The night I found out my closest sister was pregnant I was on my way home from a lecture by a Planned Parenthood representative. The lecture was about the lack of access to sexual health services in poor communities and communities of color. I was catching a ride home with someone I knew and my cousin, sister, friend called to say "I have something to tell you.....I'm pregnant" We were both 19 years old. I was in my sophomore year of college. She was living in small town, America just trying to make it.
The abstract concept that people, with out money, living in rural areas, or in urban centers, where billboards say "who's your daddy?" and promote cigarettes and liquor consumption, do not have access to accurate information about sexual health and reproduction became extremely concrete. My closest sister was pregnant. As an abortioneer my first reaction was, "ok, ok you have options" After a few hours talking with her mom and calling me she firmly decided to keep the pregnancy. As an abortioneer I was very supportive of my childhood soul mate choosing motherhood.
If my sister had a ride to the nearest planned parenthood nearly an hour away she might have been on birth control. She may have also chosen not to use birth control. The thing is her lack of access to transportation and money meant she also lacked access to birth control. She didn't have the ability or opportunity to make a choice about what birth control method to use, if any.
During the Planned Parenthood lecture I attended earlier in the evening I also learned that the father of gynecology, J. Marion Sims, developed much of the science of gynecology through experiments on enslaved African women and poor Irish immigrants. He did not use anesthesia on these patients because there was a widespread belief that they were less sensitive to pain than wealthy white women. J. Marion Sims owned slaves and it is documented that he did experimental procedures on women that he "owned". He was well known as a plantation physician and treated numerous enslaved Africans.
I was appalled to find out that gynecology was born out of a racist and classist history. In this country social inequality is built into the most basic fibers. The enslavement of Africans, annihilation of natives, and exploitation of poor people is at the very roots of the development of the good ol' U.S. of A. This country was built by people of color and poor people to serve the needs of wealthier white landowners. The science of gynecology is no exception.
The ability to determine one's life is based on one's access to resources. People who are historically disenfranchised do not have the ability to access necessary resources. Maybe that necessary resource is a ride to planned parenthood for birth control or STD testing. Maybe that resource is a safe abortion, or maybe its a condom or an education.
The history of this country cannot be erased. The West African Adinkra symbol Sankofa means "to go back and get it" and is representative of learning from the past. Racism and classism is not ancient history. Access to resources is one very concrete way the history of racism and classism in this country has translated into today. The ability to control one's body and reproduction is the most basic human right. Women need access to birth control and sexual health care in order to gain this very basic human right.