Demonstrations have broken out throughout the United States supporting the right to abortion in response to the leak of the Supreme Court draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade – a rare event in US Supreme Court history. In response to this shocking news, we challenge the liberal discourse of “choice” around this issue. This is not at all for lack of support for the right to abortion, but because this right needs to be put in the context of a full program on reproductive freedom. The right to abortion goes far beyond the actual ability to have safe abortions, although that is crucial.
Black revolutionary feminism has long pointed out that the abortion movement must take into account a full reproductive freedom agenda which would include the right to have a child, not have a child, and parent a child with dignity – including paid parental leave, universal healthcare, and safe conditions for birthing. For Black and Indigenous women, all too often the question is not just about the right not to be mothers, but the right to be mothers. A right that has been taken away from gender minorities of color in the United States through brutal enslavement, eugenics, prisons and policing.
Our point is that our bodies are turned over to the state in their very meaning whether or not we want to get pregnant or ever have an abortion. Anyone, like us, who grew up in a pre-Roe era or in a country where abortion is illegal, knows that the fear of pregnancy—the ignorance of ourselves as reproductive beings—haunted us way before anyone was thinking about an abortion. Literally rendered into dismembered bodies and wandering wombs, with the government and state making us ever more afraid of what “sex” and “pleasure” might bring. The irony is that no one actually owns their own body, and that vulnerability makes it even more important for each person and, indeed, even the conditions of personhood, to include the ability to give meaning to ourselves as beings.
This is what we are going to call the Imaginary Domain. We need to be able to imagine that our wombs are ours and that we are the source of the symbolization of who we are as reproductive beings. The Imaginary Domain would give each individual the right to project a body that is “theirs” – not the state’s. And this obviously goes beyond abortion: The statist projects that brutally enforce control over our bodies through the illegalization of abortion are, for instance, deeply connected to the policies proliferating across the United States regulating the bodily autonomy of transgender and nonbinary people.
We want to emphasize that the United States has no parental leave, no federalized healthcare nor Medicare for all, and that Black parents in this country face one of the highest maternity mortality rates in the world. Do we think that the question here is about life? Not at all. If the concern is to bring down actual abortions that can be done through medication and sexual education.
What we lose on the other hand is the ability to claim ourselves as persons with equal dignity if our right to reproductive freedom is taken away. And the consequences of this judgement will be harshest on minoritized people — including people of color, undocumented folks, trans and nonbinary people, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes. As we organize, care for each other and take the streets in response to this assault on our rights, our call is for the full reproductive freedom program that Black women and other women of color (including Angela Davis, Dorothy Roberts, and Loretta Ross) have been advocating for, which of course includes the right to abortion – and goes far beyond it.