Reproductive Justice and Sex Worker Rights
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The same tools built to police sex work are used to police abortion, criminalize miscarriage, and impede access to care. The criminalization of sex work and the criminalization of contraception, including abortion, have a shared history.
Anthony Comstock’s crusade against prostitution and pornography led to the Comstock Laws of 1873, which conflated information about contraception with obscenity. Laws criminalizing prostitution and contraception were passed under the guise of “protecting white women.”
Many of these laws were disproportionately used to criminalize Black and immigrant women for selling sexual services, contraception and providing abortion care. Women of color, especially Black women, were routinely raped, experimented on, and suffered forced sterilization.
Before Backpage sold ads to escorts on their website, they sold ads to criminalized abortion providers when the company owned dozens of local newspapers. Backpage was seized and shut down by the FBI in 2018 after its owners were accused of promoting prostitution.
People get abortions and engage in sex work on a spectrum of choice, circumstance, and coercion. Everyone should have access to the services and support they need to avoid exploitation, stay safe, and make choices about their own future.
Using Sex Worker Rights as a Model for Reproductive Justice Work
Criminalizing abortion or sex work has never prevented people from engaging in either, but it makes both less safe. Like abortion, many of the dangers related to sex work are the direct result of criminalization.
The United States impacts policy around the world. The Global Gag Rule, reinstated by every Republican president since 1984, prohibits international non-governmental organizations who perform abortions or provide information about them, from receiving U.S. global health funds.
The United States’ 2003 Anti-Prostitution Loyalty Oath further ties the criminalization of prostitution, abortion, and healthcare to each other by requiring international organizations receiving any HIV funds to oppose prostitution and the decriminalization of sex work.
Everyone deserves access to the care they need to safely have sex, a baby, or an abortion. Criminalizing people’s choices doesn’t make us safer or healthier.
Stand with sex workers against criminalization.