Archive by Author

How to write an apology after saying something racist

30 Dec

There have been many instances recently in the news where white folks have been called out for saying or doing something racist. Many people have also issued apologies that have attracted additional criticism, most recently Ani DiFranco. I was upset by the tone of her apology, so I thought I would detail a few guidelines that have been helpful for me in thinking about getting called out for racist behavior. I hope this will be helpful for others too.

1. Listen to what people are saying and practice self-reflection

This seems self-explanatory, but it’s easy to get caught up in the online whirlwind and feel overwhelmed. That’s normal. Read other’s responses thoughtfully, make sure you grasp people’s views, and take breaks when you need to.

Try to understand the disappointment, frustration, anger, and outrage. Take a moment to sit with the criticism and use it to think deeply about yourself, your position, your power, and your words.

If you feel yourself getting defensive, that’s normal. It’s tough to think about yourself perpetuating something hurtful. We are all human and we make mistakes, but it is up to us as people in positions of power to use our power to change oppressive systems. When you find yourself getting defensive, think about why you are getting defensive. Does it have to do with yourself, your values, what other people believe in, and their perceptions of you? Does it have to do with you not wanting to admit that you were wrong? Does it have to do with feeling like people aren’t seeing you for who you really are? Identifying the root of your defensiveness will help to unpack what you’re feeling and respond genuinely.

Remember that it’s not your fault that you have grown up in a society that taught you that saying what you said was OK. It’s OK to feel embarrassed; you should feel embarrassed. Use that embarrassment to educate others, and to remind yourself that you will not make the same mistake twice.

2. Use your embarrassment to be a role model

Admitting that you’re embarrassed, you made a mistake, and that you were wrong sets a powerful example to others that you are a thoughtful person who respects others and is working to better our racist society. This is a much better message than something that comes from a defensive place where you are trying to justify your words. Self-reflection before apology is critical.

It’s hard to apologize, especially when your remarks were unintentional. But remember that it’s not the intent of your words that people are attacking. It’s the meaning and the effect.

3. Respect and elevate people of color’s voices.

As white people, we cannot say that what we said was not racist if others say that it is. That is called perpetuating racism, and it means we are using our power to erase and ignore the damaging effects of our words.

We are not experts on racism, no matter how much antiracist work we do. We live in a racist society, but we do not live with the daily effects. That is not our experience and we will never fully understand it. Our job is to use our power to give voice to others, not to shut them down.

4. Apologize

Hopefully, after taking the time to listen and reflect, your apology will be honest. Do not apologize because you feel as if you are being forced to. That is not helpful. Apologize sincerely. Admit that you are wrong, and do not apologize unless you feel like you’re ready and that it’s from the heart.

Also, the words “I’m sorry” are generally appropriate.

Why social workers should care about reproductive justice

12 Dec

After mulling over future career options, I decided to take a break from the reproductive health world and go back to school. This fall I began a Masters of Social Work program in Boston and am working with elders in public housing. Each day I am reminded about the resilience and humanity inherent in each of us. To me, social work means that I have the luxury of not forgetting that we are all capable of extraordinary things. I am loving it.

I chose clinical social work for varied reasons: I wanted do work organized through a justice-oriented lens, assist people to navigate complicated systems, and shift power. I also (more selfishly) wanted a job not in an office where I could talk to people all day. But I worried that I would miss reproductive health. When I made the change, I was concerned about leaving my community, identity as an activist, and work I was passionate about.

Luckily, that hasn’t happened.

One of the first things a budding social worker learns is that, like many professions, we have our ownCode of Ethics. It’s fairly detailed and encompasses a lot, from being a competent and professional practitioner to an obligation to engage in relevant social and political action. Reading through the Code, I was struck by how relevant and similar the principles were to my values as a reproductive justice activist. There is an emphasis on social justice, yes, but also on human dignity, respect, and client self-determination.

In the reproductive justice and abortion access world, I advocate over and over again for people to be able to make their own decisions. Reproductive justice means fighting for people to be able to parent or not to parent and being able to make that decision with dignity and respect; it also includes pushing for logistical, financial, and legal availability of services in order for people to be able to make those decisions. It means acknowledging systems of oppression that disproportionately impact people on the ground, policymakers, myself, and the organizations and communities I work in and for. It is also a commitment to fight to overturn those systems.

Social work follows those same principles. It mandates understanding individuals within the context of their environment and working for multi-level change. I think that this is why I have felt at home in the profession, at least so far. Social work values are reproductive justice values.

