February is Black History Month, the theme of which for 2021 is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. There are a plethora of areas in which people of color—especially women—are consistently denied representation. We should all be making a collective effort to give a voice to the people who have been silenced for so long. In favor of this, I will call attention to a struggle for marginalized women that isn’t often discussed: the fight for reproductive justice.
Reproductive justice consists of a person’s right to complete autonomy over their own body, including the ability to determine their reproductive destiny. This ability stems directly from the conditions in a woman’s community. Due to government policies and societal biases, women (especially those whose identities are comprised of other minority factors: women with low income, women of color, trans women, and/or gay women) are denied access to important resources and procedures associated with reproduction. These include but are not limited to the choice to abort their child, the option of birth control, financial assistance, etc.
The aim of strides towards absolute reproductive justice is to allow women’s bodily choices to be safe, affordable, accessible, and completely their own. And further, to make these rights and their communal and political implications all-inclusive and mandatory.
A group of black women came together in 1994 to discuss an intersectional approach to women’s reproductive rights, an area not tended to in the women’s rights movement; they called themselves Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice. They spoke out about the life-and-death nature of reproductive freedom for black women, demanded health-care funding for reproductive services beyond abortion (prenatal care, contraception and screening and treatment for cancer, STDs and HIV/AIDS), and advocated for anti-discriminatory measures to protect minority women. While this concept of reproductive justice is nearly 25 years old today, these calls to action are only beginning to be publicized and taken seriously.
Organizations like Black Women’s Health Imperative—regarded by the Public Health Post as “the only national organization solely dedicated to improving the health and wellness of the nation’s 21 million Black women and girls…physically, emotionally and financially”— have since formed in order to strengthen, engage and mobilize young black women around the issues of reproductive justice, sexual health and sexual violence prevention. In addition, the NWLC works at the forefront of the reproductive justice movement to fight laws like the Hyde Amendment that predominantly harm women of color by restricting their reproductive freedoms.
The reproductive justice movement has also started forging links with other social justice initiatives like the Black Lives Matter movement in hopes that it will make the drive to improve the reproductive health of marginalized groups stronger than ever.
Statistics tell us that despite all this, these injustices remain a huge issue. The U.S. spends twice as much per capita on healthcare than most Western industrialized countries but has the vastest disparities in health outcomes, especially as it pertains to reproductive and sexual health. From looking at the fact that women of color suffer worse than white women in every category of health care, we can glean that the U.S. perpetuates bad policy and fails to comply with human rights obligations, providing unequal access to reproductive healthcare. We are taking steps in the right direction, having ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), both treaties prohibiting racial discrimination and creating international legal obligation that the U.S. eliminate racial disparities in reproductive health outcomes and access. But disparities in reproductive health continue to persist, and the fight is far from over.
The question becomes this. What can you do?
The first plan of action is to read up on resources provided on the NWLC website to educate yourselves on the range of reproductive justice issues, the importance of intersectionality whilst striving to provide equal and unrestricted access to reproductive healthcare, groups that support the RJ movement, and current events that affect the success of the movement. You can also speak out on effective platforms about what needs to be done to achieve absolute reproductive justice. Advocating for the implementation of implicit bias training for healthcare professionals to avoid bias in the medical field and reduce microaggressions by creating petitions, posting on social media, and talking to your local representatives will aid this movement as well.
There is a severe lack of education on these topics, which is a huge reason for the societal ignorance and stigma surrounding them, and the biases and lack of accessibility in healthcare that have resulted thereof. Overall, getting word out into the world about these issues, especially to young people, is the most important thing. Teach about it in schools. Make it a regular topic of conversation. Share your story and listen to others’. Practice activism by making it your responsibility to become educated about reproductive injustices that continue to happen in America, and spreading word about it to others.