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Connecting civil and reproductive rights

With Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this Thursday and the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling this Saturday, a lecture by Loretta J. Ross is fitting. This Friday at noon, in SMSU room 228, Ross will make the connections between civil rights, reproductive rights, and human rights, as advertised by the Women’s Studies Department, the Women’s Resource Center, and the PSU Martin Luther King Jr.

Day Committee. “Both struggles need to be brought together to recognize the importance of the other,” Johanna Brenner, the Women’s Studies Department

Chair said.

Brenner, who was instrumental in bringing Ross to speak at PSU explained the interconnectedness of the civil rights movement for African Americans and the right to chose for women. The legalization of abortion “came through massive protest against the criminalization of abortion, this reflects the civil rights movement in the sense of both being on the ground movements,” Brenner said. Although different sections of society celebrate both of these movements, Brenner explained, “They are never brought together and they have become more disconnected over the years.”

Giving an example of the interconnectedness of the two movements, Brenner commented on welfare reform and the American social service system. “People see most of America’s problems as due to women of color, specifically black women, having too many babies,” Brenner said. “There is a consistent pattern of blaming black mothers for the condition of the black community; this has been a systematic attempt to discourage women of color from having children.”

Brenner cited the desired solution to this situation as having women of color’s motherhood be celebrated and supported in the same way as white middle class women.

Bringing together the lived experiences created by race, class and gender,

Brenner said that “the right to chose is not only the right to terminate a pregnancy, but it is also the right to have children and raise them in security and health. This means defending mothers who are poor or incarcerated.”

Throughout her life, Ross has made the connections between civil and reproductive rights in her work. She founded and is the current executive of the National Center for Human Rights. She was the first African American woman to direct a rape crisis center and has directed the National Black Women’s Health Project.