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Reproductive rights under fire

Brandy Fluker Oakley

Our reproductive freedom hangs in the balance nationally after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for justice and equality. I am committed to continuing her fight, which is why I support reproductive freedom and the ROE Act.

I was outraged by the revelation that ICE has been conducting forced sterilization of migrant women at a detention center in Georgia. Unfortunately, this isn’t new. Our country has long been denying women of color our reproductive freedom and our right to choose.

The trajectory of my life changed when a young woman came to me because she had no one else to turn to. She had become pregnant as the result of incest and needed an abortion. I wasn’t much older than she was at the time, but she trusted me. That experience played a major role in my decision to go to law school, it’s why I have dedicated myself to social justice, and it’s why I ran to represent my community at the State House.

I was living in a state where a young person’s parent must be notified before an abortion takes place. Understandably, the last thing she wanted to do was involve her abuser in this decision. I helped her navigate the complex legal system so that she could get the care she needed without involving her parents, but it wasn’t easy because of the medically unnecessary barriers she had to overcome. She had already gone through so much and I simply could not understand why our laws were making a traumatic experience all the more difficult.

There are young people just like her in Massachusetts, with no one to turn to and much more difficult, medically unnecessary barriers to overcome.

Current Massachusetts law mandates that all young people provide the consent of one parent in order to access abortion care. I believe that familial communication about pregnancy and sexual health is a good thing, but I also realize it’s not something that can be legislated. Many young people can’t safely talk about an unintended pregnancy with their parents. Some run the risk of getting kicked out of their homes, some are the victims of rape or incest, and young people in the foster care system can’t get this consent from their foster parents.

Their only option is to go to court and share intimate, personal health details with a judge, who then decides if they are mature enough to make this decision. And if not, they are therefore mature enough to be a parent.

Health care decisions should be made by patients and physicians, not the courts. Judges play an important role in the legal system, but they are not trained to spot signs of coercion or abuse like doctors. We need to think about what kind of message forcing a young person to go to court sends — that seeking abortion care is criminal. That their body, life and health care are not their own, but the state’s. This process is traumatizing, stigmatizing and dehumanizing.

Justice Ginsburg often spoke about how medically unnecessary barriers undermine the legal right to abortion and disproportionately harm vulnerable groups. In Massachusetts, the young people who access judicial bypass are disproportionately from low-income and Black and brown communities. This barrier is the same institutional racism that we’ve seen for centuries — criminalizing people of color instead of providing access to the services and support they need. This current law criminalizes and stigmatizes young people in our communities, making it all the more difficult for them to get ahead. Young Black and brown women do not need to be made to feel like criminals; they need support and access to care. Passing the ROE Act is a key step towards that.

Like many things in our society, equitable access to full control over our bodies, including abortion care, has been and continues to be disproportionately denied to Black and brown women in Massachusetts and across the country.

True choice includes access to abortion care. It is necessary for Black and brown women to be able to make decisions about our lives, bodies and futures. Just as we deserve the right to choose to have children, and to raise those children in safety and with dignity, we have the right to choose not to have children. Black and brown women deserve true choice to live lives of our own making.

Brandy Fluker Oakley is the Democratic nominee for state representative, 12th Suffolk District.

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