The problem is that not all social workers are familiar with reproductive justice issues and how they affect clients. For example, a social worker working with a low-income mom who is putting off paying her rent to pay for her abortion might not understand why the mom is taking that course of action. Similarly, a well-meaning social worker might be the person who reports a client’s abortion self-induction attempt as child endangerment, or who questions a mom’s decision to have another child when she is struggling to feed her existing children.

Each of these situations are difficult to navigate, and it’s up to social workers to avoid getting bogged down with personal or political feelings. No matter how we feel about abortion, welfare, or parenting, we can’t make that decision for someone else. It’s of critical importance to reflect on the Code of Ethics when thinking about clients’ reproductive health decision-making. We need to meet people where they are and understand and support their decisions. If we don’t, we are working within an oppressive system and not against it.

This being said, I am optimistic that social workers will tackle reproductive justice issues in the context of the Code of Ethics. Social workers are in unique positions to advocate for clients, so I also hope that other reproductive health/justice advocates will invite us to the table. We have a lot to say and an obligation to say it. Don’t be afraid to call on us or call us out.

I am looking forward to seeing more social workers included in conversations about reproductive justice and health care access, and I’m excited about navigating my dual roles as an activist and a brand new professional. I am thankful that I have learned so much working in abortion access that I can carry over to my new career. I know my activism will make me a better social worker, and my social work will make me a better activist. I am looking forward to where this journey takes me and what I will learn next.

To learn more about social work/reproductive justice issues, you should check out Social Workers for Reproductive Justice.

Texas: A love letter

4 Nov

Dear Texas:

Like many of us, I was appalled and devastated to hear that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a lower federal court’s injunction that will force many of your abortion providers to close their doors. As of Friday, the Texas Tribune reported that at least nine abortion providers have been forced to stop providing services.

In the midst of all of this, your activists, providers, legislators, reporters, and others have worked tirelessly to make change and bring your fight into the national spotlight. Texas: your courage, determination, and mobilization has changed the way that I think about restrictive legislation, and has given the rest of the country hope that we can turn the tide.

Yet, when the bad news about HB 2 came out this week, I was appalled by the responses on my Twitter feed that I should give up on you, that I should have expected this to happen. Some said that Texans who care about reproductive health access should just move somewhere else. These folks were quick to judge you, Texas, but I imagine that they were singing a different tune during Wendy Davis’s game-changing filibuster and when they watched the sea of thousands in orange shirts united and committed to the fight. Are these people who are urging me to just give up on you the same folks who have donated to Wendy Davis’s campaign for Governor?

Texas: Don’t let these people get you down. (Not that you would, because you don’t take any shit.) Let the haters hate, and know that you have changed and reinvigorated all of us. You are facing extreme difficulties in an increasingly oppressive climate, but each time someone tries to knock you down you come back stronger.

Reasons for my love include but are not limited to:

The reasons go on and on, and I wish I could write a love note to each one of you who are fighting day in and day out. What I want you to know is that I care about you, no matter how many people want me to abandon you. I might not be able to be there in person, and I will never understand the huge barriers that you face. But I believe in you.

With all my love,


Where do I come from?

10 Jul

I have been thinking about where I come from, who has come before me, and how that has impacted who I am. When I went to write the piece, it wasn’t working. The ideas flowed from me in images, so I stopped writing and started with those instead, and this is what I came up with. An aviatrix is a recurring theme in my work because I am fascinated by the idea of flying over barriers, which many of those women literally did, and I like twisting an image that was once so iconic and making it more modern so that the viewer isn’t sure exactly what it means or where it comes from. The piece is more of a collection of ideas than a full narrative, but I hope it resonates with some of you.


My family doctor should know about my reproductive health options

18 Apr

I assume when I go into my doctor’s office that my primary care physician has the skills and knowledge to be able to help me make basic health care decisions, including information about birth control and what my options are. I deserve to make my own, informed decisions about my reproductive health based on what works best for me. If my doctor can’t give me accurate information or counsel me about my options, where would I go for help?

It seems ridiculous to think that in 2013 doctors could not be trained to provide birth control or abortion, but that could be a reality. The Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), the group that sets the standards for medical education and curricula in the US, has removed contraception and options counseling from the requirements, meaning that a family doctor could graduate a program with a medical degree and not know anything about birth control.

The requirements also don’t include IUD insertion, implant insertions, or abortion, services that people need and may have to travel long distances to obtain if their family doctor is unable or unwilling to provide them. As restrictive laws continue to make reproductive health care less and less available at the local and state level, it is more critical than ever that we press for comprehensive care, including abortion, to be included in primary care settings.

