Fighting for reproductive justice and self-determination in post-Roe America


A collage from the cover of the 1994 book “African American Women Stand for Reproductive Freedom: We Remember”. – Photo: Radical Black Womencourtesy of the National Council of Negro Women

Abolition is feminism, feminism is abolition

by Jen James and Tamanika Ferguson, The Fire Within

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was shocking to people across the country who witnessed the overthrow of a fundamental constitutional protection. The move comes at a time when California is grappling with its own recent history of forced sterilizations, an example of reproductive oppression inflicted by the state prison system.

In 2021, after decades of activism by currently and formerly incarcerated women, survivors won the right to seek reparations from the state for this harm and the first survivors won compensation approvals this summer. . The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization raises several questions: First, what will this ruling mean for those incarcerated in women’s prisons?

Even in California, a state where the right to abortion is enshrined in the state constitution, many reproductive health decisions for incarcerated people are only available based on the oversight of prison health personnel who impose their own beliefs on incarcerated people, regardless of what the law says.

Second, how will the expanded criminalization of women’s bodies and health care lead to increased imprisonment and lack of bodily control for women, trans and non-binary people? Across the country, pregnant women and those giving birth continue to be chained during pregnancy, labor and delivery.

Controlling and regulating women’s bodies is a form of control and punishment used to strip women of their agency and self-determination and to silence their voices.

chelsea becker, a woman from King County, California, spent 16 months in prison after suffering the trauma of a stillbirth. There are growing fears that this will become the norm; her case is a clear example of the limits of reproductive rights in California.

Controlling and regulating women’s bodies is a form of control and punishment used to strip women of their agency and self-determination and to silence their voices. For many people, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is one of the first times they were faced with this possibility; yet for those incarcerated in women’s prisons, who are predominantly black and other women of color, it is a daily reality.

Reproductive oppression has been a constant in the lives of many BIPOC since slavery, when reproduction was controlled for the economic gain of white slave owners. Once incarcerated, people are deprived of the same rights as those outside. Sexual and medical violence in prison is not about isolated cases, but rather a systematic oppression where prison staff have absolute power over imprisoned people.

Both physical abuse by correctional staff and forced or coercive medical care, including sterilizations that have been performed on hundreds, if not thousands, of people incarcerated in the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF), the California Institution for Women (CIW) and the Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) without proper informed consent are crimes that generally remain hidden from public view.

Reporting or talking about sexual and medical abuse often results in retaliation. Yet incarcerated survivors continue to lead efforts to expose the forced sterilizations that occur in California prisons. They continue to sound the alarm about the violence and abuse they face daily inside.

The quashing of Roe v. Wade means thousands of people could face criminal charges for seeking abortions, miscarriages or stillbirths, or helping a patient or loved one get needed healthcare. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) is committed to engaging in participatory advocacy, political work, and political education and action to support the rights of all people to bodily autonomy and self-determination. The abolition of prisons must include the fight for reproductive justice for all.

CCWP is a grassroots abolitionist organization whose members inside and outside prison challenge the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people and communities of color by the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). please contact [email protected] for more information.


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