Uniting Our Power for Bodily Autonomy and Accepting Nothing Less

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Note: This month’s piece is co-authored with Marsha Donat, Capacity Building Director at BISC. Marsha leads our reproductive rights and justice portfolio. She directly supported five out of six abortion-related ballot measures in 2022  and continues to support our partners as they are incubating efforts for 2023-2026 and beyond.

This Women’s History Month marks the first since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, a decision that says the United States Constitution does not protect rights to an abortion. 

At BISC, the majority of our staff not only identify as women, but also as women of color who are among the most impacted by the Supreme Court decision. We also span three generations (Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z) that do not know a time in the United States without this important protection. When the Dobbs decision came down last June, we didn’t just feel the decision personally, we were ready for action. 

That’s because our work didn’t start in June 2022. 

We have been organizing long before the Dobbs decision, preparing for this moment for years with our state and national partners. And because of that, we weren’t surprised by the results on Election Day 2022. 

In Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont, BISC staff put in the time and effort by supporting leaders through training, policy development, coalition building, messaging, and more. We were on calls with funders when pundits were saying that certain states were unwinnable, pleading with them to believe in local leaders and that this was about more than a win on Election Day. We’ve known all along that this is about inspiring hope, building infrastructure for future fights and opportunities, and never leaving anyone behind.

We believed it was critical that the reproductive freedom campaigns center equity and impacted communities especially the Black, Indigenous, and low-income voices that are often left out of this work. 

We were proud to support Michigan in developing a more equitable governance structure to ensure reproductive justice groups led by Black women were included in decision-making. Montana operationalized the principles and practices of BISC’s Declaration of Equity & Accountability that not only helped them lead an equitable and impactful campaign but also to continue the work to build out a new reproductive and sexual health coalition to take on the continued attacks on healthcare in Montana and develop proactive strategies for future cycles. 

Our reproductive freedom work in 2022 wasn’t just about winning. It was about building durable, equitable power that leaves something behind and makes it stronger for what comes next. 

The results of the 2022 election and ballot measure campaigns have fueled excitement and propelled the possibilities of what direct democracy can do for reproductive rights and freedom. BISC is tracking eight statewide reproductive freedom measures for 2023 and 29 measures have been filed for 2024. BISC is aware of an additional 13 measures being discussed for 2024 or 2026. Some of these measures are defensive – attacks on reproductive rights that have been filed by state legislatures in Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and Missouri, that if passed could appear before voters. 

But the majority of these measures are proactive, with states like Ohio looking to codify the right to abortion in their state, and explorations in places like Missouri that could re-establish abortion services in the state. There are conversations happening around what expanding access could look like by removing state funding bans or expanding the scope of some providers to include abortion services, allowing greater access in rural communities and states without a dedicated clinic. This is good news for our movement.

The will and momentum is on our side and we know the majority of the public believes abortions should be legal. But as reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates look to leverage the people’s tool to protect abortion access, state legislatures are looking to take this tool away. BISC is currently tracking 102 measures that would impact the initiative process in 34 states. 100 have been filed through the state legislature. 

The continued attacks on democracy and reproductive rights are connected to the attacks on our public education system, workers rights, the LGBTQ+ community, especially trans people, and more. This means we must not only be in solidarity with each other, but as we pave the way forward post Dobbs decision, we must open our minds as we dream about what we take to the ballot in 2024 and beyond. 

During this month when we celebrate the accomplishments women have made, we also have the opportunity to use our voices to speak up about the future we seek to build.

Roe was insufficient. Access was limited for many people seeking abortions and reproductive care. We are being called on at this moment to build a new world for abortion care and reproductive health access. Securing our bodily autonomy and ensuring that all people have the ability to exercise that right will take creativity, clarity of purpose, and commitment to staying in this fight for the long haul. 

At BISC, this isn’t just about reproductive rights or “restoring Roe.” We believe we must secure reproductive liberties in healthcare decisions. At BISC and with our partners, we seek to build a world where reproductive justice is the framework we use, so we not only guarantee abortion access for everyone who seeks it, but also to provide affordable contraception and fertility treatment, comprehensive sexual education, ensuring people are free from sexual violence, and establishing economic security. 

For us this is about the fundamental right to bodily autonomy. We will accept nothing less.