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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

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

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re•pro•duc•tive jus•tice


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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