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This Black Queer Woman Counsels Texas Women on Terminating Pregnancies

Rev. Robinson pictured via Twitter

Rev. Deneen Robinson already has a difficult job. Now, the cruel leaders of her state have made it even harder for her and all those who can give birth.

Being a Texan woman is heavy right now. As a person whose advocacy work intersects in many ways in this state, it has been a struggle. A Texas abortion law was passed last Wednesday that is one of the most restrictive in the country. It prohibits most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and makes no exceptions for pregnancies that were a result of incest or rape. While state officials are barred from enforcing the law, it instead deputizes private citizens, regardless of their connection to the situation, and allows them to sue anyone who performs the procedure or aids and abets it. This could include Uber/Lyft drivers, who, keep in mind, don't even know where their passenger is going until they pick them up.

This law puts an extreme and disproportionate burden on women, as there is nothing even close to the equivalent that restricts what medical decisions a man can make about their own body. It doesn't take into consideration the role men play in conception or how much easier it is for them to walk away from these situations. In a word, it's oppressive.

How anyone feels personally about the act of abortion shouldn't matter when it comes to passing laws. In this case, the morality of individual choices shouldn't be governed. And I'll always believe you can't legislate religious faith. It is something that must be experienced, and many people experience it differently, or not at all. In America we are supposed to have that right. And right now, women in Texas do not.

I had the privilege of speaking with a colleague who is directly involved with women's rights in Texas. Rev. Deneen Robinson (she/they) is a Black queer woman currently living in Dallas who does policy work around queer issues and reproductive justice. She works to get policy enacted that would ensure Black people and other vulnerable communities have what they need to have families in safe environments. And if they don't want to parent, she works to ensure they have that right.

Among many other things, Rev. Robinson is the current Chaplain at Southwestern Women's Surgery Center. It is there that she provides counsel and support to women planning to terminate their pregnancies. This work is very personal to her as she is open about the fact that she had an abortion when she was 16 and has an intimate knowledge of this process. Rev. Robinson says:

"I do it because I want every person that I have the opportunity to spend time with to leave that experience knowing that while it was a complicated decision, it may have been difficult for them to reach that conclusion, they did what was best for them and their family and their life at that time. And they have permission to go on knowing that the belief that they had in God's love for them the day before they learned that they were pregnant is true the day after the procedure. Full stop."

As a multifaith practitioner Robinson being there to provide this level of support is vital when you consider who is seeking abortions and the circumstances that often surround the decision. According to the Texas Health and Human Services in 2019, 73.6 percent of abortions were obtained by Black, Latina, and other women of color. Many of these women come from deeply religious households and hold strong beliefs about their connection to God. Robinson can understand their historical faith narrative and what it means to have your own relationship with God.

Rev. Robinson shared that physicians have already started to turn people away and the negative impact will be significant. She anticipates grave consequences and predicts maternal mortality rates going up, especially for Black women. She states:

"We're going to see folks dying on both ends. Whatever they have to do to terminate the pregnancy. If they destroy their insides, they destroy their uterus, they destroy their vaginal area, then when they actually want to have a kid their body is not going to be able to support them during the pregnancy or after the pregnancy and they are going to end up dying."

She also anticipates an increase in teen pregnancy and homelessness. Especially in families with a high religious construct, as she has seen having a child is a means for you to get kicked out. Also, for many young people the burden of carrying an unwanted pregnancy has the potential to lead to an increase in suicide attempts. This just continues to highlight the importance of being able to make your own choices for your life.

Rev. Robinson and I also discussed how the multiple intersections of one's identity and circumstance can create additional challenges and burdens. Many women in Texas who seek abortions are of low socio-economic status and already have children. Many are managing immigration issues which don't allow them to go to another state to seek services. This also includes queer people.

As Rev. Robinson points out, many queer women are poor and already have children, and so accessing an abortion for them is about trying to save their family and keep them together. Because queer women have several layers of being marginalized, they often don't discuss their sexual orientation.

There is also the conversation around transgender men and other gender non-conforming people who can bear children. Robinson says often trans men seeking an abortion will arrive to the clinic early so they are able to get in and out before a lot of other people arrive. All so they are not ostracized or treated poorly. As it relates to queer people, Rev. Robinson says, "They already feel that God doesn't love me because of my sexuality and now I have to contend with God not loving me because I am also now getting rid of this baby. It is the multiple intersections that make this uniquely painful for queer-identified folks." It is comforting to know there are clinics in Texas prepared to respond to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community, and people like Deneen who are so open and strong in their advocacy.

The bottom line is the Supreme Court established a precedent legalizing abortion in this country. Abortion is not the enemy. Poverty, systemic racism, systemic sexism, sexual abuse, domestic violence, inadequate sex education, lack of access to contraception, etc., those are the enemies. Addressing those issues will help us see fewer abortions. Politicians should be more concerned about changing circumstances then changing laws restricting choice. But of course, many of the same people passing and wanting to enforce these types of laws to protect the unborn are the same people that don't support mask mandates. Something that can protect others around them, especially children.

The concept of community seems lost here. These politicians want to pass legislation that forces women to have babies, but don't want to pass legislation that supports assistance programs for mothers after they have the baby. They don't support comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. They don't support same-sex couples being able to adopt. They deny that systemic racism and sexism exists. All these things are connected and contribute to the inequities that we see every day. Oppression does not exist in a vacuum. It is not monolithic. It is not a single issue. You can't be an advocate for passing laws for the unborn, but not be an advocate for passing them for everyone else.

There are many women who decide to go forward with their pregnancy and there are many who decide to terminate. Women can experience joy and prosperity when they decide to have a child, and they can also experience joy and prosperity when they decide not to. Women can also face struggle and trauma when they decide to have a child and when they decide not to. At the end of the day it should be her choice to make. Personal beliefs are just that.... personal, and we shouldn't get to use them to dictate laws for everybody.

As this fight continues, we will show up against the patriarchy. We will show up against poverty. We will show up against racism. We will show up against homophobia and transphobia. We will show up against sexual abuse and violence. We will show up against all things that contribute to more abortions. We want a world where everyone is in the best position to have a child when they choose to do so. That's pro-life, pro everyone's life.

If you're seeking assistance, please find Rev. Robinson on Twitter @DeneenLR.

Ashley Innes is a writer, HIV advocate, and a contributing writer for Plus, a sister publication to The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @Ash_Innes.

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