Reproductive justice takes a broader view

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Toni McClendon has fought for minority and reproductive rights in Pittsburgh for decades. But she has long eschewed “pro-choice” and “pro-life” labels as divisive, limiting and, above all, as failing to address what many black women experience in America’s raucous debate over reproduction. .

Then, when asked to join black women from the Rust Belt for the March for Women’s Lives on Washington in 2004, she found “reproductive justice,” a movement that went beyond that simple binary to cooperate with allies in a series of problems they face. minorities, and one that has come to the fore as American women wait to see if Roe v. Wade will reverse. Ms. McClendon returned home after the march to become one of the founding members of New Voices for Reproductive Justice in Pittsburgh.

“I support the right to have a child, the right not to have a child, and the right to raise families in a fair and just world. That is the core of reproductive justice,” she says. “In this country, it’s always one or the other. If you do this, then you can’t be this. And if you are not this, then we are against you. It’s all an ‘us and them’ thing, rather than an ‘us’ thing.”

As the US Supreme Court appears poised to overturn America’s constitutionally protected right to abortion in its upcoming Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, those on the front lines of the reproductive rights movement frame it as a door closing after 50 years of abortion access. .

But for many Black and other minority women across the country, access to abortion has long been barred by financial and cultural barriers. This is why they began to reframe reproductive rights as a social justice issue in the 1990s.

Now reproductive justice leaders, often called RJ, say their vision is the way forward for those who will become most vulnerable if the leaked draft opinion is upheld, returning the abortion issue to the states.

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Implicit in RJ’s movement is support for abortion rights, but many observers say RJ has the potential to help Americans understand a much bigger picture, as it also focuses on the right to bear and raise children in a safe and healthy environment. An encompassing social justice movement, RJ has grown alongside a broader reckoning on racism, inequality, and environmental rights.

“RJ is a pathway to the future,” says Elaina Ramsey, executive director of Faith Choice Ohio, a faith-based group that supports abortion rights and works with RJ leaders in the Midwest. “It is fundamentally a lifestyle practice. They are trying to build communities, raise families as they see themselves and with the decisions they want to make.”

“Established law but not established reality”

Since its founding in the 1990s, RJ has grown across racial and ethnic lines and across the United States, from the Pacific Northwest to the Rust Belt. For example, Black women from across the country joined RJ supporters in Washington over the weekend of June 16 in a march called Black Bodies for Black Power.

It is also increasingly a campaign issue. La’Tasha D. Mayes, founder and former executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, is running for state representative in Pennsylvania, having won the Democratic primary in May. “White women thought that Roe v. Wade was the end of the attack or that legal precedent would actually get us to where we need to be,” says the candidate, who put RJ as her top platform issue. “But for black women and marginalized communities, it was established law but not established reality.”

“The shorthand in politics is pro-choice, a woman’s right to choose,” she continues. “Those things are very limiting in terms of the actual depth and breadth of reproductive justice issues or concerns that voters and constituents have.”

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The term “reproductive justice” was coined by 12 black feminists, and the movement later grew into a collective called SisterSong, based in the South. The founders felt left out of the reproductive rights discussion, despite the disproportionate toll that pregnancies and unwanted pregnancies take on minority women. According to 2011 data from the Guttmacher Institute, the unintended pregnancy rate for non-Hispanic black women (79 per 1,000) is more than double that of non-Hispanic white women (33 per 1,000), often due to lack of access to reproductive services. services and contraception. Minority women in general face much higher rates of preterm birth and infant mortality, and suffer worse maternal and child health outcomes. criminalization around reproduction.

But black women have been skeptical of reproductive rights movements that were historically linked to forced sterilization, says Ms. McClendon. “What most people knew about reproductive health was Planned Parenthood,” she says, an organization that lost the trust of the black community because of co-founder Margaret Sanger’s ties to eugenics.

Rather, he says, RJ gained trust through extensive association with social justice groups, including environmental justice, voting rights, equal pay and an end to police brutality.

“The idea of ​​choice was really limited as a framework because of these stories, because of the fact that for a lot of communities of color, the choice wasn’t just about whether or not you could have an abortion. It was about whether or not you could actually have children,” says Zakiya Luna, author of “Reproductive Rights as Human Rights: Women of Color and the Fight for Reproductive Justice.”

“What we’re trying to do … is say that there are a variety of reproductive justice issues that, particularly in marginalized communities, are not selectable,” she adds.

coalition building

That range of topics invites cooperation. “I find so much common ground with reproductive justice,” says Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of the New Wave Feminists Against Abortion in Texas, which seeks to end abortion through systemic change. She says the RJ movement recognizes that everything from racism to over-surveillance has affected Black women’s reproductive choices. “It’s a much more nuanced perspective. … So they’re not fighting for it in the same way that a lot of more privileged white feminists are.”

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While the black feminist community launched RJ, the movement has entered the discussion at nursing schools, law schools, and even the white house. The term is sometimes co-opted, and those working on it are careful to honor its roots as a black movement.

RJ’s supporters have shown the women’s movement how exclusive it has been, says Greer Donley, an assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh. “We’re really trying to forge allies with a lot of people in a way that the reproductive rights movement of past generations hasn’t. I think we are in this moment because that model failed,” she says.

Dana Sussman, interim executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, agrees. “What has changed is the understanding that it’s not just about abortion, that abortion is just one part of this much larger ecosystem. That environmental justice is reproductive justice. That criminal justice reform is reproductive justice. That immigrant justice is reproductive justice. … We have reproductive justice leaders and mothers in the movement to thank for helping us understand that voting rights is a reproductive justice issue, that all of these things are so deeply interconnected,” she says.

“Building those coalitions now in this time of crisis and moving forward to collectively envision a new vision to improve on this vision that they’ve had for a long time is incredibly important.”

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