I am into reproductive justice. I am an activist.
This means that I advocate for everyone to have access to adequate birth control methods, safe abortions, and various forms of health care within that realm that is low cost as well as no cost regardless of economic status or background. I am the go-to person when it comes to asking questions or discussing ideas about stuff related to these things.
However, because I am into reproductive justice, I also view these issues through an intersectional lens. Meaning, when some folks are apprehensive towards birth control methods, I think about the history of birth control methods (whether voluntarily given or forced) and how to this day it affects certain populations. Because I am Black, despite being the child of immigrants, I do center my reproductive justice work around Black folks and other people of color. This means that despite birth control being something I would love for everyone to have access to, I try to understand the apprehension towards birth control methods in Black populations.
Not too long ago, birth control methods (such as the pill) was introduced to encourage the freedom of being able to choose what one wanted to with their body. However, there has always been a history with various forms of birth control being used for population control. One example of this occurred in Alabama. Three sisters (Katie, Minnie Lee, and Mary Alice Relf) were just some of the many folks that were deemed “unfit” and as a result, two of the sisters ended up not getting birth control, instead being sterilized. Meanwhile, Katie ended up getting the Depo-Provera shot without permission, although parental permission was required in many states. This was also back when the Depo shot wasn’t yet approved for use.
More examples include 7,300 folks that have been sterilized in North Carolina between 1929-1974, for being considered “unfit to reproduce”. The system took advantage of illiterate parents who had to sign complicated forms, children who were survivors of assault, and people who were mentally disabled and did not have someone advocating for them. This is the stuff that is not taught in the books. This is the stuff that is ignored.
History lesson aside, here are some of the ways you can help someone who is Black and discuss birth control with them, in a way through a reproductive justice lens:
1. Understand the apprehension Black folks might have towards birth control and other forms of reproductive health: While I advocate for accessibility for ALL birth control methods at a low cost, as a Black person, I do understand why some folks would be apprehensive towards that. There are histories surrounded by the pill being used as population control to promote Black genocide, and I don’t ignore that. If a Black person expresses that concern, I validate their pain, their curiosity and their fears about not being able to conceive again (especially with methods such as the IUD or implant, which are both long lasting methods of birth control).
2. When discussing birth control methods, discuss the pros and cons of each before jumping in and mentioning one specific method over all of them : To be quite honest, whenever I hear that a Black person got automatically recommended the Depo-Provera shot, I get pretty angry and confused. Out of all the methods, Depo has some of the worse side effects. I usually follow up with questions like “Were there other options available?” or “Did you want to take Depo?”. Many times, the answer was yes for the first one but “The doctor wanted me to try it before using other methods”. This is an example of what not to do. Whenever someone asks me about particular birth control methods, I will try to tell them pros and cons of each. I also mention to folks that to keep in mind that this is trial and error (except for Essure and tubal ligation) and that it’s okay to find out a method doesn’t work for them. Do not downplay the side effects and don’t be afraid to tell someone if their doctor pushed a method on them.
3. Be someone’s advocate, not just yours: When you advocate for someone in healthcare, there is a building of trust that is formed. A lot of folks are afraid of doctors for a variety of reasons. While I am not scared of doctors or hospitals, I do have a distrust of them because of various -isms that are perpetuated in the medical industrial complex. As someone who is into reproductive justice, one of the things I try to suggest to people, especially Black folks, is to find someone who could advocate for their bodily autonomy. This could be anyone they might trust: a best friend, a mentor, even a family member. The job of the advocate is to speak up when some feels afraid to. For example, when I offer to advocate for people, I mention that I will question their doctors A LOT. If they’re trying to push a certain birth control method on someone, I consistently ask questions about why that specific method and if there are alternatives to them. When someone mentions age, I ask to bring up specific statistics to me. If this person is being misgendered, you best believe (with their permission), I will correct the doctor. Nowhere are complete safe spaces, but being there for someone as an advocate can help hospitals become a safer space for them.
4. Respect someone’s decision, but also discuss future resources: Some folks may never be comfortable with the idea of birth control methods. While this hurts me sometimes to say that, I respect the choices that people have made on their own. If someone is afraid of hormones, I will mention that condoms are always the safe bet. If there is no coercion made to avoid birth control methods, I suggest to folks certain websites that can provide factual information and not just be straight up fear mongering. If they choose not to, remind them that it is their choice to do so. Reproductive justice means not forcing someone to go a path they don’t want to, even if it might make you uncomfortable, but remember to make those other options available for them if they are ever ready.
In the end, we can’t erase what happened in the past.
But what we can do is be as understanding as possible about a variety of situations. I don’t believe in shoving down birth control methods down people’s throats, but I do believe in providing information and advocating when it is wanted and needed.
That is the most important aspect of reproductive justice. Understanding. And continuing to advocate for accessibility to family planning methods when people do need it.
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