The Racial and Reproductive Justice of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, 1967. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

On January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president, almost half a million people descended on Washington, D.C., in what the Washington Post called “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history.” The Women’s March was held to protest the election of a highly unpopular president, who had been exposed in the months leading up to the election as someone who insulted the appearance and intelligence of women, boasted of his aggressive sexual advances toward others, and vowed to nominate a Supreme Court judge who would roll back women’s access to abortion. In D.C., and at solidarity marches around the nation and the world, people arrived for a massive show of support for women’s rights and reproductive justice.


Thurgood Marshall was a “great champion of intersecting struggles against racism and sexism.”


Actor Chadwick Boseman, who was on the set of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, a movie based on the first black superhero featured in mainstream comics, took a break from filming that morning to tweet, “Shooting Black Panther on a Saturday. But my heart is at the Women’s March.” It was a fitting sentiment for an actor who had also been cast to star in Marshall, the recently released biopic about the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

While Marshall was known foremost for his role in important civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education, as well as for becoming the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice some 50 years ago this month, he was also an influential figure in the history of reproductive justice. While the biopic focuses on his early career, when he handled a 1941 case involving a black defendant facing racially charged allegations and a prejudiced criminal justice system, it was not until more than three decades after that case — and more than five years after his swearing in to the Supreme Court — that Marshall became a fixture in the history of abortion rights in the U.S. Continue reading

For Women’s Equality Day, A Call to Use Your Right to Vote

On August 18, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and on August 26, 1920, it was certified: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

It had taken 72 years: In 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first women’s rights convention in U.S. history at Seneca Falls, this resolution was passed: “Resolved, That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”


People in power would not be trying so hard to keep us from voting if our votes weren’t powerful. We must not give up that power.


Of 12 resolutions, it was the only one that was not passed unanimously. Although leaders such as Sojourner Truth, Mary McClintock, Susan B. Anthony, and Frederick Douglass supported a resolution demanding women’s right to vote, many other attendees thought such a resolution might be a bridge too far. But by 1920, after women had marched, rallied, and faced abuse and arrest, several states had already adopted women’s suffrage.

In 1971, the newly elected Rep. Bella Abzug proposed observing August 26 as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate women’s suffrage, and a joint resolution of Congress made it so. But getting the right to vote cannot be considered a victory if we do not exercise that right. In the 2016 election, only 58 percent of registered voters actually cast a ballot. Although Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes, she trailed President Obama’s 2008 votes by 3.4 million. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Deja Foxx

    Let’s kick this thing off with some good news — two states have passed laws making it easier for women to access birth control! Yay! (Elite Daily)

  • If you live in the Phoenix metro area, you may wanna check out this handy map on the prevalence of STDs in your ZIP code! (ABC 15)
  • In other local news, Tucson teen Deja Foxx is a fearless powerhouse. She courageously advocates for others, heroically stood up to Sen. Jeff Flake, and sings the praises of Planned Parenthood every chance she gets. We are SO in awe of her and SO thankful for her advocacy! (WaPo)
  • Extensive research by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows there are broad economic benefits of increased contraception use — not just for women but for society overall. (Salon)
  • Of course sexism played a huge role in Hillary’s 2016 election loss. (XX Factor)
  • Rewire‘s Yamani Hernandez explains why framing abortion as an economic issue that affects our survival may be the only way to make people understand how crucial our right to this choice is. (Rewire)
  • Texas’ maternal mortality rate doubled over a two-year period. Not coincidentally, this was the same two-year period of time in which the state gutted Planned Parenthood and forced most of our health centers in the state to close. Additionally, more than half of all births in Texas are paid for by Medicaid, but coverage for new mothers ends just 60 days after childbirth. The majority of the 189 maternal deaths the task force looked at from 2011 to 2012 occurred after the 60-day mark. (Texas Observer)
  • Texas also has the highest birth rate in the U.S. (more than half paid for through Medicaid), and one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Medicaid births — most likely unintended pregnancies — rose in areas where access to PP was barred. (Austin Chronicle)
  • And in case you were wondering, Texas is not done clobbering reproductive options and rights. Their governor just signed what is being described as a “sweeping anti-abortion law.” (The Cut)
  • The latest medical science discovery: A vaginal gel containing tenofovir, an antiretroviral drug used to treat HIV infection, was three times as effective at preventing HIV in women who had healthy vaginal bacterial communities as it was in women with a less beneficial mix. (Science News)
  • Gotta love this headline: “President Who Bragged About Extramarital Sex Appoints Top Abstinence Advocate to HHS” (XX Factor)

National Girls and Women in Sports Day: Creating an Even Playing Field for All Athletes

soccerFrom tennis to mixed martial arts, women excelled across a broad spectrum of athletic events in 2015. They graced Sports Illustrated covers and ESPN highlight reels, achieving excellence in a world still dominated by testosterone. Yet even though 44 years have passed since President Nixon signed Title IX in 1972, sexism continues to rear its ugly head in competitive athletics. Even women who reach the pinnacles of success in their fields face constant battles against subtle but pervasive gender inequality.


Female athletes still have a long way to travel on the road toward total parity with men.


