Expanding the Narrative on Reproductive Health and Rights

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The uncomfortable silence among the 10 individuals sprinkled around a conference table was just the beginning of what was supposed to be a discussion based on reproductive justice (RJ). The guest speaker, Sarah Hogg, was illuminated in front of the on-screen display from a projector as she sat unamused in the front of the room.

Sponsored by the Sociology Department, Counseling, Health and Wellness (CHW), the Office of Diversity Services (ODS) and the Center for Health and Human Rights, Hogg was located in the Somerset building in an attempt to start a conversation on RJ between Suffolk students and faculty.

“Yeah, my heat never works,” was the basis of the casual conversation between a student and Hogg.

Identifying as a queer, feminist activist, Hogg announced that she has fought for the intersection of reproductive freedom and LGBT rights. Based in North Carolina, she is the Advocacy and Organizing Manager at NARAL Pro-Choice Carolina and on the Board of Directors at the Carolina Abortion Fund.

“Before diving into RJ, I want to define the difference between RJ, Reproductive Health (RH) and Reproductive Rights (RR),” said Hogg, after everyone said their names and pronouns.

The main distinguishment of RJ from RH and RR Hogg said, is that RJ is overall inclusive and doesn’t focus on only one aspect of reproduction.

RJ was created by women of color to protect and expand reproductive rights. According to Hogg, RJ can be defined by, “to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children or not have children, and to parent the children we do have.”

Hogg said this allows RJ to be implemented in many scenarios including movements centered around Black Lives Matter and the Flint Water Crisis, since parenting children in those environments can be strenuous and unsafe at times.

“I would love to see mainstream organizations speak about RJ,” said Hogg, referring to the difficulty of implementing an RJ mindset.

Her main point was that RJ focuses on bodily freedom and autonomy, not just abortion and birth control. It is the ability to be free from reproductive oppression and parent a child in a healthy and safe community.

RJ includes environmental, economic and racial justice while the rhetoric of most RH and RR organizations is predominantly white, straight, cis and female. For this reason, Hogg prefers and encourages non-gendered and inclusive language when referring to reproductive health, rights and justice. In this way, the transgender community can feel more welcomed by the rest, as explained by Hogg.

With few questions from the other listeners, Hogg sped into the section of her presentation on “Anti-Trans Legislation,” and again highlighted the importance of non-gendered language. She gave advice for other organizations on how to become more inclusive by having offices where their information have non-gender specific language. Medical professionals should also offer their pronouns when meeting with a client and to “never assume a patient’s sexuality or gender identity.”

“Healthcare providers must move away from heteronormativity and cisnormativity,” said Hogg. It’s rare to see a healthcare provider have inclusive advertisements.

Residing and working in N.C., Hogg is very familiar with such legislation as HB2 was passed into law almost a year ago.

“[These laws] are designed to control the way certain bodies exist, move through, and experience the world, and to remove people’s agency in making decisions about their needs and their bodies,” said Hogg.

It is becoming increasingly hard for people who identify as transgender to live their daily lives as humans.

“Some transgender people aren’t seen as human in some contexts,” said Hogg when asked a question about why it is difficult for others to accept RJ.

The greatest problem she has with HB2 is that the backlash has focused on the business side of North Carolina instead of how the bill affects people in poverty and transgender people. Everyone is more focused on the money the state is losing and not how HB2 is affecting humanity.

Not only does HB2 affect many citizens, but so do the many anti-abortion laws spread across North Carolina and the Unites States as a whole. “These laws don’t make sense but continuously erode at abortion,” said Hogg, an advocate for any and all reproductive rights.

The stigma against abortion is extremely high due to these laws and Hogg said that 98 percent of abortions are not covered by insurance in North Carolina, which makes it that much more difficult for people to receive them.

“Anti-abortion lawmakers are good at being sneaky,” she said, when talking about how they try to convince people to not go through with an abortion by giving them 72-hours to “think about it.”

The point Hogg wanted to drive home was that, “It’s about sexism and controlling one’s bodily autonomy,” whether it be abortion or any reproductive right or care. She also believes in “progressive, radical, and pleasure informed sexual education” so that people are more aware of the care they need and the rights they have.