By Lauren Janikowski
Before I began interning with Professor Maria Novotny last semester, I had never heard of reproductive justice. However, working with Maria on her Hostile Terrains exhibit opened my eyes to the reproductive health crisis that is happening in communities of color all over Milwaukee. As part of Maria’s team, our goal for Hostile Terrains was to showcase the problematic realities many women of color are facing every day when it comes to their reproductive rights. To achieve this goal, we spent time reaching out to organizations working to combat reproductive injustice in Milwaukee. Through our communication with community activists and organizations, I was introduced to Nataley Nueman and Nijeria Boone of Reproaction.
Reproaction’s vision is to “increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice” (About Reproaction). They are vigilantly increasing accountability and empowering others to get involved in their movement towards reproductive justice. Reproaction believes in normalizing abortions and helping others to understand that woman’s rights are human rights. They are also committed to racial justice because reproductive rights are closely tied to racial issues for women.
Coincidentally, both Nataley Nueman and Nijeria Boone attended UW-Milwaukee. Nataley majored in Women’s and Gender Studies at UWM and is now working for Reproaction. Her work with Reproaction is focused on reversing Wisconsin’s Act 292, or the “Unborn Child Protection Act.” At the time of this interview, Nijeria was one semester away from graduating with a degree in Political Science. Her focus with Reproaction is on working toward equitable access to abortion in Milwaukee. I recently had the chance to talk with both of these amazing women about their work with Reproaction. We discussed reproductive issues going on in Milwaukee/Wisconsin as well as how to get involved when all of it is new to you. Here are some of the questions and important answers that followed.
Lauren: So, how did you learn about reproductive justice?
Nataley: I learned about reproductive justice as I was just being introduced to Women’s and Gender Studies. I took my first class, I think, in Fall of 2014. And I was just really into it right away. But, I think I first learned about it through the Combahee River Collective and when 12 Black women coined the term in 1994. That was a very big part of some of my studies.
Lauren: What got you involved in reproductive justice?
Nataley: I kind of noticed a gap in student activism around sexual assault and reproductive justice, or even just like reproductive health and rights, but more focused on sexual assault advocacy and awareness. When I was a student at UWM there had been some instances where people had been drugged at parties or sexually assaulted on campus… So, I wanted to start a Sexual Assault Awareness organization that was student led and student backed. I started it with a ton of other fantastic feminists and organizers. We started Panthers Against Sexual Assault, also called P.A.S.A.
Lauren: How did you get involved with Reproaction?
Nataley: In March 2018, I had been browsing jobs online, like just nonprofit jobs. And I stumbled across a Reproaction job description. It was a little intimidating, but I was really intrigued by it because it said something about a willingness to learn about drug policy or substance use and reproductive rights, and I had never really been in that space. So, I was intrigued and obviously willing to learn so I applied, went through a few interviews, and got the job which was awesome… But I mean, if people are wondering how to find a certain job, how I did it was I kind of went through other related organizations.
Nijeria: I ran across this ad on Indeed.com. But what Reproaction has been doing is to ensure that everybody has equal access to abortion. And instead of centering these movements on white cisgender women, we focus on marginalized people. So, if a trans person has access to abortion, or a black woman has access to abortion, or all these different marginalized people—if they have access then cisgender white women won't have issues having access.
Lauren: Is Reproaction more focused in Milwaukee or worldwide?
Nataley: Let me just give you a little bit of a background about Reproaction quickly. Reproaction was founded in 2015 by our co-founder and former co-director, Erin Matson. As I said, it was started in 2015, with two co-founders, with the mission to advance reproductive justice and increase access to abortion. Since then, we've grown a lot over the past six years. It's mainly United States, like national issues. We have full-time staff members on the ground in Missouri, Virginia, Washington DC, Wisconsin, etc. My campaign—the Wisconsin Act 292 campaign that aims to eliminate the “Unborn Child Protection Act” in Wisconsin—is specific to Wisconsin as a whole.
Lauren: How does RJ and Reproaction relate to Milwaukee?
Nijeria: So, Milwaukee is number one in the country for infant and maternal mortality. Black women are five times more likely than their white counterparts to die within a month and a half of giving birth. And Black babies are three or four times more likely to die than white babies within their first year. In Milwaukee specifically—being an impoverished place—we think that if you don't want kids, or if you can't afford kids, don't have them. But for the people who don't want to have them, they don't have the access to not have them. So, they either are forced to carry on with a pregnancy that they don't want or do an unsafe self-performed, at-home abortion that, again, could kill them.
Lauren: Do you, as a Black woman in Milwaukee, have any experiences with lack of access to your reproductive rights?
Nijeria: I personally have not, but I know a bunch of people who have had issues with the 24-hour waiting period to receive an abortion. And a person I know, she goes to school out of state and couldn’t access her constitutional right because of all these unnecessary hurdles. Most recently, I was doing research about abortion access in Milwaukee, and the two abortion clinics are right next to each other and they're both over five miles away from the poorest zip code. And I think they are both about an hour to an hour and a half ride on the bus.
Lauren: How can someone learn more about the personhood law in Wisconsin and get involved in the movement?
Nataley: If people, especially in Wisconsin, are very concerned about this law, like personhood laws in general, I would recommend just kind of starting to look at substance use in pregnancy in general, because there are a lot of myths that surround substance use and pregnancy that make pregnancy and substance use a very taboo subject… I think going forward Reproaction is also going to be doing more educational opportunities for people to learn about the myths behind substances and pregnancy—myths versus facts and how to talk about it—because I think people avoid the subject because they don't know how to talk about it.
Lauren: What would your advice be to undergrad students who want to get involved in an organization? How would they go about doing that?
Nataley: So, even just googling and trying to find other organizations in your area that are already doing the work and shooting them a message and saying, hey, I would love to talk to you or get more information about this sometime, that would be a really great first step. Personally, I love when people reach out to me and are like, hey, I want to meet with you and learn about this more, because it really shows that you want to learn more about the issue and that you're kind-of committed and that you're willing to put in the work. It's just about making that first connection and kind of going off of that. I feel like once you're in that sort of area, a whole door will open for you.
Nijeria: We have webinars. I think there's a webinar, maybe two or three every month, and that's a serious way you can get involved. Following our social media for when we have events. We recently did something really cool talking about tying in astrology to reproductive justice, because astrology is so big right now. We have tweet storms sometimes. So, just staying up to date with our social media, and then that'll keep everyone up-to-date with what we're doing.
I’ve learned a lot about reproductive justice from both my work with Maria as well as my interviews with Nataley and Nijeria. Not only has it given me an in-depth look at how to conduct community research and what getting involved in movements actually takes, but it has also taught me more about my communities in Milwaukee. This work has opened my eyes to struggles I had no idea existed because I am a cis-gender white woman.
Reproaction has recently release their documentary, PERSONHOOD: Policing Pregnant Women in America, all about Act 292 and the rise of the “fetal personhood” movement. PERSONHOOD brings the human impact of these policies to light as it follows the story of a rural Wisconsin mother who was incarcerated for pre-conception drug use as she rebuilds her life and fights to overturn Wisconsin’s unconstitutional laws. I had the pleasure of watching Reproaction’s documentary, and it left me ready to get involved.
Lauren Janikowski is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studying Rhetoric and Professional Writing.