Community Commons is committed to acknowledging and sharing the Black history behind the reproductive justice movement, including naming and crediting the 12 founders: Toni M. Bond Leonard, Reverend Alma Crawford, Evelyn S. Field, Terri James, Bisola Marignay, Cassandra McConnell, Cynthia Newbille, Lorretta Ross, Elizabeth Terry, ‘Able’ Mable Thomas, Winnette P. Willis, and Kim Youngblood.
All people deserve full autonomy over their sexuality, gender, work, and reproduction. Reproductive justice—a framework created by activist Women of Color—addresses reproductive health through the lenses of race, gender, class, ability, nationality, orientation, socioeconomic status, legal status, and environment. Reproductive justice goes beyond reproductive rights by focusing on access to care, social contexts of health, and intersectional well-being outcomes. It includes the rights to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent children in safe, accessible, healthy, sustainable communities. Reproductive justice is achieved when marginalized people—especially women, girls, and people who are LGBTQ+, disabled, low-income, undocumented, and/or of color—are able to freely and equitably exercise these rights.
The term “reproductive justice” was coined in 1994 by Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice for the purpose of combining reproductive rights with social justice, and lifting up the marginalized individuals, families, and communities excluded by the early reproductive rights movement. This included—and still includes today—acknowledging and addressing the United States’ long legacies of reproductive abuses, beginning with abuses of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. BIPOC communities have been systemically robbed of their bodily and reproductive autonomy through histories of slavery, rape, displacement and land theft, as well as theft of children by social services and boarding schools. The U.S. has conducted and supported the forced and coerced sterilizations of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, LGBTQ+, disabled, migrant, and incarcerated people. This includes historic mass sterilizations of African Americans in the mid-1900s, up to 25% of Native American women during the 1970’s, up to 33% of Puerto Rican women in the 1960’s, and over 70,000 disabled people since 1927. At the same time, other populations—such as white women—have experienced the opposite: providers’ reluctance or refusal to provide birth control. LGBTQ+ and disabled people have been subject to eugenicist practices of erasure, legal barriers to bodily autonomy and raising children, and systemic exclusion from basic sexual and reproductive healthcare.
These legacies of systemic abuse have given rise to extreme health disparities, as well as rampant mistrust in U.S. healthcare and social services systems. As we approach the historic 50-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22, 2023), basic reproductive rights—access to contraception, birth control, pregnancy termination, and transgender healthcare—are still deeply entrenched in politicized debate. Across the U.S., Black maternal and infant health continues to be a significant area of concern (Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women). The nonconsensual sterilization of disabled people is still legal today in most states, while many people seeking hysterectomies are still denied due to ageist and sexist beliefs about preserving fertility. Transgender and nonbinary people are still required to show proof of surgery (often involving sterilization) in many states. Intersex people are still forced to endure non-consensual, forced gender reassignement surgery, often as children or infants. The United States’ entire economy still relies heavily on the free labor of women and LGBTQ+ people to raise children, maintain homes, and support family life. The reproductive justice movement offers a critical framework to explain the interrelation of inequities and chart a path towards individuals’ full bodily autonomy, healthy families, and thriving communities.
Achieving reproductive justice requires deep acknowledgement, evaluation, and disassembling of the oppressive systems perpetuating exploitation and abuse. Across the U.S., activists can push for all peoples’ rights to full autonomy over their bodies, sexuality, gender, work, and reproduction, including the decision to have children or not have children, and parent children in safe, sustainable communities. Changemakers and communities can work to address legacies of injustice, improve access to basic reproductive healthcare for all people, eliminate disparities in maternal and infant care, ban coerced sterilization, support informed choices about consensual sterilization, improve family planning and social services, and end violence and abuse. Organizations and individuals can take a first step by centering those who have been historically marginalized and excluded from reproductive rights and health.