an inherent pillar of Reproductive Justice. Law enforcement that is vested in models of harm, punishment, and legal repression jeopardizes the safety, health, and livelihood of Black communities.
Police violence does not impact hypothetical people. These are our friends. Our families. Our communities. Far too often, police use their powers and freedoms to enact violence on Black communities. The recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Dominique Fells, George Floyd, Nina Pop, Riah Milton, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks demand us to reimagine safety for everyone in our communities.
Black leaders and communities have the answers. People closest to the pain must be closest to the power. To feel safe, communities need less police presence and more unbiased healthcare, including mental health and the full range of reproductive healthcare, housing for unhoused people, employment for people who are unemployed or underemployed, and food for people who need nutritional assistance.
White supremacy and policing are two sides of the same coin of institutionalized violence, obstructing people's ability to exercise the fullness of their bodily autonomy. This institutionalized violence includes targeted divestment of resources from Black and brown communities, from clinic closures and lack of access to clinic-based abortion care, to the risk of being over-policed and surveilled for self-managing their abortion outside of a clinic setting. We also acknowledge that prosecutions for self-managed abortion disproportionately impact Black people who face higher rates of arrests for a suspected abortion or pregnancy loss, or are forced to have more interactions with police and other state agents (such as social workers) because of negative pregnacy outcomes caused by health disparities.
We must continue to hold the full picture of our communities and uplift and center the realities of Black trans and gender non-conforming people. Black trans and gender non-conforming communities face extremely high rates of violence and are often revictimized when seeking help. Due to high rates of employment discrimination and poverty, many transgender people participate in underground economies. For example, 53 percent of Black trans people who worked in these spaces reported elevated levels of police violence.3
At a time when the maternal mortality rate for Black pregnant women is three to four times that of white women, federal, state, and local governments continue to increase law enforcement budgets that allow for more police presence, which decimate Black communities and kill Black people, instead of working to decrease maternal mortality among Black women. No Black person should have to raise a family in an overpoliced neighborhood; send their children to schools that place them in jail as often as they do colleges; live without affordable and accessible health care and child care; be subject to health care that is denigrating and demoralizing; or be expected to thrive in a society that consistently and relentlessly brutalizes and dehumanizes them. Reproductive justice requires that we critique frameworks of power and the state factors that continuously dictate our right to form families and parent with dignity. The right to parent free from violence is Reproductive Justice.
As organizations committed to a world where everyone has the right to decide if, when, and how to become a parent - we have seen the needs of our families and communities rejected by local, state and federal governments year after year as defense and law enforcement budgets eclipse funding for programs and resources that our families need to thrive. We can no longer stand for cuts to food assistance and other critical resources for families with low incomes, restrictions on and cuts to Medicaid and other safety net programs, bans on abortion coverage, cuts to family planning providers and much more. Budgets are moral documents and we are in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and Reproductive Justice advocates, and we call on members of Congress to take action federally and to support local efforts to divest from law enforcement and invest in Black and brown communities. A poll among women of color who voted in the 2018 election found that 75% of Black women named ending racial, ethnic, and cultural discrimination as a top priority that drives them to the polls, with Latina and Asian American and Pacific Islander women also expressing it as a top priority.4
The blueprint for this already exists. Last year, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley introduced the “People’s Justice Guarantee” recognizing the United States has a moral obligation to meet its foundational promise of guaranteed justice for all. Last month, Congresswoman Pressley along with Congresswoman Karen Bass, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced a resolution condemning police brutality. Most recently, Congresswoman Pressley, Congresswoman Tlaib, and the Movement for Black Lives unveiled their plans to introduce the BREATHE Act. This legislative proposal aims to divest from the system of policing and prisons and invests in approaches to maintain safe and sustainable communities. These are just a few examples of those in power listening to the communities most impacted and proposing ideas and solutions to serve those communities. While much of this work will happen at the local and state level, Congress can set the tone for progress and demonstrate what service to community needs look like.
However, Congress continues to insert discriminatory policies such as the Hyde Amendment, which remains in this year’s FY2021 appropriations package despite the efforts of Black women such as Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Ayanna Pressley to end it. These bans are racist and perpetuate systems of oppression, anti-Black racism, and white supremacy that target people of color, especially Black women, and their ability to thrive in their own communities.
For more than 40 years, the Hyde Amendment has disproportionately denied Black, Indigenous, and people of color the right to decide when and how to start or grow their families. The clock has run out--Congress must put an end to abortion coverage bans, once and for all. It is time for us to act upon the leadership of Black women by ending harmful policies like the Hyde amendment and instead enact ones that affirm the autonomy and dignity of Black people.
We need federal legislation that will divest from the violent reality of over-policing of Black people and instead invest in new approaches to community safety utilizing state incentives. We need legislation that will allocate new money to build health, sustainable, and equitable communities for all people. We call on congressional leaders to listen to the individuals in your cities and states and act justly. Communities know what is best for themselves. We are telling you what we need - your role is to listen and act upon our demands.
Endorsement is an indication of solidarity within our movement to address ending police brutality and a recognition of the urgency of these policies. Endorsement does not necessarily mean that each organization has expertise in or are actively working towards everything listed therein.
See full list of signers attached
1 SisterSong. What is reproductive justice? https://www.sistersong.net/reproductive-justice
3 National Center for Transgender Equality. Blueprint for Equality: A Transgender Federal Agenda, Chapter 6: Reforming Police and Ending Anti-Transgender Violence. https://www.transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/resources/NCTE%20Federal%20Blueprint%20Chapter%206%20Police%20and%20Ending%20Violence.pdf
The League joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and a dozen other prominent civil rights organizations on an amicus brief in June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee which is pending in the United States Supreme Court.
The League sent comment to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee ahead of their Oversight Hearing on Policing Practices and Law Enforcement Accountability on June 10, 2020.