The Reproductive Justice Movement: A Struggle for Autonomy and Equity
By: Siri Uman and Andie Hart
Reproductive justice is a social movement that has influenced how we think about autonomy, equity, and healthcare. It's a term that first appeared in the 1990s, but the fight for reproductive rights has been going on for decades. It targets the systemic disparities that make it difficult for marginalized communities, such as people of color, low-income individuals, and LGBTQ+ members, to access care. It also explores how reproductive rights intersect with problems such as economic justice, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights. This article will take you through the fundamentals of the reproductive justice movement, its history, current issues, and what you can do to help fight for reproductive rights and autonomy for all.
What is Reproductive Justice?
The reproductive justice movement is a social and political movement that strives to guarantee freedom for all individuals to make informed and autonomous decisions regarding their own reproductive health and well-being. The right to safe and legal abortion and contraception, as well as the right to have children and nurture them in safe and healthy circumstances, are at the heart of reproductive justice. While followers of the movement might differentiate in their own personal beliefs, what unites every reproductive advocate is the need for individual choice.
The Origin of the Term: "Reproductive Justice"
The fight for women's rights and specifically the right for reproductive health has been in motion since 1848, when the women's suffrage movement first began. Unlike the fight for reproductive rights, the women's suffrage movement revolved around the fight for voting rights in the U.S. constitution. In most history classes today, students will learn that the suffragists succeeded in their goal and were able to acquire the right to vote in 1920, but what most history courses fail to recognize is that it was only white women who gained their right. It wasn't until 1965 that women of color finally got their right to vote as well.
Before they acquired the right to vote for themselves and what they believed in, minorities including women of color, indigenous women and transgender people realized they would have to create an additional movement advocating for their own basic necessities. In June of 1994, a group of black women, now known as the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, gathered in Chicago, to recognize that the current women's right movement, led by middle class and wealthy white women, lacked representation of the needs of women of color and other marginalized groups. Right before the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where the entire world decided that the individual right to plan your own family must be crucial to global development, this organization established the new phrase "Reproductive Justice" and influenced a nationwide movement.
If you live in the United States, or are aware of their politics, you may be aware of the progressive Supreme Court case: Roe V. Wade. Unfortunately, in light of recent events, the government has taken a step backwards in reproductive equity. Understanding the case's history is an important step to create a resurgence of female reproductive rights.
1969 Norma McCorvey, also known as Jane Roe, was impregnated for the third time in her life. After her first two pregnancies, McCorvey gave both her kids up for adoption, and was still not ready to have a kid of her own by the time of her third pregnancy. Although McCorvey’s preference would have been to discontinue her pregnancy, she was a permanent resident of Texas, a state that only condoned abortion when the birth threatened the life of the mother. Lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington took McCorvey's case to court, fighting against another attorney, Henry Wade, and thus, the Texas abortion ban. This court ruling also exposed the right to reproductive choice explained in amendments 9 and 14. Although the court came to all these pro-choice conclusions with the constitutions as evidence, they held back the conclusions immediate enforcement and sent the case up to the supreme court. In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of McCorvey and reproductive rights, marking a pivotal and revolutionary day in women's history.
Unfortunately, abortion rights did not end here. Over the course of Trump's presidency and then with the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court, recently took an especially conservative turn. Because of this, when Jackson’s Women’s Health organization, the one and only abortion clinic in Mississippi, decided to take a state health officer, Thomas E. Dobbs, to the Supreme Court, they overturned Roe V Wade.
Why should I care?
Despite the progress in some nations, and in the UN standards, the fight for reproductive justice is far from over. Global inequities in reproductive rights continue to have a significant impact on the safety of women and the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the Global Fund for Women, there are 214 million women worldwide who want, yet do not have access to contraception, and 800 women die every day from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes. According to a study undertaken by the Center for Reproductive Rights, these women are frequently among the 90 million women who live in countries where abortion is prohibited under any circumstances. Also, throughout 76 nations, same-sex partnerships between consenting individuals are still prohibited.
While these are troubling statistics, the UN has declared that all states have the obligation and responsibility to respect, protect, and fulfill women's and reproductive health rights. 50 countries have liberalized abortion laws in the last 25 years in reaction to the emergence of the movement and UN standards, although many countries still lack the fundamental requirements. Even in the United States, the current reversal of Roe v. Wade threatens the American people's access to reproductive healthcare.
Denying access to reproductive healthcare is not only a health crisis; it is also an economic and social issue. The financial burden of health care and childcare can put many women and children at risk of poverty and instability if contraception and other services are not available. Women of color are disproportionately affected by this injustice and its effects, despite being at the heart of the struggle. No woman, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or sexual identity, should be subjected to inadequate or nonexistent reproductive healthcare, but should always feel respected and protected while seeking care. Because of growing global unfairness, it is more important than ever to join the movement.
Since the problem is so vast, you may believe you can't make an impact, yet this is a huge misconception. So What Can I Do? (may vary based on location)
Be an engaged citizen. Stay up to date with your communities local political and reproductive laws, and then you can be an informed and active citizen.
Use your voice. Go and vote for your rights, sign petitions, join in on a local peaceful protest, or even educate others and recruit more for the movement.
Volunteer at local abortion and other healthcare clinics. Some clinics don’t always need medical experience because they may just need someone, like you, to help escort patients inside and help shield them from the harassment of others.
Donate, if you have the financial means, to local clinics and movements.
Share your story. Showing your support and that others are not alone in their reproductive health journey can be lifesaving.
International Planned Parenthood Foundation
Center for Reproductive Rights:
National Institute for Reproductive Health (US Only)
There are many local organizations as well, so don’t hesitate to search for what is closest and most helpful for you.
Director, Madia Coleman Associate, et al. “Top 10 Reasons Why the Fight for Reproductive Justice Isn't Over.” Center for American Progress, 10 Jan. 2023, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/top-10-reasons-why-the-fight-for-reproductive-justice-isnt-over/.
“Global Advocacy.” Center for Reproductive Rights, 30 Aug. 2022, https://reproductiverights.org/our-regions/global-advocacy-united-nations/.
“Reproductive Justice.” Sister Song, https://www.sistersong.net/reproductive-justice.
“Reproductive Justice: What Is It?” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/women/reproductive-justice-what-is-it.
“Sexual & Reproductive Justice Definition, Issues, & Movements.” Global Fund for Women, 12 Jan. 2023, https://www.globalfundforwomen.org/what-we-do/gender-justice/reproductive-justice/#:~:text=However%2C%20the%20global%20status%20of,sex%20relationships%20between%20consenting%20adults.
“Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.” OHCHR, https://www.ohchr.org/en/women/sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights.
“The World's Abortion Laws.” Center for Reproductive Rights, 20 Jan. 2023, https://reproductiverights.org/maps/worlds-abortion-laws/.