Center for American Progress

Addressing the Past, Building the Future – Reproductive Rights for the 21st Century

Addressing the Past, Building the Future – Reproductive Rights for the 21st Century




• Read a selection of the PEP paper "She Speaks: African American and Latino Young Women on Reproductive Health and Rights"
For information on ordering the full PEP report, click here.

Over the past several years, we have experienced an assault on reproductive rights like no other. The Bush administration and the anti-choice majority Congress have loosed a focused and consistent strategy that strikes from all sides. From the outright reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule, to clever, back-door legislation like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, our reproductive rights are being undermined in ways large and small, both overt and under the radar.

These attacks merit more than a response. They require a complete reframing of the issue of reproductive choice and the development of a new and effective strategy that speaks to all women and the reproductive choices they face thus creating a movement stronger in numbers, passion, and voice. Yet, in spite of this awareness, the stories and experiences of young women of color remain on the outskirts of the reproductive rights agenda. While the HIV/AIDS epidemic, cuts in Title X and Medicaid, and discriminatory welfare reform policies pose significant reproductive health barriers that disproportionately affect poor women and women of color, the debate continues to exist within the narrow scope of abortion rights, pushing broader reproductive health and justice issues to the margins of the debate and alienating young women of color.

Different life experiences driven by the dynamics of race and class have created a historic juxtaposition between the meaning of reproductive freedom for many upper- and middle-class white women and its meaning for many women of color. While white women have demanded freedom from compulsory motherhood, women of color have had to fight for the right to bear children and raise them out of poverty. Thus, there has been an inherent opposition by women of color to the views held by many middle and upper class white women that the campaign for legal abortion is the most important goal in the struggle for women’s reproductive autonomy. While women of color have historically challenged this narrow position, it remains today as the cornerstone of the modern reproductive rights movement, overshadowing other important reproductive health and justice issues, thereby crippling efforts to reach communities of color and attract and sustain women of color advocates and activists.

In order to reframe and redefine the issue of reproductive rights to build a movement that is more proactive, savvy and strong, we must genuinely address this history. We must accept the unique perspective of women of color not as a deficit that will dilute the effort to maintain the right to legal abortion, but as a rich view that if incorporated in a non-tokenized way, can unleash new voices, messages, leaders and creative strategies to win the fight for reproductive rights in the 21st century.

Driven by these values and a mission to grow a new generation of diverse young women leaders, the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP) created a research project aimed at filling the void of young women of color within the reproductive rights movement. Between January and June of 2004, PEP conducted focus groups across the country with young Latino and African-American women between the ages of 16 and 25.

As the future generation, young women of color represent an important link for change. Our findings help explain the context of their everyday lives and provide a starting point for meeting young women of color on their terms. Our key findings reveal a number of interesting and important facts:

  • The groups expressed great concern about healthcare coverage. Some women are completely uninsured; others have limited coverage that does not cover birth control or prescriptions.
  • The types of language used to describe sex and sexual health issues vary depending on the setting and the audience.
  • Participants report negative experiences with their doctors, health professionals and hospitals.
  • Family members play an important role in the decision-making process related to sexual and reproductive health issues.
  • Most women of color do not embrace the traditional terminology associated with "reproductive health and rights."
  • Participants perceive the subject of "reproductive rights" to be only about abortion.
  • However, many of the focus group participants describe their reproductive health as "important," with the main focus on the ability and right to have children in the future.
  • Many young women of color are unsure about emergency contraception—its name, how it works, whether it is safe and where to get it.

This research is our first attempt to capture the unique and essential reproductive rights perspectives of Latino and African-American women. Our ultimate goal is to give voice to the reproductive health needs of young women of color in order to honor their experiences as a critical missing link in a truly powerful and inclusive reproductive rights movement. We hope that this work will enforce the notion that when we make the needs of women of color a priority, we embrace one of the most crucial tenets of the reproductive rights movement – to gain reproductive independence for all women.

• Read a selection of the PEP paper "She Speaks: African American and Latino Young Women on Reproductive Health and Rights"
For information on ordering the full PEP report, click here.

The Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP) was founded in 1996 by nine leading U.S. reproductive rights organizations to counter anti-choice messages in the media and promote pro-choice awareness. PEP’s current mission is to address the growing generation gap within the reproductive rights movement by researching young women’s opinions and to educate young women, and the organizations that serve them, about reproductive rights and health, thereby developing a new generation of pro-choice leaders and supporters.




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