So, you want to fight for reproductive freedom?
So, you want to fight for reproductive freedom but don’t know where to start? Like me, you may have experienced the past couple of months as a turbulent series of losses for reproductive rights in the United States. You may be feeling lost, angry, or powerless. Like me, you may be tired of fighting for what generations before you codified, what you grew up believing was your infrangible right. Your sadness and your exasperation are valid; allow these emotions to fuel the necessary work ahead. I certainly don’t know all the answers, but this guide may be of help as you begin or continue fighting for reproductive freedom in this country.
Step 1: Your Framework Matters
Be wary of white feminism, an ideology allows for white women to assume the role of “agenda setter” in the feminist movement. White feminism allows for predominantly white women to assign the framework which reproductive freedom is fought in, pushing their priorities to the forefront. Consequently, the priority of reproductive rights has been widely adopted by the modern feminist movement.
This framework, as defined by the Petrie-Flom Center of Harvard Law, aims to achieve reproductive choice through the legal system. Its influence is seen in popular pro-choice vs. pro-life debates: whether the government should grant reproductive autonomy over our reproductive futures, specifically the choice to terminate a pregnancy. While it is extremely important that the law grants the right to bodily autonomy, the hyper-focus on this legal barrier misses the bigger picture of reproductive oppression.
The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice (RJ) Agenda defines reproductive justice as being free to control one's own reproduction when the ‘economic, social, and political power and resources’ are at the free disposal of the individual. The RJ framework differs from the reproductive rights framework in one important way: even if the legal right to abortion is protected by law, there are still economic, socio-cultural, and political barriers that impair a disproportionate percentage of people from accessing abortions. Poverty, racism, and trans/homophobia are so impactful that they effectively take away that choice. What meaningful decision is there to make if accessing an abortion means going without food?
Reproductive oppression impacts different women in different ways. This is why the reproductive justice framework is necessary to liberate all women. RJ provides a holistic, inclusive, and empowering lens to view reproductive freedom. This intersectional approach addresses the various ways that women are systemically, reproductively oppressed and builds on existing social justice movements to imagine a world where not only is the right to an abortion protected, but all other factors leading up to that choice are not determinants of subjugation.
Step 2: Know The History
It is vital to be aware, acknowledge, and celebrate the efforts of those who have engaged and contributed to a movement before your time; do the work, learn the history.
The term reproductive justice was created in 1994 by a group of twelve Black women of the Black Women's Caucus in Chicago. Coining the term and establishing the framework’s most basic tenants, the leaders paved the way for the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective’s formation three years later. Through the collaboration of sixteen different organizations representing Indigenous, Latina, Asian American, and Black women, SisterSong was birthed to secure reproductive justice as a human right, amplify women of color’s voices, and expand the narrative of reproductive freedom beyond the right to abortion. Since then, reproductive justice organizations like SisterSong have successfully partnered with groups like Planned Parenthood to help integrate the framework’s language and mission into the mainstream feminist movement.
Step 3: Solidarity is Key
When you engage in advocacy or activism for reproductive freedom, it is essential to uplift the most marginalized. Ask yourself: who has not yet spoken? Whose perspective is missing from the conversation? Whose story has not yet been told? Reproductive oppression is a highly complex issue that cannot be confined to a single goal of legalizing abortion. For millions of Americans, that legal choice unlocks only one of the many shackles of reproductive oppression.
Like me, there may be days where you feel like this fight is hopeless. But when we center ourselves in the work that our sisters have done before us, apply inclusive mental and structural frameworks, and use our anger to actualize change, we can unify this fight. So that no one has to drive to another state or skip meals to access healthcare. So that our bodies will never be subject to control or exploitation. So that we can have the undeniable autonomy to bring our children into this world and rest knowing that their bodies, health, and life will be no one’s but their own.
If you’d like to learn more about this subject, the following links are helpful:
Reproductive Justice Briefing Book: A Primer on Reproductive Justice and Social Change
Reproductive Rights vs. Reproductive Justice: Why the Difference Matters in Bioethics
In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda 2022
'We Are Grabbing Our Own Microphones': How Advocates of Reproductive Justice Stepped Into the Spotlight