Lisa Maldonado, Executive Director at the Reproductive Health Access Project (RHAP), an organization working to expand comprehensive reproductive health services in primary care settings, says:

“Family physicians are more likely than any other clinical specialty to work in rural areas and with underserved populations. Ensuring that family physicians get proper training in contraception, prenatal, miscarriage and abortion care will expand access for everyone. But, if residency programs aren’t required to provide training, then they probably won’t, especially religiously affiliated programs. And, if no one is trained, no one can provide and no one has access, even if its legal and covered by insurance. Too many women already have to travel long distances, cross picket lines and deal with unnecessary restrictions to get basic women’s health care as it is. Family physicians need to have the best possible training in family planning and women’s health.”

No person deserves to be denied information or basic health care because their doctor attended a religiously-affiliated medical school, and we can’t let that happen. I want to get reproductive health care from my doctor, the person who I feel comfortable with and who knows me. I deserve that, and you do too.

We have until April 25 to let the ACGME know what we think and to voice support for reproductive health and family planning counseling in primary care settings. I hope you will join me and stand up for your rights by signing the RHAP petition here.

What makes me an activist?

15 Mar

This fall I’m entering a Master of Social Work program, stepping down from my job in reproductive health, and stepping back from other reproductive justice activities. With this transition comes some sadness about being removed from reproductive health, rights, and justice circles and people who have become my allies and friends. The people who I have met over the past few years have provided constant inspiration and support and have challenged me to become a better activist and person. Not engaging with them or the issues I’m passionate about on a daily basis makes me feel like I’m losing something important.

But why do I feel this way, and why does it feel so different from the other transitions I’ve undergone thus far? Maybe it’s because I’m 25 and any life transition is going to feel this way. Or maybe it’s because I am so passionate about abortion access and reproductive justice that taking a break from that feels especially unsettling.

Maybe it’s that the next part of my life is uncertain, and that I’m not sure how reproductive justice activism will fit into it.

If I’m not actively doing activist work, does that mean that I am no longer an activist? What does being an activist even mean? I don’t envision myself as a person who will stop talking, writing, or making art about abortion rights or health care access, but maybe I will. Maybe I will take steps back as I grow older. Maybe I will spend time planning my wedding, learning, and having new experiences.

My hope however, is that no one like me will stop being a reproductive justice activist. Not until we live in a different world where everyone has the ability to plan and space their pregnancies and parent with means, support, and dignity.

That’s why I have all of you, my online Abortion Gang community. No matter what else I’m doing in my daily life, I have this community to speak and engage with, to feel connected to, and to talk about the issues that we care about. And as a social worker, I am going to be doing justice-oriented work that matters. It might not be what I’m doing now, but it will be something that will make a difference.

The next few years will bring challenges and growth, and that must be what life and activism are about. My work will become more intersectional and I will have another frame to see things. I will bring social work to my activism and activism to my social work. I will find new things that I want to do and new communities to be a part of. I will blog more, but I won’t give up talking or fighting. I will make mistakes. I will discover what it means to care so much, although I may never figure it out completely. And I will find a new ways to dedicate my heart to my work.

40 years after Roe, we must celebrate and push for change

22 Jan

40 years ago in a momentous Supreme Court victory abortion became legal in the US. Politicians were changed by the champions of the feminist movement. They agreed that all people deserve to plan families and space their pregnancies and that the days of back alley abortions and coat hangers were over. No longer would anyone have to risk their lives to end and unwanted pregnancy.

That was the dream, but it is not the reality. There is no question that Roe made history and laid the foundation for the work we do in abortion access today. But we also know that it didn’t ensure complete accessibility and affordability of care. Despite the passing of Roe in 1973, the Hyde Amendment, prohibiting federal Medicaid dollars from covering abortion, was passed only three years later in 1976 and set the stage for the many abortion restrictions that have followed.

Every person deserves to be able to make the best decisions for themselves and for their families, but abortion coverage restrictions can make that difficult or even impossible. Abortion fund volunteers talk to people unable to afford abortion care every single day. People without insurance coverage of abortion have to struggle, some by putting off paying bills, rent, or even risking their personal safety to come up with the money for an abortion. There is a big difference between making abortion legal and making it accessible.

Our feminist leaders spoke up 40 years ago to legalize abortion and made significant change. As feminists, reproductive justice activists, families, and communities, must speak up again, and shout until the current administration hears us. To continue to let people struggle to afford abortion care, to make it impossible for our friends and communities to access health services, is unconscionable. Sign the petition now and tell President Obama that we are standing strong in support of comprehensive reproductive health care access and abortion coverage for all people, not just those who can afford it.

