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In Our Own Voice  Reproductive Justice Briefing

In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda convened more than 40 Black women Reproductive Justice leaders from around the country for the first annual Strategic Communications for Policy Change Summit in Washington, DC, September 25-29, 2015.

Summit participants engaged in intense discussion, education and strategic planning for five days; resulting in a stronger shared mission for lifting up the voices of Black women in our struggle for improved sexual and reproductive health for all women.

The Summit included encouraging words from Dorothy Roberts, acclaimed scholar on race, gender and the law. During her opening plenary, “We Are the Ones Everyone is Waiting For,” she shared her historical perspective of Reproductive Justice, and the critical role that Black women played in framing that agenda and must play toward formulating a future agenda – – providing the perfect launch pad for the entire Summit.

Other notable speakers included:

The Reproductive Justice FACT Act

Black Women for Wellness along with NARAL Pro-choice California and The California Attorney General’s Office sponsored, AB 775 or the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act. The Reproductive FACT Act, authored by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-17) and Autumn Burke (D-62), ensures that California women get basic information about their reproductive options. In short AB 775, requires that licensed clinics provide clients with full information about California’s “comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, adoption and abortion” services and notify patients about available financial assistance and contact information for those services so they can promptly enroll if needed.

The Reproductive FACT Act also requires unlicensed facilities that provide pregnancy-related care to inform clients that they are not a licensed medical facility and do not have a licensed provider on staff. This ensures that women seeking medical care related to a pregnancy receive information about all their options. This law directly addresses the proliferation of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) that use tactics to trick and deceive women about their medical options.

Diapers Anyone?

Black Women for Wellness is worked with Lorena Gonzalez’s office to make sure that low income families have some help trying to buy diapers. According to a recent study in Pediatrics, an academic journal specific to children’s health, 30% of low income families lack an adequate supply of diapers.

It is estimated that 6.57 billion diapers or needed to keep children living in poverty clean and dry, well over what most diaper banks can handle, with less than 100 nationwide. Over 6% of a low income families income can be directed towards diapers, leaving parents struggling to make ends meet. Some of the strategies for prolonging diapers include, leaving children in diapers for long periods, reusing diapers and choosing between diapers and food.

Not only is are there obvious health consequences of prolonged dirty diaper exposure such as UTIs, rashes and the potential complications from both health issues. As well as the added mental stress on the parents who are trying to make ends meet, there is a financial hardship as well. Many childcare facilities, including government funded ones, require parents to provide a full set of diapers in order to drop their child(ren) off. Parents who cannot provide the diapers then have to make other arrangements for childcare, including missing work, missing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) classes that are mandatory for assistance or in some cases bringing their child with them to work or class.

In order to address how this impacts the over 1 in 5 California families living in poverty, Gonzalez introduced two diaper bills, AB 492 – which provides a voucher subsidy for families receiving Cal-Works and AB 717 – which removes the sales tax on diaper for infants.

Maximum Family Grant

Once again, Black Women for Wellness is hoping that California finally repeals the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule with the passing of SB 23, authored by Sen. Mitchell’s office. This is a state law that prevents parents receiving assistance through the CalWORKs program from receiving a grant for any child born to the household while any member of the household is receiving aid. This is known as the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule. Without the MFG rule, the amount most households would receive in additional benefits for the newborn child is $128/month, hardly enough to pay for the child’s basic needs. Without it, these children face increased risk of homelessness and other hardship associated with extreme poverty. SB 23 is final hurdle is getting signed by California’s Governor. We are working with allied organizations to think of creative ways to raise up the needs of low income families in California.

Sex Education

For years California has had an outdated sexual education initiative in our schools. Some school were receiving HIV only education, while other school districts had a more comprehensive sexual education program, but still not quite reflective of today’s time. We are excited to say that starting in Jan of 2016, California will have an updated sexual education curriculum that is reflective of people of color as well as queer and transgender students. Black Women for Wellness was able to talk to our legislatures both locally and in Sacramento on the importance of passing this policy, as well as engage students at the high school level to advocate this policy.

Reproductive Justice representing in Sacramento

Black Women for Wellness co-hosted a reproductive justice briefing at the capital with two of our sister organizations, Access Women’s Health Justice, and California for Latinas for Reproductive Justice. Sponsored by The Women’s Democratic Committee, The California Black Legislative Caucus and California Latino Caucus, we shared information about reproductive justice centered policy and policy ideas about how to uplift women of color in California. We plan to host another briefing in 2016 with an updated addendum to our reproductive legislative report card.