Given the comprehensive assault on women’s reproductive rights currently unfolding in the U.S.—pharmacists refusing to fill women’s prescriptions for birth control pills; the FDA unconscionably dragging its feet on approving EC for over-the-counter use; governors from Louisiana, South Dakota, and Mississippi all recently signing or pledging to sign abortion bans; the new Supreme Court agreeing to review the multiply overturned 2003 federal abortion ban—sometimes it’s hard to know where the progressive response should begin.
Some longtime supporters of reproductive rights have responded by narrowing their agenda—suggesting, for example, that we rally under the common goal of reducing abortions as a means to expose right-wing extremity on the widely-supported issues of contraception and sex ed. Others, however, have decided that it’s high time to connect the dots, and instead of narrowing their agenda, they are gathering under the broad banner of reproductive justice.
Reproductive justice is a concept created by American women activists of color in the 1990s. They were frustrated by the narrow focus of the largely white, middle-class pro-choice movement, feeling as though the “pro-choice” paradigm failed to reflect the complex realities faced by their communities. They knew that being able to “choose” whether or not to have a baby also involved housing, and food, and healthcare, and employment, and freedom from violence, and all of the other things that make up the fabric of our daily lives and decisions. So they created an approach that married reproductive health and social and economic justice, in recognition of the reality that women don’t make their reproductive decisions in a vacuum.
If you want to listen to a conversation about reproductive justice among nine remarkable American women, check out Enduring Choice (link to audio files ), an August 2005 episode of the weekly international radio program Making Contact that will forever reside in my Internet Hall of Fame. Their conversation links reproductive health, civil liberties, the environment, and economics, exposing the hypocrisy of our current political climate by telling stories of real women’s lives. My favorite part is when Lynn Paltrow, who runs National Advocates for Pregnant Women, says:
There is a legal obligation to provide a perfect pregnancy when you yourself have zero rights to healthcare in America… the government that doesn’t provide health care for its citizens, not criminally liable. The people who fail to provide adequate parental leave and a safe environment for children, not liable. But the woman herself, who is not entitled to safety, housing, healthcare, is somehow supposed to provide her fetus with a perfect environment, is supposed to overcome whatever health problems she has during the nine months of her pregnancy or potentially face criminal charges or the loss of custody of her child.
I couldn’t hope to say it better. Listen for yourself here (link to audio files ).