Despite how reproductive rights have historically been co-opted to advance eco-fascism, and continue to be weaponized to this day, reproductive justice is inherently at odds with eco-fascist ideologies.
By Kylie Cheung
At the end of April, more than 140 organizations submitted a letter calling on President Biden to lift the Helms Amendment, a policy that prohibits US funding of abortion care abroad. The letter follows the Biden administration’s early decision to lift an executive order known as the global gag rule, which denied funding to global organizations that offer contraception and even information about abortion care. But even without the global gag rule, because of Helms, US foreign assistance still can’t directly fund abortion services abroad.
American reproductive rights advocates often cite high maternal and infant death rates in less wealthy countries and the global South for their support for lifting Helms. Countries with more restrictions and barriers around abortion care have disproportionately higher pregnancy and birth-related mortality rates. Lifting Helms and funding abortion and reproductive care both in the US and abroad is crucial to the wellness and autonomy of all pregnant people—but our advocacy for global abortion funding should be placed in much-needed context with the long, traumatic history of white reproductive rights leaders entangling their movement with eco-fascism, eugenics, and colonialism. It’s through this context that we can ensure our advocacy is rooted in reproductive justice—a more expansive framework pioneered by Black women in the 1990s, calling for not just legal reproductive rights, but the full range of resources and supports that each of us need to parent, choose not to parent, and live and thrive in safe, healthy communities.
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Eco-fascism is a white supremacist ideology that blames the climate crisis on overpopulation and migration, rather than the unchecked power and destructiveness of corporations and the mega-wealthy. Historically, many white birth control and reproductive rights advocates have relied on dehumanizing, racist narratives about population control, and reducing waste, consumption, and poverty. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was famously radicalized by the works of economist Thomas Robert Malthus, who argued overpopulation was inevitable, and someday, there wouldn’t be enough resources to sustain mankind, ushering in an inevitable apocalypse. To this day, these narratives are sometimes woven into some reproductive rights advocates’ support for funding global family planning programs.
Eco-fascist values aren’t just advanced by the far-right, and overt, unabashed white supremacists. Many research papers and advocacy campaigns alike have argued that birth control and reproductive health care could address climate catastrophe, as they claim climate catastrophe is caused by overpopulation and overconsumption. But poverty, climate change, and human suffering aren’t caused by lack of resources — rather, they’re a product of vastly unequal distribution of resources as a result of capitalism and colonialism.
The blame for climate change can hardly be laid at the doorstep of the global poor, when the poorest half of the world’s population produces just 10% of all carbon emissions, while the wealthiest 10% produce half of all emissions. Similarly, the wealthiest 16% of the world population consume 80% of all natural resources, and just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions.
The assumption that overpopulation drives climate catastrophe, rather than capitalism, suggests that we all consume and have equal access to land, resources, and wealth, when we don’t. Corporations and the wealthy are exponentially more wasteful and contribute more to climate catastrophe than poor people, and poorer countries. Yet, it’s poor people of color who suffer the brunt of the consequences: According to the American Journal of Public Health, Black communities are exposed to 56% more pollution than the amount of pollution caused by their consumption; Latinx communities are exposed to 63% more.
Eco-fascism ignores how under capitalism, those who are most likely to suffer from poverty and the toxic health impacts of climate change are often those who consume the least. Rather than redistributing land and resources to address climate catastrophe and support the health and wellness of poor communities of color, eco-fascism’s solution is to uphold capitalism and dehumanize and police the reproduction of families of color.
Despite how reproductive rights have historically been co-opted to advance eco-fascism, and continue to be weaponized to this day, reproductive justice is inherently at odds with eco-fascist ideologies. This is because reproductive justice pushes beyond legal rights, and requires the redistribution of wealth and resources to ensure that families and communities can thrive. It requires meaningful and tangible investments in our communities, encourages us to plan our families as we see fit, and empowers us to have as few or as many children as we choose, with all of the resources we need to care for our families and ourselves.
As advocates continue their efforts to push Biden and Congress on the Helms Amendment, it’s crucial to challenge liberal, white savior narratives, which have often lent eco-fascist ideals a glossy veneer of benevolence. Specifically, the staunchly anti-abortion politics of many countries in the global South are a direct product of colonialism, rather than racist stereotypes of nonwhite countries being “backwards” or less “civilized.” Abortion through a wide range of methods has existed in all civilizations for as long as pregnancy has existed. Today, the punitive politics that demonize and ban abortion care extend from centuries of western, white supremacist religious persecution and conquest.
At this tipping point in the existential fight against climate change, and as reproductive rights and justice advocates make greater demands of a new presidential administration that wears the “pro-choice” label, we can’t ignore the history of eco-fascism and racist, population control tactics and narratives used by many white reproductive rights advocates. Eco-fascism has often successfully co-opted reproductive rights — but it can’t co-opt reproductive justice, an inherently anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist framework.
Kylie Cheung is an author and writer on reproductive justice, survivor justice, and health care disparities in communities of color. You can follow her work on Twitter @kyliecheung15 and kyliecheung.journoportfolio.com.
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