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Reproductive rights are human rights

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Amanda Furdge and her three sons. Photo courtesy of Amanda Furdge.

The right to personal bodily autonomy was recognized decades ago. In a post-Roe world, men must speak up to help preserve it.

Reproductive rights aren’t abstract. They’re concrete—and consequential, especially for people like Amanda Furdge, a 34-year-old mother of three in Jackson, Mississippi.

Two years after becoming a mother, she walked into a crisis center to find out if she was pregnant again. Furdge wanted to end the pregnancy if she was—convinced that she wasn’t ready to have a second child. “I was already living below the poverty level,” she recalled. “The only way we were able to survive was sleeping on my parents’ pull-out couch.”

What happened next would transform her into an advocate for reproductive rights. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Amanda’s fight matters not just for women and gender-diverse people, but also for men who can no longer sit on the sidelines in states where reproductive rights are under threat.

At Oxfam, we’ve been fighting for women’s rights and gender justice for years. So we’re going to share with you Amanda’s story and explore what’s at stake: What do reproductive rights have to do with human rights? What happened when Amanda was denied her rights? And what does a positive future look like where reproductive rights and the right to abortion are protected?

What do reproductive rights have to do with human rights?

Sexual and reproductive health and rights—including the right of women, girls, and people who can become pregnant to make their own decisions about their own bodies—are grounded in human rights to life, equality, privacy, and bodily integrity under international law.

Almost 50 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” world leaders came together in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994 to center reproductive rights as integral to the enjoyment of other human rights.

  • The first of its kind global agreement recognized the right to sexual and reproductive health as essential for the “right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”

  • That human right was enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—a treaty adopted in 1966 by the UN General Assembly.

  • Citing abortion as a “major public health concern” for women around the world, the agreement stressed the importance of universal access to family planning.

A year after Cairo, the Beijing declaration supported by 189 countries at the Fourth World Conference on Women reinforced reproductive rights as critical for women’s enjoyment of equal opportunities in public and private life, including “opportunities for education and economic and political empowerment.”

“We have to be able to make decisions about our own physical selves,” said political activist Gloria Steinem. “[Overturning Roe has] a very differential impact on women, depending on what part of the country they're in, what their economic situation is, [and] their race, ethnicity. It affects all women, but not all women equally.”

What happened when Amanda was denied her reproductive rights?

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Amanda wants to help more young people of color learn life lessons, control their own narratives, and lead while growing. Photo courtesy of Amanda Furdge.

In 2014 Amanda found out she was pregnant again. She had returned to Mississippi after leaving her toxic partner in Chicago. She was unemployed with a newborn infant, and the prospect of taking care of another child was too much to bear. 

“I was already feeling the financial pressure of raising one,” Furdge said. “At this point, it wasn’t fair to my kid.”

Here’s what happened next:

  • The staff at the center that gave her the pregnancy test also tried to convince her why she shouldn’t get an abortion. This is common practice at many crisis pregnancy centers that masquerade as health care clinics; she left, overwhelmed. 

  • Her next best option was the Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the only abortion clinic in the entire state of Mississippi of almost 3 million people. When she arrived to the clinic, she encountered more obstacles. After talking with staff, she was told she was too far along to obtain an abortion.

  • All of this was happening in a state that now has the highest poverty rate in the US and no mandate for equal pay for equal work, no accommodations for pregnant workers, and no form of paid sick leave or family leave.

Amanda fell into a deep depression. She worried that her emotional state would affect the baby she was now going to take to term. Three years after her second son was born, the state of Mississippi passed even more restrictive abortion laws, including the 15-week abortion law that was upheld in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe.

What does a positive future look like where reproductive rights and the right to abortion are protected?

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 1 in 4 women will end a pregnancy in her lifetime. Advancing the right to legal, safe, and accessible abortion doesn’t just benefit women, trans, intersex, and non-gender conforming individuals. It also benefits men like Nam Phan, an engineer from Massachusetts, who believes that the abortion his wife got when they were teenagers eventually helped them to become stable, better parents to their two children. 

“It isn’t lost on us that having a kid back then would have really changed our lives significantly,” he told the New York Times in June.

So what could a more equal future look like where these rights aren’t under attack, but are protected as the human rights that they are?

  • Men talking to other men about why sexual and reproductive health and rights matter.
    • Organizations like Men4Choice are equipping men-identified folk with tools to talk about the importance of defending reproductive freedom. We need more men to advocate for reproductive rights as human rights.

  • Bolster US funding and support for abortion services worldwide.
    • US support for reproductive rights globally wavers based on the priorities of any one administration. We should pass legislation that makes it easier for US foreign assistance to support health care providers that offer abortion services, counseling, and referrals around the world. 

  • Support women at work and health care providers that offer abortion.
    • Too many pregnant people lack flexibility at work at a time when health care providers are losing their ability to provide abortion services. We should pass legislation that creates a clear national standard requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers, guarantees access to paid leave, and establishes a statutory right for health care providers to provide abortion care.

Conclusion

Reproductive rights are human rights. The fight for reproductive freedom in the US has large implications for families like Amanda’s and Nam’s across the globe, and for women, girls, and people who can become pregnant, it’s deeply personal. 

Now a mother to three kids, Amanda wants to help more young people of color learn life lessons, control their own narratives, and lead while growing. She continues to fight for fully funded child care and fully funded public education to support families in Mississippi. "Just knowing how much easier things can be when you get to decide for yourself," Furdge said.

It’s time for men to become vocal allies to preserve fundamental human rights and support women like Amanda who continue their advocacy despite challenging circumstances.

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