Reproductive rights -- including safe, legal, accessible birth control and abortion services -- are human rights, and Jane Kirby's Fired Up About Reproductive Rights (Between the Lines Books) is a fascinating, important, and highly readable investigation into the question of why people in Canada, the US, and the UK are still fighting for rights we have supposedly already won decades ago.
Touching on everything from abortion to coercive sterilization and disturbing pro-eugenics movements, Fired Up About Reproductive Rights is an intersectional text, focused on how the titular rights relate to other social justice issues, and how inextricable the barriers created by gender, race, economic and immigration status, and orientation are.
With all the fiery passion, detail, and clarity that defines Between the Lines' Fired Up series, Kirby's text equips readers with tools to keep fighting for these essential rights.
We're pleased to welcome Jane to Open Book today as part of our Lucky Seven interview series. She tells us about how making the book accessible for teen readers was an essential part of the process, the history and meaning of the term 'reproductive justice', and how she gets it done as a writer living on a tall ship with 17 other people.
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
My editor at Between the Lines approached me about contributing to a series of books introducing social justice topics to young adults after she had read my work in Briarpatch magazine. I was involved in feminist activism and had written an article on anti-abortion activities on campuses. While I had never previously considered writing a book on the topic, when my editor suggested I author the book on reproductive rights it seemed like a good fit.
Fired Up About Reproductive Rights aims to introduce readers to issues of reproductive rights, and particularly issues surrounding barriers to abortion access and coercive sterilization practices. I tried to make the book very accessible, so that it can be read by teenagers or anyone looking for a simple primer on what can be quite complicated issues. While the focus is on abortion and coercive sterilization, I frame these issues as part of bigger social justice issues—like the fights against patriarchy, racism and colonialism—by drawing on an intersectional, reproductive justice framework advanced by women of colour.
Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?
The first question I try to address in the book is: Why we should care about reproductive issues in 2017? This question has been clear to me since the beginning of the writing process. Even in places like Canada, where the law restricting abortion was struck down almost 30 years ago, these issues still demand action. There have been several attempts to undermine the Morgentaler decision, and on the ground access to abortion is patchy across the country. Perhaps most importantly, we can’t just define reproductive issues in terms of access to abortion. This country has a deplorable history of coercively sterilizing disabled people and indigenous people, and while this is no longer carried our systematically, disturbing reports of people being sterilized without their consent continue to surface periodically. We are currently grappling with the legacy of residential schooling—in which indigenous children were taken from their families and cultures. Poverty, immigration status, and incarceration—to name just a few pressing issues—continue to shape who is able to have and raise families.
Did this project change significantly from when you first started working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?
Many of the revisions I made in the course of writing the book dealt with how to balance the topic of reproductive rights with reproductive justice. The latter term was coined by women of colour in the U.S. to broaden activism around reproductive issues beyond abortion rights, and to indicate that while some (often white, middle class) women may struggle for the right not to have children, other women struggle for the right to have children, or to parent the children they have. It was a challenge to figure out how to remain responsive to the reproductive justice perspective as a white woman without claiming to be representative of this movement, and also meet the editorial needs of a short book. This took several drafts over the course of three years, and a good deal of feedback from my editors, readers and reviewers to find a balance that (while probably still imperfect) I feel good about.
What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
Not much! While it can be tempting to make excuses about needing particular things in order to write, in my experience these are just excuses. I currently live on a tall ship with 17 other people, and have learned to write while tucked away on my bed in my cabin, as well as in communal spaces next to ten people having conversations.
What do you do if you’re feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the points in your projects?
I usually feel the most discouragement when I am trying to rush the process. I’m rarely productive writing more than a few hours per day, but sometimes I try to push beyond this in order to meet deadlines. At times when I feel discouraged, it is usually most productive to step away from the writing process and get outside or move on to another activity and come back to it later or the next day.
What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.
For non-fiction (and sometimes fiction too) I expect great books to make me look at the world in a different way than I did before. Bonus points if it is also readable and entertaining. Two books that I have enjoyed recently are Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici, which is a fascinating look at the connection between patriarchy and the rise of capitalism,and Rebecca Solnit’s collection of essays, The Mother of All Questions, which is one of the few things I’ve read thathas made me both really angry and laugh out loud.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m on tour with a theatre company (I’m also an aerial performer) and live communally so I currently have tons of inspiration but not much time. I’ve mostly been experimentingand doing some more creative writing, but I also have a few essays in the works. Beyond this I’m not sure what the future holds.
Jane Kirby is a writer and performing artist with a history of working with feminist and social justice organizations. She holds an MA in International Development Studies from Dalhousie University.