According to These College Women, Reproductive Rights Shouldn't Be Up for Debate

The upcoming 2020 presidential election is crucial for the future of access reproductive rights in the U.S. When I sat down with Faith Lomax, a sophomore at Claflin University, to talk about reproductive rights and the presidential election, I wanted her to know that she was in a space where her voice was valued and that what she had to say mattered—because as a queer Black woman, Faith is just sick and tired of what she is witnessing around her.

Faith, like many other college students, is aware that the best way to be prepared to vote is to stay informed, even as an overwhelming amount of new developments emerge daily. Lawmakers and politicians create a noticable impact every time they generate and destroy policies, often causing the lives of women and non-binary people to be affected, especially in relation to bodily rights and access. While Faith doesn’t consider herself to be the most politically active person, she’s willing to do research on the most pressing topics and makes sure to voice her opinion. One of those topics is reproductive rights, and she’s especially concerned with how the next presidential candidate will provide resources and proper access to them.  “[Reproductive rights] would be one of the number one [voting issues] for me,” she says. She wonders how new regulations by lawmakers will play with her life.“Reproductive rights means that women have the right to do what they want with their bodies. So, if they want to have a baby, they can do that. If they get pregnant and choose not to have it, they can do that. This is supposed to be the land of the free.”

Restrictions on abortion

Faith studies mass communications in rural South Carolina, and all regulation updates tend to make waves on campus. As of Jan. 1, 2020, new restrictions on abortion have been put into effect, specifically making abortion available only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest if using state health plans through the Affordable Care Act. Then, that patient will have to receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided. Faith asserts that the lack of access trickles down from those who are actually writing these laws, which are usually men. Despite the advancements in Congress with more women running for (and winning) seats in Congress, she says that most of legislators don’t look like her, and simply can’t relate to the struggles she faces. As a result, there’s a lack of progressive policies. And in South Carolina specifically, that assertation is more than true. 

Lawmakers are predominantly male

Faith is concerned that most of the decision makers in government are men, because they simply cannot understand reproductive struggles they never have had to endure. Every single one of South Carolina’s senators and representatives are men. Nationwide, women only make up 29% percent of state legislators and 23% of congress. Black women make up 4% percent of both state legislators and congress.

When Faith considers all the voices being heard in the advocacy for reproductive rights, she notes that the fight often tends to be very heteronormative and exclusionary of people who may have different identities. “It’s focused more on [people] in heterosexual relationships. I feel like it needs to be more intertwined with everything else. There’s so many different sexualities … and identities out there. Everybody needs to be a part of this conversation so nobody is left out, because you don’t know who this is impacting.”

Ameerah De Chabert, a junior at Howard University, believes that reproductive rights are tied to privilege, and that may be why certain communities are inhibited from getting the access they need. “Access to reproductive rights usually comes with access to other rights, and that access feels very out of reach. Everyone feels kind of hopeless if they want to look for a place that can help them. It feels harder for them.”

According to a 2016 study done by the Guttmacher Institute, 60% of women ages 13 to 44 in Orangeburg County, South Carolina (where Faith attends  school) had demands for “contraceptive services and supplies,” with 70% of those being Black women and 24% living below the federal poverty level. Interestingly enough, 71% of all women age 15 to 44 in South Carolina live in a county without an abortion clinic, much higher than neighboring southern states Georgia (59%) and North Carolina (53%). In terms of nationwide access, 38% of women in 2016 lived in a county without an abortion clinic, 89% of counties did not even have an abortion clinic, and over 40 million women had potentional demand for contraceptive services and supplies. 

Colleges can do more to educate students

Faith and Ameerah both believe that the next presidential election can change those circumstances—but Ameerah thinks that college campuses can do a lot more for reproductive rights access, too. “There aren’t very many groups on campus that gather to talk about things like this on an organized, academic level.” Ameerah explains. “[Colleges] could just create safe spaces for people, whether that’s through counseling, or through creating a specific channel that people can talk about what they need.”

Faith has an alternative solution for students that might not feel comfortable seeking on-campus help. “[Colleges] do give us all these resources. We can go to the counselor and talk, but some people, like myself, may not necessarily trust [those resources] and feel like we can just go, and that they’ll welcome us with open arms. It should be more than just handing out condoms.” Faith also notes an urgent need for reproductive rights discussion and education in African American communities. “We need more people to talk to because a lot of our parents and family aren’t willing to sit down and talk to us about stuff like that,” she explains.

As the primaries come to a close, it’s vital that all eligible student voters are aware of how the candidates will impact key issues that are most important to them. This is your chance to decide what direction the country will head in.