Moving Forward, Repealing Hyde

7 Nov

Like many Americans, I was glued to my television last night, anxious and uncertain about the future of the US. I sat there and could only think about moving forward. It was too hard to think about the opposite outcome, and to worry about how we would be able to protect and expand our rights if we did not re-elect President Obama.

Luckily, some of that positive thinking paid off.

It’s no secret that abortion and reproductive health and rights played heavily into the election. [Last night] I sat waiting to see if the elected leader of our country would be someone who supported my right to reproductive autonomy or someone who would make it difficult or impossible for me to access health care services. We have spoken: we have had enough attacks, and we want to move forward with politicians who respect and support our rights.

I am ecstatic that President Obama will lead our country for four more years. During the election he spoke clearly about his position on reproductive health, calling it an economic issuethat affects women and families. I couldn’t agree more, and neither could voters, like those in Florida who rejected a measure that would have severely limited abortion coverage and access. While there is much work to be done, I can breathe a bit easier knowing that the leader of our country believes in health care and reproductive rights.

We’ve heard throughout the course of campaign season from both the public and the president that reproductive health and rights are critical for people to lead healthy and safe lives, but there’s one piece of the puzzle that no one is talking about: the Hyde Amendment and ensuring abortion coverage for low-income people in the US. Hyde prohibits federal Medicaid coverage of abortion, and politicians have looked the other way for 36 years while people have struggled to come up with the money for care, putting off paying bills, rent, or even going hungry to afford an abortion.

While I appreciate the President’s position, especially at a time when reproductive health and abortion services are being severely limited at state and local levels, I also know that if people can’t afford care, then they don’t have a choice. Hyde has devastated communities and families for three decades. We must compel the President, who believes in reproductive rights and justice, to make change.

Now is the time to reopen the conversation about Hyde and abortion access: the public and the administration have been clear in their support of reproductive rights and affordable access to health care. We have a long way to go and a hard history to overcome, but we cannot back down. We must ensure that all services, including abortion, are affordable in order to secure people’s reproductive rights and ability to make decisions.

If President Obama believes that the lives and health of low-income people matter and that everyone deserves access to reproductive health services, he must take a stand this January and strike restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion when he presents his budget to Congress. And we, as advocates and reproductive justice activists, need to remain vocal for the next four years and hold our elected officials and administration accountable to living up to their promises of supporting all people’s rights, not just those who can afford it.

36 years of Hyde: Where are our success stories?

28 Sep

36 years ago this week the Hyde Amendment was passed, prohibiting Medicaid coverage of abortion in most cases. It is because of the Hyde Amendment that people who have health insurance coverage through the government are deliberately denied access to affordable abortion care, which result in someone putting off paying bills, selling belongings, or even putting his or her family at risk to pay for an abortion. In the reproductive justice movement we talk a lot about Hyde, which has far reaching and devastating consequences for people on Medicaid, and has also paved the way for further abortion restrictions, including barring abortion coverage for federal employees, people on Indian Health Services and Medicare, and those serving in the US military.

There is no question that Hyde was put in place by politicians who wanted to outlaw abortion completely, but could only restrict access for poor people. There is also no question that the consequences of Hyde, compounded with poverty in the US, hurts people and limits health care decision-making. 36 years ago, the mainstream pro-choice movement did not fight this, and dropped poor people from their agenda – a legacy that continues to this day. Since then, we, as reproductive justice activists and abortion fund volunteers have been struggling to pick up the shattered pieces.

Those of us fighting to repeal Hyde and to increase abortion access understand the complicated and harsh realities for people trying to obtain abortion in the US. But the abortion access landscape varies from state to state, and even from even city to city. What we do not often discuss are our success stories, where there are fewer gaps to care or hoops to jump through. We don’t discuss them because we are afraid; we know the attacks are coming fast and strong from the other side and we want to hold on, quietly, to what we have. But in not discussing the places where more people have abortion coverage, or are able to access timely and safe care, we risk letting a valuable asset slide away.

We talk about Hyde all the time, but we rarely talk about the 17 states that have extended their own funds to cover abortion in all or most cases. (However, research shows what advocates have long known—that two of these 17 states (Arizona and Illinois) do not offer that coverage to women in practice.)

Amanda Dennis, Associate at Ibis Reproductive Health, explains: “In states like Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon, Medicaid covers abortion regardless of personal circumstances in both policy and practice. Individuals seeking abortion in these states report being able to weigh their pregnancy options, easily secure accurate information about whether their insurance plan covers abortion, find a health care provider who accepts Medicaid, and make an appointment with confidence.” In these states (“Medicaid states”), a person on Medicaid is able to receive care with fewer stressful complications, compared to his or her counterpart in a non-Medicaid state, where he or she, unable to afford it, may not be able to get an abortion at all.

