This post is by K.
W and I are both 100% in support of reproductive rights and health. I worked at Planned Parenthood for half a decade. During my time there, I got into reproductive justice. I got in deep. I learned a lot from others in the movements. I also spent a lot of time helping others, especially those deeply rooted in pro-choice activism, to “get” what repro justice is. Pro-choice and repro justice aren’t synonyms. Here’s a definition of reproductive justice from SisterSong:
The reproductive justice framework – the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments — is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s decisions is important for women of color.
It represents a shift for women advocating for control of their bodies, from a narrower focus on legal access and individual choice (the focus of mainstream organizations) to a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power.
Reproductive Justice addresses the social reality of inequality, specifically, the inequality of opportunities that we have to control our reproductive destiny. Our options for making choices have to be safe, affordable and accessible, three minimal cornerstones of government support for all individual life decisions.
Repro justice takes the conversation beyond birth control, abortion, and sex ed and makes us ask questions like:
- How do class and race play a role in reproductive rights work?
- How are trans* and gender non-conforming people accessing sexual and reproductive health care?
- How do the issues of education, literacy, and language access play into sexual and reproductive health outcomes?
- What are the points of connection between taking care of the environment and taking care of our bodies?
- How can we repair tensions between the disability rights communities and the pro-choice/repro justice communities?
I could write a whole post about any of those topics. There are lots of questions to raise. The question I want to address is this one: Who has the right to parent?
We can go on for days about the right now to be a parent, the right to make a personal abortion decision. We don’t talk as much about the flip side. What about the right to be a parent? Is there such a thing? Many would emphatically say, “Yes. Of course. Everyone should have that right.” But let’s get real. We don’t all have access to that right. And if you add some other factors in, you may start to feel more unsure.
For example, do people who are using drugs while pregnant have the right to parent? Do poor people with large families have the right to have more kids? Do pregnant women in jail have the right to keep their kids? What about young teens who want to have planned pregnancies? These questions challenge us to go deeper, to think about what happens when we start restricting one person or group’s rights and freedoms based on our own judgements.
Some of the arguments for not allowing people to have kids because they are “unfit parents” are used similarly by conservative radicals to speak out against LGBTQ parents. We are perverts. We are criminals. We will abuse our children. We will expose them to deviant lifestyles. We are unfit parents.
Now, I’m not advocating for child abuse. Of course, I believe children deserve to be safe and loved. But judging parents by how much they earn, their past or present involvement with the criminal justice system, etc, is wrong.
Then there is the question of who, within our queer and LGBTQI communities, has access to parenting decisions. For some queer couples, there is a penis and a vagina involved and getting knocked up is relatively affordable. (That said, if the person carrying the child is a trans* of gender non-conforming person, it doesn’t mean that it will be easy to find a doctor willing to work with you or that you will be safe from hate and discrimination in public.)
For many of us, well, we just don’t have the plumbing to produce kids. So we go with other options–none of which are simple. Insurance covers fertility treatments for folks who are infertile. However, two very fertile people with vaginas do not typically qualify as infertile and have to pay out-of-pocket. There are DIY options: the find-a-generous-friend-with-a-penis method. With or without the turkey baster method. For folks without the cash to splurge on baby-making, it may be the only option. Some people may be totally into this idea and lots of people have been successful. You can also do lots of attempts for low or no cost with this method.
For others, this is just not going to work. W wants to be our kid’s only father, legally and theoretically. He doesn’t care if the kid looks like him at all and he would have been open to adoption, but he doesn’t want someone else to be able to claim to be the bio dad. As the non-gestational parent, he feels really strongly that knowing the sperm donor personally isn’t an option for him. It would make him feel less-than as a parent. I get his reasons. As the gestational parent, no one will question my relationship to the kid. As an adoptee myself, I know people can ask hurtful questions when you aren’t biologically related to your parents. More than once in my young and adult life, I have been asked, “Do you know your real parents?” to which I reply that my adoptive mom and dad are my real parents, but no, I don’t know my biological parents. So I get it. The turkey baster method isn’t for everyone and it isn’t for us. But it’s really the easiest and most economical route.
