Taking Choice to the Next Level: Reproductive justice means helping poor families who want to have kids.

AuthorLittlefield, Amy

Last September, several months after Alabama lawmakers attemped to ban almost all abortions in the state, C. Melodi Stone-Spies received an urgent plea for help. A friend who is a doula was at a Birmingham hospital supporting a black mother through her birth. The patient had mentioned while a nurse was in the room that she didn't have hot water at home. Then the hospital called in the state child welfare agency, and it seemed like the woman's newborn might be taken away.

For Stone-Spies, a doula and reproductive justice activist, it was a familiar pattern. The state, which despite its efforts to eliminate abortion, provides little support for parents in poverty, and will often take custody of children because of the consequences of that poverty. This is especially true for black women; the percentage of black children in Alabama's foster care system exceeds the percentage of the state's child population that is black.

So Stone-Spies, who uses the pronoun they, moved fast. They called Home Depot to ask how much a hot water heater cost. After some quick math to factor in installation and other costs, Stone-Spies headed to the bank, withdrew a stack of bills that had been raised by the reproductive justice group the Yellowhammer Fund, and headed to the hospital.

"I walked into that room and I was like, 'Ma'am, if you had a case for neglect before ... you don't have one now, because I have $6,000 in my hand to fix this persons hot water heater,'" Stone-Spies says. The social worker left and the case was dropped.

Stone-Spies is part of a network of grassroots activists committed to reproductive justice, a term coined by black women in 1994. It supports the human right to have and raise children as well as the right to abortion. It helps people in states hit with wave after wave of laws restricting access by extending support to those who choose to raise children--or who are forced to do so because of these anti-abortion laws.

"The same person can have an abortion and have a miscarriage and then give birth the next year," Stone-Spies notes. By supporting families across a full spectrum of pregnancy experiences, Stone-Spies and others have drawn attention to gaping holes in the social safety net, and a glaring contradiction in the Republican agenda.

States that have passed the most abortion restrictions consistently have among the fewest policies to support families, and among the worst health and well-being outcomes for women and children. The coronavirus has laid bare the deadly implications of this absent safety net.

Alabama, for example, has declined to expand Medicaid, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without health insurance. The state has also not raised the minimum wage beyond the federal floor of $7.25 an hour. Its monthly cash...

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