As people who have worked in Medicaid and non-Medicaid states will tell you, the differences are stark. For a person who has comprehensive health insurance coverage, finding out that it does not cover abortion is unexpected, jarring, and upsetting. It means that she or he can’t get care quickly, will struggle to come up with the money on top of other living expenses, and may jeopardize his or her health or safety. The landscape is vastly different in Medicaid states, where state governments have stepped up to fill the gap and to make it possible for more people to obtain coverage for abortion, trusting that each person should have the ability to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. For people accessing abortion services in these states, it is covered like other health services are covered. That is how it should be: abortion is a legal health service in our country. It is unfair for the federal government to interfere with personal decision-making, and we should applaud the states that allow individuals to think for themselves.

There is still work to be done in Medicaid states to ensure that all people can obtain abortion, particularly for immigrants and minors, We know that Medicaid states aren’t perfect, and the work that we are doing despite Medicaid-covered abortions is necessary and will not go away any time soon. We do not live in utopias, but we do acknowledge abortion is vastly more accessible and affordable. If we don’t talk about Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon, among others, as successes, we will not be able to demonstrate the importance of insurance coverage for abortion, which is desperately needed in the current climate. We, no matter the state we live in, must work together repeal Hyde and to ensure that all people are able to access abortion care regardless of their financial means or insurance status. We can also be proud of those states that have stepped up when the federal government has failed. Let’s shout our success stories loud enough until more state and local governments hear us, loud enough that they take on the responsibility of protecting the health of all of their citizens, not just the ones who can afford it.

Generational differences, inclusion, and looking toward the future

19 Jul

Being a young, unapologetic abortion activist and outspoken blogger, I tend to critique the mainstream, pro-choice movement for its lack of inclusivity, unwillingness to take the opinions of young people seriously, and constant criticism that not enough young people are in the movement or that no people in my generation care about reproductive rights.

We hear about this all the time. Two years before stepping down from her position at NARAL Pro-Choice America, Nancy Keenan voiced her concerns that there were no passionate young people to help carry the torch after the leaders in her generation retired. Others, such as Johnathan Allen, asks how groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and NOW can “fire up” young women who have not known a time without legal abortion and nondiscrimination laws.

I don’t know what world they’ve been living in, but not only have there always been young people involved in the movement, but things haven’t been the greatest for abortion access in the US since the passing of Roe, and I don’t just mean in the last five years. Roe was groundbreaking, but Hyde was passed three years later and was followed by other bans, so when we talk about abortion access for everyone in the US post-Roe, we’re talking about people with the means to access abortion. If the media and those at the top of women’s organizations they think that there haven’t been people fighting since Hyde, they are only looking at the most privileged, most visible segment of the movement. That’s why the National Network of Abortion Funds exists, that’s why Sister Song exists, and that’s why we’ve abandoned the term pro-choice and started to think about reproductive justice. Those battles just haven’t been mainstream battles, and they haven’t been the battles that all leaders have engaged with.

As a young feminist and abortion rights activist, I am grateful to those people who fought for the freedoms I have today and who built the foundation for me to be able to do my work. But I am more grateful to those who fought before me and then embraced my views and participation in the movement.

No matter where we fit in the movement generationally, we’ve all had someone who has been a mentor or supporter, whether that person is close to us in age or generations above us, because we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere fighting these battles on our own. For me, personally, and I’m sure for many others, my mentors are the reason I am here in the movement. Without people who have supported me and genuinely cared about me, both personally and professionally, I would not have decided to work in abortion access.

I know that those who say that young people aren’t involved in the movement are looking in the wrong places, but I also wonder if they’re not embracing young people. I credit the first person I worked for with my decision to make reproductive justice a part of my life, and if leaders are concerned about the involvement of young people, they need to hire them and value them.

Right now we are fighting what sometimes feels like a losing battle, and we can’t afford to be protective or territorial. We need to embrace our differences, generational and otherwise. We need to stop ignoring those who have devoted their lives to working for reproductive justice in marginalized communities just because they are not working for mainstream organizations. And we need to acknowledge that young people care about abortion as an issue and if we want to continue to involve them we need to value their contributions and ideas.

This doesn’t just go for executive directors and people in positions of power. It goes for all of us, especially as young people who are moving up in the movement. We need to remember those who have supported us and pass it on, to value those just starting out, and support our peers and allies. If we all pledge to do that, then we shouldn’t have to worry about the future of the movement.