Roe v Wade: Don’t despair, radicalise
“Let this radicalise you, rather than lead you to despair.” This empowering advice circulated widely after the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision legalising abortion across the US.
It is no coincidence that the message – now the title of a forthcoming book she co-authored – was first penned by Mariame Kaba, a Black abolitionist, and that its initial context was not the June 2022 SCOTUS decision, but rather the seemingly periodic punch in the gut millions of Americans reel from, when yet another white police officer is found “not guilty” of murdering an unarmed Black man or woman he had shot multiple times in the back.
Kaba was denouncing racist state violence, and urging us not to assume defeat, even when we feel daunted by the crushing weight of injustice. Her much-needed advice has since become a rallying call for organisers faced with the enormity of state violence against marginalised communities—historically Indigenous people, people of colour, immigrants, and women. And it is being brandished on posters and banners at recent rallies protesting the abrogation of American women’s rights to control their own bodies and make the most life-changing decisions they are ever likely to face: ending a pregnancy, or carrying it to term.
The Supreme Court decision stripping us of our constitutional rights has nothing to do with the sanctity of life, it is the policing of our wombs, reproduction placed at the service of the state.
''The politicisation of reproductive rights is a universal tool of oppression, and Palestinian women, as colonised women subjected to the unrelenting racist gendered violence of the Israeli state, have long acknowledged our organic sisterhood with Indigenous, black, and Latina women.''
The leaked Supreme Court document refers to a 2008 CDC study that points to an insufficient “domestic supply of infants” in the US: "Nearly 1 million women were seeking to adopt children in 2002 (i.e. they were in demand of a child), whereas the domestic supply of infants relinquished at birth or within the first month of life and available to be adopted had become virtually nonexistent." The opinion of the Supreme Court is that pregnant American women who are not ready or willing to become mothers should give birth anyway, then give up their infants for adoption, thus increasing the “domestic supply,” and lessening the country’s reliance on non US-born adoptees. These adopted children are overwhelmingly non-white, even when adopted by white parents.
One important aspect of this misogynist decision is that it will disproportionately impact poor women, who happen to be overwhelmingly women of colour, with little to no health care access. Some will keep their babies, sinking deeper into despair and poverty, for themselves and these children. Others will die from illegal abortions. There is no mention, in the 98 page draft document, of exceptions for rape of incest—those infants too are destined to replenish the “domestic supply,” even if their birth would kill their mother.
The politicisation of reproductive rights is a universal tool of oppression, and Palestinian women, as colonised women subjected to the unrelenting racist gendered violence of the Israeli state, have long acknowledged our organic sisterhood with Indigenous, black, and Latina women.
For Israel, we are dangerous because we are the bearers of the “demographic threat.” When Israel stopped issuing licences for the dayas, or traditional midwives, after occupying the West Bank in 1967, it was not out of concern for our wellbeing, but rather so as to keep better tabs on the Palestinian population.
As these traditional midwives eventually stopped working, pregnant Palestinian women from small towns and villages had to negotiate the multiple checkpoints on their way to hospitals, generally located in urban centres. These challenging trips resulted in miscarriages, stillbirths, and neonatal fatalities at the checkpoints. Still, Israel persists in presenting itself to the world as “moral,” and concerned for women’s and children’s lives.
It is with this understanding that the Palestinian Feminist Collective is looking into ways to organise in coordination with American women most impacted by the Supreme Court’s violation of our human rights. We need to do more than take to the streets, we need to reach out across borders, from Palestine to Turtle Island, so as to better respond to the forces of fundamental misogyny thinly disguised as “concern for the vulnerable.”
We are in communication with a number of national groups that focus on reproductive justice, asking what their needs are at this juncture. The decision to give life, or end a pregnancy is, literally, a matter of life and death for the woman, and must be hers to make.
With our understanding of structural state violence, our organising must be thoughtful, supportive, and visionary. We know the Supreme Court is also looking to overturn the right to same sex intimacy, and marriage, and to inter-racial marriage—anything that is not in the constitution of a country whose “founding fathers” raped black girls and women to increase their wealth, in the form of children they “fathered,” then sold off into slavery...
Coming shortly before the celebration of this country’s “independence,” the Supreme Court decision reminded many of us of abolitionist Frederick Douglas’ question, in 1852: “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” His speech is a scathing critique of the hypocrisy of a nation that celebrates freedom while denying it to millions—a practice it has never stopped.
Of course, one could have asked, and still needs to ask, “what, to the Indigenous of Turtle Island, is your fourth of July?” The “independence” of this country, just like that of Israel, is little more than a celebration of the victory of settler colonialism. Today, half of all Americans are asking the reactionaries who abrogated our right to determine the course of our own lives “what, to the American woman, is your fourth of July?”
There is little to celebrate. Let us instead, as colonised women, marginalised women, indigenous and queers, embrace our interdependence, as we keep organising together to reclaim our rights, and protect those of other vulnerable communities.
Because, as the Palestinian Feminist Collective put it in our love letter to the Palestinian people struggling, as we keep rising up and caring for each other despite the seemingly relentless attacks on our bodies and spirits, “we are the ones affirming life, guided by love.”
Nada Elia is a Diaspora Palestinian scholar, writer, public speaker and a member of the Palestinian Feminist Collective.
Follow her on Twitter: @nadaelia48
Have questions or comments? Email us at: email@example.com
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.