Reproductive Justice: What It Means and Why It Matters
Friday, June 24th, 2022, marks the date the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that gave people the constitutional right to abortions in the U.S. With this decision, it’s now up to individual states to decide the fate of their own abortion laws, leaving the tens of millions of people affected by the ruling unaware of the future of their reproductive rights.
To some, the overturn of Roe v. Wade may not have been monumental or even disruptive. But for countless others, this ruling was a nightmare come true that has pushed them towards the growing fight for reproductive justice.
What is reproductive justice?
A group of 12 Black women activists who called themselves Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice coined the term “reproductive justice” in 1994. Today, the organization, which now exists on a national level as SisterSong, defines reproductive justice as the “human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”
Reproductive justice and the human rights framework at its root were born out of the need for a movement that, unlike the women’s rights movement, championed rights for women of color and other marginalized identities. Reproductive justice extends beyond abortion debates, and there are three central beliefs behind the framework:
● Reproductive justice is a human right.
● Reproductive justice is about access, not choice.
● Reproductive justice isn’t just about abortion, but it’s about increasing access to contraception, STI prevention and care, adequate wages to support our families, safe homes, and more.
Is reproductive justice the same as reproductive rights?
Reproductive justice includes reproductive rights, but the two terms aren’t exactly interchangeable. Reproductive rights strive to protect reproductive freedom based on the law, whereas reproductive justice is a holistic movement that doesn’t just fight for reproductive rights but for equal access and choices.
Reproductive rights may grant people the freedom to use contraception or have an abortion. But reproductive justice acknowledges the barriers that gender, sexuality, race, the environment, and social-economic status can impose on people’s human rights. We need reproductive justice to fight for the right for all to live fully self-determined lives, and that’s what the movement is all about.
Why does reproductive justice matter?
Reproductive justice matters now more than ever because how can reproductive rights help you if you don’t have access? Think about it. Say you live in a state that rolled back its abortion laws after the ruling, and now you have to travel out of state to receive care. While that may be easy for some, imagine how you’d make that work if you were working multiple jobs, didn’t have someone to watch your kids, or simply couldn’t afford to travel out of town.
This is why we need a movement like reproductive justice that considers the ways intersectionality affects access. Laws that grant people the right to reproductive care aren’t enough, and reproductive justice exists to address the inequalities and, ideally, fill in the gaps.
How can I learn more about reproductive justice or get involved?
If you want to join the fight for reproductive justice or understand the movement more deeply, visit SisterSong’s website here. SisterSong is the largest national multi-ethnic Reproductive Justice collective, so to learn more about membership and what you can do right now to support the movement, visit sistersong.net.