The term “reproductive justice” was originally coined in 1994 by a group of women who saw that the women’s rights movement wasn’t able to defend the needs of women of color and other marginalized women and communities (sistersong.net). It is not a term that is attached solely to the pro-choice movement, or to issues of sexual rights, or even to gender equality. According to Loretta Ross in her article “Understanding Reproductive Justice,” reproductive justice is a theoretical framework through which we can understand human rights as they are applied to everyone. The term combines sexuality, health, and human rights and applies them to the larger context of overall health and wellbeing of women, families, and communities. Loretta Ross includes a list of issues that are addressed in this movement, some which are:
- Economic & environmental injustice
- Injustices that limit human rights because of community oppression
- Population control
- A woman’s ability to decide whether or not a woman wants to have a baby
- A woman’s right to decide upon the conditions of the place she will give birth
- Birth control and abortion
- A woman’s ability to raise her children without fear of violence and in safe, healthy communities
- And a whole lot more.
Reproductive justice is a framework through which we can better understand basic human rights, not just for women, and not just for women of color, though the terms was born out of the experiences of women of color. Since it was originally used, it has gained traction and come to stand for many things regarding reproductive oppression and sexual rights.
Why Talk About Reproductive Justice
Reproductive justice is a part of the social justice movement and asks for fair women’s and human’s rights regarding reproduction, bodily autonomy, access to healthcare before, during, and after giving birth, and a safe place to parent one’s children.
If we deny women this right, we deny all people the right to right to live in safe, healthy communities, to be born in a place that will promote health and wellness, and to have access to the same basic human rights that everyone deserves when parenting a child—or existing as a child.
Reproductive justice isn’t just a woman’s rights issue. It’s a human rights issue.
Reproductive justice fights for women’s empowerment, bodily autonomy, and ability to build healthy families in healthy communities.
Reproductive Justice and World Sexual Health Day
We could do a whole series on the vast issues that are encompassed within the framework of reproductive justice, and trust me, we will. But, today, we’re going to discuss the issues that pertain to sexual health.
To Have Children or To Not Have Children:
Any woman has the right to decide whether or not (and when) she wants to have a child.
Having children is a beautiful thing and every woman who wants to should not be denied this right.
Having children is not a beautiful thing to everybody. Not having children is not a moral indiscretion.
A woman should be allowed to carry a baby to term and safely give up her child for adoption without discrimination.
Motherhood is not a defining aspect of womanhood. Motherhood is a beautiful and unique extension of womanhood.
This issue isn’t about abortion or birth control—I mean, it is, but it’s bigger than that. This is about a woman’s right to choose whether or not she not only wants to be a mother but whether or not she wants to carry a child at all. Choosing not to be a mother by either not having children or safely giving a child up for adoption should be a woman’s right.
Right to Use Birth Control:
Since a woman has a right to choose whether or not she wants to have a child, she also has a right to decide whether or not she wants to use birth control.
She also has a right to have access to birth control.
Access to Medical Care:
This one is a big one, and it’s part of what separates reproductive justice from women’s rights on a whole. It’s not simply whether or not women can have a say in whether or not she will have children. It’s about whether or not women have access to the necessary healthcare that they require to support their choices.
Growing a human being inside your womb and giving birth is not easy on the body. No woman should ever be denied access to medical technology because of her race or socioeconomic standing. This issue involves at least two people. There’s another human being inside of her body that she needs to take care of, and that human being should have a right to the same medical care as everyone else.
Conversely, if a woman does decide she doesn’t want to have her child or for any reason cannot have her child, she should have access to the medical care that will provide a safe abortion. The fact that abortion is legal is simply not enough. It frankly doesn’t matter what the law says about abortion if a woman doesn’t even have access to it.
Equally as important, if a woman miscarries, she should have access to the proper healthcare that will give her a safe D&C if necessary to prevent any infection. Did you know that in some countries women can go to prison because they have had a miscarriage? Don’t worry, we’ll get back to this remarkable social injustice in a later post. These are issues of healthcare, not just sexual and women’s rights.
Proper healthcare is necessary to living a healthy life. Healthcare should not be a privilege.
What You Can Do About Reproductive Justice
Because reproductive justice is a deep, multi-faceted issue that encompasses the theoretical framework that we use to understand and think about our world, affecting change requires that this paradigm shift becomes a part of our basic understanding of human rights and our relationships to the communities and community members that surround us.
We can make an impact in marginal communities in our own regional areas and fight for healthcare, crime prevention, food security, and education. We can actively work to shift the ways that our society and social structure views reproduction so that it is no longer gendered, or sexualized, or racialized. We can also educate people in our communities. Women of color and women in marginalized communities need to have the right education to know what things they can even ask their doctors for. The available technology doesn’t do any good if women don’t know what to ask for.
Fight for access. This is not just an issue of whether or not X is allowed. It is an issue of whether or not women of color and women in marginalized communities have access to the basic tools and healthcare that are necessary to their wellbeing and overall health.
To learn more about what you can do, check out Sister song.
To Join SisterSong, a national reproductive justice movement, click here:
What do you think about reproductive justice, and what are you going to do about it?
Have you been the victim of reproductive oppression?
Let’s make a change. A really big one. This is way bigger than just sexual health. As a community, we can cause change. The need for better reproductive care is in our cities, our towns, and our neighborhoods.