As 2016 ushers in another year of nail-biting finishes, heart-wrenching losses, and championship victories, it’s time to celebrate the women who made 2015 a remarkable year in sports and reflect on the work that still remains on the road to gender equality. On February 3, the Women’s Sports Foundation will do just that by hosting the 30th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day in Washington, D.C. The event will both celebrate the progress that female athletes have made over the last four decades and promote ways to advance women’s status in the world of sports.

It would be impossible to discuss athletic accomplishments from 2015 without recognizing the ladies of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, who, in a single game, gave the United States more fútbol glory than the men’s team has offered in more than 100 years of existence. What follows is a commentary on how the team has maintained its tradition of excellence in the face of the misogyny that remains heavily embedded in competitive sports. Continue reading

HeForShe: Why We Need Gender Equality

Emma WatsonOn September 20, a declaration was made to all male-identifying individuals worldwide: Feminism is for you, too. I am, of course, referring to the speech given by Emma Watson launching the HeForShe Campaign, a solidarity movement for gender equality backed by UN Women. When any celebrity endorses a social cause, they are putting themselves in the line of fire for critique, often coming from both sides of an issue. This issue is no different in that powerful messages for social justice frequently become overshadowed by critical rhetoric.


What we do today is what will help us achieve gender equality for the generations that follow.


As a feminist, I am grateful that Emma Watson has used her privilege to deliver this message, but like many, I also believe this is just the start of many conversations that must be had before this movement can see progress. Feminist ideals by and large have made considerable strides in the last several decades, but as Ms. Watson pointed out, we are absolutely not where we need to be. As a woman who was born in Arizona and has lived in the Valley her entire life, I can attest to the accuracy of that statement.

While it is easy to pick apart what Emma Watson didn’t say, and how she said what she did, I believe it is more important to reflect on her call to action, and how we all can embrace gender equality and what that looks like in our individual circles. Continue reading

The Family Revolution and the Egalitarian Tradition in Black History

Sadie T. Alexander

In the interview with Stephanie Coontz featured earlier this month, we discussed the many changes in American households that have occurred in the 50 years since Betty Friedan published her landmark book, The Feminine Mystique. Friedan’s book was a literary catalyst that helped usher in a family revolution, in which the norm of one-earner households was replaced by the norm of the two-earner households we know today; a change that gave many women more equality in their marriages.


A strong egalitarian tradition has long been a part of black history.


What might surprise some readers is that we could have also discussed the many changes that had occurred already, even as Friedan was still writing her manuscript. Among black Americans, much of what Friedan wrote was not prescient, but dated. As Coontz wrote in A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, “Long before Betty Friedan insisted that meaningful work would not only fulfill women as individuals but also strengthen their marriages, many African-American women shared the views of Sadie T. Alexander, an influential political leader in Philadelphia, who argued in 1930 that working for wages gave women the ‘peace and happiness’ essential to a good home life.”

While sorting out the book’s legacy, Coontz wanted to explain what The Feminine Mystique had gotten right and wrong about American families and women’s domestic roles in the 1960s. A particular problem Coontz addressed was how The Feminine Mystique ignored the experiences of black and other minority women — an omission cited by many critics since the book’s publication. A book Coontz found invaluable in addressing that omission was Bart Landry’s Black Working Wives: Pioneers of the American Family Revolution (University of California Press, 2002). Landry did not write his book as a critique of The Feminine Mystique. Rather, it was while looking at historical statistics on wives’ employment that he decided to write in greater detail about an intriguing difference he noticed between black and white wives: “the employment rates of black wives were about ten years ahead of those of white wives.” Continue reading

The Feminine Mystique in Retrospect: An Interview With Stephanie Coontz, Part 1

Award-winning author Stephanie Coontz has published a long list of books and articles about the history of family and marriage. She has written about the evolution of those two institutions from prehistory to today, in works that have been widely praised for their intelligence, wit, and insight. In her most recent book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (Basic Books, 2012), Coontz takes us back 50 years to a breakthrough that changed the role of women in American households.


“Equal marriages require more negotiation than unequal ones.”


In 1963 it was clear that a revolution was beginning. After its approval by the FDA at the beginning of the decade, 2.3 million American women were using the birth control pill, the oral contraceptive that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger had been instrumental in pioneering. And on February 19, 1963, 50 years ago today, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a book that sold millions of copies in its first three years. It quickly became the object of both derision and acclaim for awakening women to aspirations beyond what discrimination and prejudice had long defined for them. If oral contraceptives were the breakthrough in medicine that finally enabled women to plan their reproductive lives around their educational and career goals, Friedan’s landmark book was the breakthrough in consciousness that gave many the resolve to do it.

Friedan was a magazine writer whose experience surveying women at a college reunion was the spark that drove her to uncover “the problem that has no name.” She was referring to the dissatisfaction and depression she found widespread among housewives, not just at the reunion but in many other encounters she had with them as a writer. Convinced that it would help married women — and their marriages — if they sought their own identities outside of the home, Friedan synthesized a wealth of research to make her case in The Feminine Mystique. Stephanie Coontz’s A Strange Stirring is a social history of The Feminine Mystique that takes readers from an era of far-reaching sex discrimination in the early 1960s when Friedan made her breakthrough, to the contemporary era when many of Friedan’s appeals have been realized but new challenges hinder equality. Continue reading