This creates a class divide where queer folks with the moolah can afford artificial insemination and donor sperm. We’re going to be going this route and each try of IUI with purchased donor sperm is around $1-2k. Per try. Like, you know how heterosexual people joke about “trying” over and over and over until it become tiresome while trying to get pregs. Imagine paying $1-2k every time. Ka-ching! At the most costly, full-on IVF (invitro fertilization) can be $10-$15k per round. You can rack up some serious debt. Some insurance coverage would be nice, huh? For most queer couples, too bad, so sad. Is the turkey baster sounding better and better to you?
This IUI and IVF and turkey baster stuff is all assuming that someone has a uterus that is available for fetus-growing. For gay men or any couple without an oven for the bun, there are even more limited options. There is surrogacy–finding someone to carry your child for you, but this is very, very expensive–between $80-100k. If you are not a reality tv star, it is probably not an option for you. Also, it is illegal in many states, including our state, NY.
Finally, there is adoption. I’m adopted. I always thought I would want to adopt from Korea, where I was born, if I ever caved and decided to have kids. I looked it up immediately after W and I started talking about it and found that South Korea and most other countries do not adopt to same-gender couples. On paper, W and I are same-sex married. Korea also does not adopt to single parents, so there’s no way I could even beat the system by presenting as single (This was before the DOMA SCOTUS decision making our marriage recognizable by the federal gov’t). Beyond which, it was $30-40k to adopt, which I just might have shelled out, had it been an option. Adoption was my first choice. When I realized it was literally impossible, my heart sank.
As of 2013, domestic adoption can cost between $0-40k per kid. Foster care adoptions are often cheaper–even free–and are a great option for those that want older children or are able to care for children with behavior problems and/or disabilities. However, the adoption process can still be quite difficult. We know one set of beautiful and loving foster parents who have been hoping to adopt one of their kids and it has been incredibly long and tiring for them.
On top of all of that, you’ve gotta pass the rigorous home study. If you’re queer, you’ve got to find a queer-friendly adoption agency. It was when considering all of this that W and I decided to get me knocked up. It was just easier. And, even though it’ll probably cost us between $5-10k to get pregnant, it is a lot cheaper than the other options. Most importantly, we don’t have to hide who we are. We don’t have to worry about whether to present W as a lesbian or a trans* guy or about how that will affect our ability to adopt. We don’t have to worry about working with agencies, governments, or people who are transphobic or homophobic. Our marriage is legal in our state, so when that kid is born, both our names can go on the birth certificate. Bam. I’ve never had any desire to be pregnant, but at the end of the day it was the best option for us.
And we are the lucky ones. We are the ones that have a two-income family, a stable income, own a home, have health insurance, have supportive families. We have to wait a while to pay down some other debt before we can afford it, but that is not a huge deal in the long run.
For poor people and queer people who do not have those things–is there really a right to parent? How would this all be different if insurance actually covered fertility treatment for queer folks? How would it be different for low-income families, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, if Medicaid covered infertility treatment across the board? In NY, they cover it for straight folks, but that isn’t true in all states. How do we treat people who have families in non-traditional ways? If we did have a friend or friends that contributed sperm and became a part of our family, how would the outside world look at us? What if we were low-income queer people and we racked up debt trying to get pregnant? How would people see us? Irresponsible? Bad parents? Doing it for the wrong reason?
In the queer communities and outside of it, the right to parent is still something relegated to those of us with power–class, status, etc. By default, it also becomes something that is less accessible to communities of color and anyone disproportionally affected by poverty.
I go into this parenting decision with two complimentary feelings. Feeling angry that we are treated differently and have fewer options and have to pay out-of-pocket because of our queerness. And feeling grateful that we have the economic privilege to be able to make the decision the way that we want to, to be able to afford a secure financial future for our family.
Until we all have equity, there will be class divides within LGBT and queer communities. We need to talk about them and amplify the voices of those that are marginalized within our own communities. That is true reproductive justice.