Political activist Jenny Brown speaks about reproductive justice and socialist feminism

As part of their speaker series, Yale Young Democratic Socialists of America invited author and political activist Jenny Brown to discuss abortion and reproductive justice as a labor issue.

Jenny Liu

2:20 am, Nov 18, 2022

Contributing Reporter

Zoe Berg, Lead Photographer

Jenny Brown, author, political activist and former editor of Labor Notes, spoke to Yale students about her work on reproductive justice and abortion rights in the world of socialist feminism.

The event took place on November 13 and was organized by the Yale Young Democratic Socialists of America, the youth and student wing of the Democratic Socialists of America – the largest socialist organization in the country. Part of YDSA’s mission is to organize for multiracial working class power through labor struggles and social justice issues. They invited Brown, a prominent figure in the fight for reproductive justice, to be part of their speaker series to present abortion as a labor issue.

“I think she’s one of the first people to bring to light this class analysis of the pro-choice struggle,” Caitlyn Clark ’23, co-chair of the Yale YDSA, wrote in an email to the News.

One of the key points Brown addressed is the misconception that the debate over liberal and conservative views on abortion is rooted in religious differences. She argued that this was not the case – the argument against abortion was in fact the argument against all forms of contraception.

If the debate were only about reducing abortions, Conservatives would be in favor of birth control because it would make someone less likely to need an abortion, Brown said. Instead, she noted, the exact opposite is happening: Both abortion and contraceptives such as Plan-B and hormonal birth control are being restricted.

“We will be stronger when we realize that the fight isn’t about religion, it’s about our reproductive labor and how cheaply that labor is being done,” Brown said.

As she claimed, societal reproductive labor is the labor that humans, typically women, perform to raise the next generation of humans and workers. However, as the cost of raising a family has increased, the birthrate in the United States has fallen to a point below the replacement limit — 1.6 and 2.1, respectively.

She argued that instead of lowering the cost of children, as many other countries have done to increase birth rates, the US has found that it would be cheaper to attack abortion rights and essentially coerce people to increase the birth rate.

“We never won abortion rights in America, we won the right to raise the money to have an abortion,” Brown said.

A common thread throughout the lecture was the idea that because abortion rights are a matter of labor, people have the power to hold back societal reproductive labor.

Clark echoed Brown’s point of view, arguing that people’s ability to have abortions is a form of strike against “a capitalist class that has refused to meet our basic needs in order to continue having children,” such as by limited parental leave and a lack of universal health care.

Other participants said they found Brown’s speech compelling and evidence-based.

“She combined the advent of strict restrictions on contraception, abortion and family planning information in the Comstock Act of 1873 with racist narratives by politicians about white Protestant women not having enough children, leading to fears of stagnant population growth. ‘ wrote Adora Svitak ’22, a second-year graduate student, in an email to the News.

Yale YDSA’s decision to house Jenny Brown was influenced in part by her own development Fight for better reproductive and gender equitable health care from the Yale Health Basic Plan, along with coalition organizations at Yale College and the trade schools.

This includes Yale Health making medical abortion pills available to all students, co-payments for all forms of contraception, and co-payments for abortion procedures for Yale Basic students free of charge.

Clark said students interested in getting involved can attend and sign their signatures at the Yale YDSA’s weekly meetings at HQ133 every Tuesday at 7 p.m petition.

“Brown’s work is very relevant to my interest in gender inequality, particularly as I am currently researching inequalities in the intimate lives of heterosexuals,” Svitak said. “It’s impossible to examine the way people of different gender identities interact without considering whether they have equal freedom to determine their reproductive outcomes.”

The estimated cost of raising a child in the United States is $17,000 per year.

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