With the leak of the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson, it has become clear that the constitutionally protected right to an abortion is in jeopardy. This has serious implications for all pregnant people, but it poses a most particular risk to survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence. As advocates, we must understand the connections between reproductive rights and survivorship and be prepared to support survivors in a potentially post-Roe era.
Shared History and Common Goals
The movements recognizing sexual and domestic violence and issues of reproductive justice have long been inextricably linked, beginning with their similar histories. The sexual and domestic violence and reproductive health and justice rights movements developed in tandem in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the 1990s, twelve Black women introduced a reproductive justice framework to the abortion discussion. Reproductive justice theory understands that the ability of a person to determine their own reproductive destiny is directly linked to the conditions in their community and is not simply a matter of individual choice. As a result, the reproductive justice movement seeks to address injustice in all areas.
The movement to end sexual and domestic violence is also shifting intentionally to recognize the interplay between sexual and domestic violence and the oppression experienced by those in marginalized communities. Informed by reproductive justice framework, the movement to end sexual violence now recognizes the fundamental truth that we can neither achieve reproductive justice nor eradicate sexual violence without addressing the complex, multifaceted, and deep-seeded roots of oppression and injustice.
These movements developed together, learned from each other, and are stronger through their association.
Reproductive Choice (or Autonomy) is Essential for Survivors…for All of Us
Sexual and domestic violence are about power and control. At its core, intimate partner violence involves one person conscripting another person’s body to meet their needs. Because its goal is to force one person’s will over another’s body, the restriction of access to abortion is a form of sexual violence. Indeed, controlling a person’s reproduction through coercive laws is an act of state violence and it mimics violent tactics used by perpetrators of intimate partner violence.
Additionally, acts of violence attempt to remove power and agency from individuals. The ability to make informed decisions regarding medical care is essential for a survivor’s recovery. For a pregnant person, and a survivor of violence in particular, the inability to access abortion care can have disastrous impacts on physical and mental health. Abortion bans and restrictions fall hardest on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color working to make ends meet. Given the intersection of violence and societal marginalization in which age, gender identity, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status often limit access to quality health information and services, survivors from historically-oppressed groups are disproportionately harmed.
Survivors of sexual and domestic violence can and do become pregnant because of that violence. Some survivors choose abortion, some survivors choose adoption, and some survivors choose to parent. We support the choices that survivors, and all pregnant people, make to control their own bodies, lives, and futures. Rape and incest exceptions are impractical and further remove agency and control from a survivor, who would be forced to report their assault in order to access this exception. We should not have to endure violence to be worthy of bodily autonomy.
We should not have to endure violence to be worthy of bodily autonomy.
If Roe falls or is significantly rolled back, it will be harder than ever for survivors across the country to obtain the abortion care they may need. While Virginia has no “trigger law” (meaning if Roe is struck down, there will be no immediate threat to abortion rights here), that could change with the next General Assembly. There is also the looming threat of a federal abortion ban.
It is crucial that we raise awareness of the danger this moment poses to survivors here in Virginia and throughout the United States and that we fight for the human right of survivors, and all people, to access all necessary health care, including abortion care. Making sure everyone can live a safe and healthy life means ensuring people have access to all health care, including abortion care (see the Action Alliance’s position statement, Promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health). We are in the fight for reproductive justice because the right to decide what happens to our bodies is a human right which belongs to all of us.
The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson is expected by the end of the Supreme Court’s term in June 2022. As a result, for the time being, Roe still stands. While awaiting the decision:
- stay informed about the impact that this decision may have on survivors in Virginia and throughout the country;
- amplify and elevate the demands and framework of the reproductive justice movement;
- destigmatize abortion by talking about it and making sure survivors know their options for getting necessary care.
“Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique” edited by Loretta Ross, Lynn Roberts, Erika Derkas, Whitney Peoples, and Pamela Bridgewater.
Virginia League for Planned Parenthood: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-virginia-league
Pro-Choice Virginia: https://prochoiceva.org/
Guttmacher Institute’s State Facts about Abortion- Virginia: https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/state-facts-about-abortion-virginiaRead more news