Roe v. Wade and Beyond: Zakiya Luna Responds

Graphic by Imp Kerr

Lost opportunities: taken together, Carole Joffe and Akiba Solomon’s pieces can be read as cautionary tales about how not knowing our history can simultaneously doom us to repeat it—or not to recognize the role anyone of us can have in building a new one.

When I received the request to comment on these essays, I replied with a bit of apprehension. Not because I am uncomfortable talking about reproductive issues—I study activism around them, have interned at a women’s health organization, and, like many readers, have a reproductive system. No, my concern was around the fact that no matter what I wrote, in being in a symposium about the fortieth anniversary of Roe, my piece would inevitably be perceived as only about abortion.

My attraction to these issues has never centered on abortion. Rather, from an early age, long before this phrase was in use, I felt a desire to work toward a fuller “reproductive justice.” I knew abortion was life-saving for many women. But so was having food on the table. As a child, every day I witnessed the struggles around issues that determine family formation for so many people, such as finding a job that provides enough to afford the expenses that come with having children. Reproduction and the rest of life were not separate in my household, and we know for many women they never were, even though some pro-choice activists organized that way.

My mother was raised Catholic, and when she became pregnant as a teenager in the late-1960s she chose to have her baby. Young black women having babies was the type of decision that was and remains vilified (although she did marry, which placed her in a less stigmatized category). Yet my mother had decided that obtaining an abortion—through whatever means were available in pre-Roe days—was not the right decision for her.

My older sister once asked my mother why she didn’t have an abortion, and my mom replied with a question: “Would you?” My sister thought for a few days before coming up with her answer. Her answer is not important. What is important is that my mother, like many other people, differentiated between her own life preferences and those of other women. Another woman’s answer to the abortion question could only be based in what that woman felt was right in her circumstances. For my mother that meant having two more daughters, continuing her own schooling, and working, generally on her own, all while teaching us important lessons. We learned there are bills to pay, children to feed, employers to satisfy, friends to support, apartheid regimes to protest, and many injustices to challenge.

So it is not a surprise that I felt like I had a place when I stumbled upon the reproductive justice movement, even if it was primarily as a researcher of it. Stories of belonging and (re-) inspiration surfaced across my many interviews and informal conversations with diverse people active in or strongly allied with the movement. Reproductive justice is an analysis, movement, praxis, and vision. It recognizes the relationships, among other issues, between the histories of women of color organizing for change, young people taking control of their sexuality education, midwives and doulas creating supportive birth environments, as well as those who challenge the criminalization of pregnancy, support LGBTQ families, fight for disability rights, protect the environment, ensure abortion access, and listen to pro-life perspectives because they exist in our movements too.

This framework does not pretend that women and their families are all on equal footing to make the same choices, and it brings together what many in the pro-choice movement had (sometimes inadvertently) separated. Reproductive justice reminds us that while the right to not have a child is important, the right to have a child and the right to parent with dignity must be protected just as strongly. Without that understanding we will continue to miss the opportunity to write a new history.

Zakiya Luna is a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow hosted by the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at Berkeley Law. She is writing on a book about the reproductive justice movement and beginning a new research project about minority pro-life activism.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.