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Lives Are at Stake: A Formal Alliance Between Black Lives Matter and Reproductive Justice

Anti-abortion proponents have attempted to co-opt language from the movement for Black lives.

Protesters march in support of Black Lives Matter, January 1, 2014. (Photo: Joe Brusky / Flickr)

Leaders from the Black Lives Matter and reproductive justice movements recently announced a formal organizational alliance through a call with press and activists around the country.

“Today, we launch this statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter to affirm that the work that we’ve been doing for 20 years for Black women’s reproductive freedom and justice is connected to the movement for Black lives, and to recognize that Black Lives Matter has brought things to a crucial tipping point,” said Monica Raye Simpson, executive director of SisterSong: National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and director of the Trust Black Women Partnership, on the call. “Through this statement, we formally declare fellowship with Black Lives Matter, and we know that we must stand together or fall separately.”

Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza explained the intersectional connection between the two movements, which are both working to bring about a culture where Black families can exist without fear of violence from the state.

“Even though Black Lives Matter gets talked about as being primarily focused on transforming law enforcement, Black Lives Matter has always been an intersectional organizing approach and intersectional organizing project,” Garza said. “Reproductive justice is very much situated within the Black Lives Matter movement … The way we talk about it, it isn’t just about the rights of women to be able to determine when and how to be able to start families, but also our ability to raise families.”

La’Tasha D. Mayes, founder and executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, which operates in Ohio and Pennsylvania, cited the use of the phrase “all lives matter” by abortion opponents – as well as by those who take issue with the use of “Black lives matter” – as one reason why the movements are publicly linking their efforts.

“We look at Cleveland where we see the death of Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson, and then to co-opt our language in talking about access to abortion is absolutely insulting,” Mayes said. “We believe it’s necessary to have a pro-active approach in changing the culture and stigma around Black women and abortion.”

The phrase “all lives matter” is being increasingly invoked by legislators. In 2016, it has been used by US Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin) to scold the Congressional Black Caucus for not opposing legal, safe abortion, and in the wording of legislation designed to create “personhood” for every fertilized egg, embryo and fetus. The “All Lives Matter Act” was introduced in January in the Missouri State House by Republican Rep. Mike Moon. The bill is an extension of the ongoing misappropriation of Black history and language by anti-abortion activists and legislators.

“At the end of the day, no matter how one feels about abortion, there’s no question that these laws make safe abortion harder and is definitely harmful for Black women,” Simpson said. “Time and time again, politicians have tried to exploit and divide Black communities on these issues, whether by putting up billboards attacking Black motherhood, or even the latest attempt to co-opt Black Lives Matter language to justify their anti-woman agenda.”

Activists said they hoped the public unity between the Black Lives Matter and reproductive justice movements would enable a more effective and powerful opposition to the escalating racialized attacks on reproductive health.

“What I love about [the Trust Black Women Partnership] is that it does counter this narrative and this co-optation as a way to talk about restricting the ability of women to make the best decisions for their own unique situations,” Garza said. “We’re looking forward to seeing what deeper collaboration and coordination [with Trust Black Women] looks like.”

In a published statement, titled “Trust Black Women Statement of Solidarity with Black Lives Matter,” members of the reproductive justice movement thanked Black Lives Matter for the groundswell they have created and offered their decades of experience and framework as they join together:

Trust Black Women is grateful to Black Lives Matter for building the movement for Black lives to a critical tipping point: no longer can the public or our political leaders ignore our struggle. We also recognize the role of Reproductive Justice and Trust Black Women in contributing to this tipping point. We walk in one another’s footprints even as we stand side by side.

We offer to the Movement for Black Lives the analysis that brought Trust Black Women into being: an analysis that centers Black women, low wage workers, LGBTQ people, and those living at the crossroads of these identities. We offer to the Movement for Black Lives our commitment to hold gender justice as dear as racial justice, with Reproductive Justice as the core of both these aspirations.

Throughout the call, all four women echoed that economic, environmental, reproductive and other forms of justice must all be addressed to bring about true equality and liberation.

“What we’ve been seeing for many generations now is a real increase in the blocking of women’s abilities to raise their children to become adults,” Garza said. “And that is being hindered by state violence in many different forms.”

The three leaders also spoke to how white allies can support the effort to push back on the co-opting of Black Lives Matter language by those seeking to restrict access to abortion, while being sure to center those who are most targeted and marginalized.

“We’ve become increasingly concerned about the co-optation of our language to further a reactive and very right-wing agenda. One thing that white allies can do to counteract that is by really using [the Black Lives Matter] language,” Garza said. “Black women are at the heart and soul of this movement and, certainly, of our organizing network.”

Garza went on to note that the organized attacks co-opting Black Lives Matter language are largely funded by “white male money,” making it necessary to form a large and diverse coalition to push back.

“Continuing to lift up that message around trusting Black women to make our own choices and our own decisions that make sense for ourselves and our families is a very powerful message to echo across demographics,” Garza said.

Mayes addressed the lack of “full solidarity” within well-established reproductive rights organizations – an exploitable fissure that she sees being utilized by abortion opponents to create further division.

“White allies and/or mainstream organizations must have a racial analysis, and also have it be a value within their organization and a practice in the work that they do,” Mayes said. “I think that there’s too much fear around calling the type of race and oppression that Black women face for what it is. We cannot allow [Black Lives Matter language] to be co-opted because we’re afraid to talk about race within white women’s organizations in the reproductive rights mainstream organizations.”

Simpson pulled together the intersecting concerns the two movements share with one simple, powerful statement that’s at the core of all of the organizers’ work:

“Whether we are talking about Black women being denied reproductive health care or police violence, our lives are at stake.”

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