Why We Should All Be Using the Framework of Reproductive Justice

Amid widespread attacks on bodily autonomy, an intersectional approach can help guide our response.

In These Times Editors May 29, 2019

Protestors in Montgomery, Ala., rally against the state's recently passed anti-abortion legislation May 19, 2019 in Montgomery, Alabama. (Julie Bennett/Getty Images)

re•pro•duc•tive jus•tice

noun

1. The right to make deci­sions about child-bear­ing and chil­drea­r­ing free from eco­nom­ic, legal or social coercion

The sin to me is bring­ing a child into this world and not tak­ing care of them. The sin for me is that this state does not pro­vide ade­quate care.” —Alaba­ma state Sen. Lin­da Cole­man-Madi­son (D), in response to leg­is­la­tion effec­tive­ly ban­ning abor­tion in her state

Is this the same as the right to choose?

Repro­duc­tive jus­tice includes abor­tion rights, but it’s more than that.

A spon­ta­neous­ly formed Black women’s cau­cus coined the phrase repro­duc­tive jus­tice” to high­light two things at an Illi­nois Pro-Choice Alliance con­fer­ence in 1994: first, that the movement’s nar­row focus on the legal right to abor­tion ignored the need for acces­si­ble, afford­able providers; and sec­ond, that poor women and women of col­or often face addi­tion­al issues that jeop­ar­dize their abil­i­ty to have and raise chil­dren in safe, sup­port­ive envi­ron­ments— from a his­to­ry of forced ster­il­iza­tions to police killings of Black youth.

Loret­ta Ross, a co-founder of lead­ing repro­duc­tive jus­tice group Sis­ter­Song, writes: One of the key prob­lems addressed by Repro­duc­tive Jus­tice is the iso­la­tion of abor­tion from oth­er social jus­tice issues that con­cern com­mu­ni­ties of col­or: issues of eco­nom­ic jus­tice, the envi­ron­ment, immi­grants’ rights, dis­abil­i­ty rights, dis­crim­i­na­tion based on race and sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, and a host of oth­er com­mu­ni­ty cen­tered con­cerns … direct­ly affect an indi­vid­ual woman’s deci­sion-mak­ing process.” 

What are the biggest threats to repro­duc­tive jus­tice right now?

New fetal heart­beat laws” (like Georgia’s) are incred­i­bly dan­ger­ous, crim­i­nal­iz­ing abor­tion after just a few weeks; Alaba­ma went even fur­ther, ban­ning all abor­tions except when the life of the moth­er is threat­ened. The human right of our own bod­i­ly auton­o­my is under attack,” says Mon­i­ca Simp­son, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Sis­ter­Song. In response, the Illi­nois House recent­ly passed what could become one of the coun­try’s most pro­gres­sive abor­tion laws.

More broad­ly, repro­duc­tive jus­tice is hin­dered by such issues as the high mater­nal mor­tal­i­ty rate for Black moth­ers, the lack of gen­der-affirm­ing health­care for trans par­ents, the exclu­sion of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants from Med­ic­aid, a puni­tive child wel­fare sys­tem that crim­i­nal­izes par­ents for being poor, and the poi­son­ing of chil­dren by lead in Flint, Mich., and elsewhere. 

What’s the path for­ward for repro­duc­tive justice?

It’s cru­cial to under­stand that repro­duc­tive oppres­sion is both prod­uct and tool of oth­er forms of oppres­sion. Advo­cates often take an inter­sec­tion­al approach, posi­tion­ing their strug­gle as tied up in the strug­gles for the decom­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of health­care, prison abo­li­tion, immi­grant rights, envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and dis­abil­i­ty rights. The movement’s pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties include beat­ing back new abor­tion restric­tions, repeal­ing the Hyde Amend­ment (which pre­vents fed­er­al tax dol­lars from fund­ing abor­tions), a Medicare for All that cov­ers full repro­duc­tive health ser­vices, and uni­ver­sal childcare. 

This is part of The Big Idea,” a month­ly series offer­ing brief intro­duc­tions to pro­gres­sive the­o­ries, poli­cies, tools and strate­gies that can help us envi­sion a world beyond cap­i­tal­ism. For recent In These Times cov­er­age of repro­duc­tive jus­tice in action, see, Inter­views for Resis­tance: Repro­duc­tive Jus­tice Is About Way More Than Abor­tion” and Democ­rats’ Waf­fling on Abor­tion Rights Isn’t Just Wrong, It’s a Huge Polit­i­cal Mistake.”

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