photo via @ameliamaris
California is in a ready stance.* This is not an accident or some stroke of luck. We have prepared and organized and invested towards co-creating California as a reproductive freedom state for years. Our ability to meet this moment, as a community, as a state, as a movement, is inextricably linked to the power we’ve built together through our Solís Policy Institute (SPI) over the last two decades.
Solís Policy Institute Strengthens Reproductive Justice in California
Our Solís Policy Institute can’t take full credit for how we got here, but it’s definitely made its mark. Through our Solís Policy Institute, we’ve built a pipeline of leadership and policy driven by reproductive justice. Across nearly two decades, we’ve trained over 600 women and gender expansive folks, the majority people of color, who shape the legislative landscape in California. I am one of them.
I learned the ins and outs of the legislative process and connected with the other advocates as part of my SPI fellowship. This equipped me with the skills and relationships to build and lead policy with the only California Latina reproductive justice organization. Alongside my team, I led successful campaigns to champion policies I had a personal stake in – requiring comprehensive sex education in schools, supporting pregnant and parenting youth, and expanding access to health care, including abortion, for all Californians. I am not unique. Over the past decade, so many of the advocates I worked alongside to pass major reproductive freedom policies were Solis Policy Institute alums.
Zooming out to look at the various wins we’ve had in California – our SPI fellows and alums’ fingerprints are all over them. We’ve created policy that’s shifted the culture and shifted the culture to move policy.
- Abortion Access on College Campuses
Our SPI fellows passed SB 24, which ensured abortion access on state college campuses off the ground and across the finish line.
- Made Our Stuff Safer
They rallied to get BPA out of baby formula and lead out of lipstick.
Even this small sample of victories highlights the inherent intersectionality of a reproductive justice approach that blends bodily autonomy with economic, environmental, and racial justice. These real successes have shifted peoples’ lived experiences and shaped feminist laws in CA.
The Black, Indigenous, and Latinx women and gender expansive folks who are the vanguard of our reproductive justice movement are, by and large, alums of the SPI program.
- We’re National Leaders
Nationally, there is Lupe Rodriguez at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, Parker Dockray at All Options, and Rocio Cordóba at FRE.
- We’re Local Champions
Here in California, we’ve got Nakia Woods at the helm of the California Coalition for Reproductive Freedom, and Lorena Garcia-Zermeño at California Latinas for Reproductive Justice who led the charge for reparations for survivors of forced and coerced sterilizations. There are Adjoa Jones and Diamond Lee securing doulas for birthing people in LA county.
Calling Out Eugenics: Ending the Maximum Family Grant Rule
One example that highlights the power of SPI’s reproductive justice work in California is the overturning of the Maximum Family Grant Rule. A deeply racist, classist, and discriminatory law, the Maximum Family Grant Rule denied basic assistance to any child born into a family already receiving CALWORKS. In other words, penalizing poor families for having children. The pitiful exemptions to the Maximum Family Grant Rule were for cases of rape, incest, or if a short (and decidedly problematic) list of long-term contraceptives failed. The Maximum Family Grant Rule was a nasty piece of policy.
Anti-poverty organizers had been trying to get this rule overturned for years. The momentum really started to shift on the rule when our SPI team got involved and it was framed as a reproductive justice issue and outed as the eugenics-based policy it was. Overall, it turned out to be a three-and-a-half-year campaign that included legislation sponsored by Supervisor Holly Mitchell – then CA Senator. It was A LOT of work, but we were victorious. The Maximum Family Grant Rule was overturned in 2016 to create real and tangible differences in the lives of families all across the state.
Each of these policy wins shows just how powerful it is to have Black, Indigenous women and gender expansive folks of color championing meaningful changes for themselves and their communities. Part of how we were able to achieve what we were was because of the relationships and resources at our disposal. We were able to leverage cultural strategies behind our policy work like messaging research which is something that most grassroots campaigns simply can’t afford. This work, like everything we do, was a real collaboration.
Let’s Keep Funding What Works
The investment in overturning the Maximum Family Grant Rule paid off. The investment in our SPI fellows is doing the same. Now is not the time to say “Oh California, they’re fine.” The reason that we are where we are and who we are is because we’ve been investing our time, our energy, our relationships, and our resources to be ready for what we knew was coming.
Right now, we need to keep investing to keep being what we are – to advance intersectional feminist policy and build a California where reproductive justice and bodily autonomy are woven into the fabric of all our lives. Our Solís Policy Institute has trained more than 600 advocates and organizers who have passed 46 new laws or local policies improving the health, safety, and economic wellbeing of their communities statewide. I am now the Chief Programs Strategist at Women’s Foundation California. In that role, I’ve ushered dozens of SPI fellows through our program who advance racial, economic, and gender justice up and down the state. I’ve seen firsthand how these SPI fellows are in the best position to champion the solutions we need because they know the problems so intimately – they live them. It is not a legalistic exercise, but a way forward to build something better for our communities and ourselves. And that’s the lead we want to follow.
*There has been a lot of talk about what makes California different in a post-Roe world. In a moment where abortion access will be decided at the state-level, it matters that abortion is literally the first issue on the November ballot. The power of having a governor committed to protecting abortion is not lost on us. From Fresno to Riverside, providers are readying themselves for an influx of out-of-state patients as we, California, become an “abortion sanctuary.” We have Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins playing no small part in the creation of the California Future of Abortion Council as it outlines crystal clear policy guidlines for how to make and keep abortion safe and acessible.