Opinion: Continuing a legacy: The fight for reproductive freedom

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By Paula Thornton-Greear, Sommer Foster, Shanay Watson-Whittaker

February 28, 2024

As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s important to remember that Black history is not separate and apart, something only to be recognized in February, but instead celebrated year-round – because Michigan’s history is Black history.   

Our history is a testament to the ongoing fight for equality and social justice and is deeply intertwined with the challenges and disparities that persist today. Which is why learning about and appreciating Black history is essential if we are serious about dismantling the barriers that are preventing us from achieving true equality. Because despite significant gains in recent years, the struggle for equality remains an ongoing battle in Michigan, made clear by the fight for reproductive freedom.

This has been a battleground issue for Black communities for generations and it is one deeply intertwined with race, class, and economics.

To truly understand the urgency of the reproductive freedom movement today, we must return first to our history and acknowledge and honor the role of Black activism because the reproductive justice movement – created by twelve Black women – has been at the forefront of this ongoing struggle both in Michigan and nationwide for decades. And it is a movement that recognizes, as a central tenet, that true freedom cannot exist without addressing the intersecting oppressions that marginalized communities face.

Because let us be clear: Our movements and our work are about far more than abortion access. Reproductive freedom is about securing access to high-quality education for all Michiganders. It is about ensuring that everyone can access reliable birth control, regardless of their income or insurance status.

Reproductive freedom is about finally closing the gaps between white women and Black women in Michigan and ensuring that Black mothers and babies have the same access to safe birthing options and high-quality health care providers. Reproductive freedom requires that we secure paid family and medical leave, so Michiganders can not only birth their children safely, but also have the resources necessary to care for them and the time needed to heal from their experiences before they are forced back into the workplace. With reproductive freedom, all families could start on solid footing and thrive for years to come.

The urgency of this moment is highlighted by young Michiganders like Alisha. Alisha is a young, Black queer adult who, as a teen, didn’t have access to high-quality sex education. She grew up in a conservative community in Michigan where conversations about sex were taboo and her school used an “abstinence-only” curriculum. Her classes didn’t provide the information she really needed or make space to talk about sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result, Alisha felt isolated, confused, and alone, unable to easily navigate her own sexual identity and health.

While Alisha’s lackluster education is just one example of the systemic barriers we must work together to dismantle, securing better sexual health education for Michiganders is a foundational step forward. Our state’s sex education standards haven’t changed in more than two decades. They are out-of-date, out-of-touch, and do not speak to the realities or lived experiences of many Michiganders. And if we don’t improve the ways we educate our young people, we will continue to send them into the world without the knowledge they need to thrive. 

Without stronger education, we risk repeating the cycles of systemic harm in our communities for generations to come. And without this foundational change, we will never move the needle on improving health equity outcomes in Michigan.

So let us build on the groundwork of the foremothers who came before us and their decades of work that helped carry us to this pivotal moment. Let’s rally our friends and our family and our neighbors to join us in making change, today, tomorrow, and all the way to the ballot box this fall.

Because every Michigander deserves reproductive freedom – and reproductive freedom leads to the true freedom to shape your life and your future. So this month and every month, let us remember that Black history is Michigan history. Black history is American history. And Black history is not just a celebration of the past; it is a call to action for the present and for our futures.



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