April 11th through 17th is the first ever Black Maternal Health Week, organized by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. This organization and week of awareness seeks to bring attention to the grave disparities between white and black maternal health care and mortality rates, such as the fact that black mothers are 3x more likely to die in childbirth than white ones in our country.
The disparity is due to “an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism (that) can create a kind of toxic physiological stress,” as New York Times journalist
The following piece was graciously written for the Miscarriage and Abortion Support curriculum by my dear friend, mentor, and colleague Molly Dutton Kenny. Reproductive Justice, gender inclusivity, & the importance of trauma informed care are all topics covered in the “Cultivating Social Consciousness” module of my Miscarriage and Abortion Support curriculum. This module is the 2nd of the course, directly after the introduction, in order to set a context and philosophical framework for all further learning.
by Molly Dutton Kenny
Reproductive justice has been defined in many ways, including:
“Reproductive Justice is the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” ~ SisterSong www.sistersong.net
“…the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights. We believe Reproductive Justice exists when all people have the social, political and economic power and resources to make healthy decisions about our gender, bodies, sexuality and families for our selves and our communities” ~ Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice
The hard work of intersectional, supportive care around a spectrum of reproduction has existed across communities, cultures and time. The term “Reproductive Justice” , or “RJ”, was specifically birthed by a group of Black women in the United States formed after the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994. This group called themselves the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice and laid the groundwork for a framework merging reproductive rights and social justice in the context of the United Nations Universal Human Rights Declaration. The term and work that went along with it was later popularized by SisterSong, a national multi-ethnic, women-of-color organization formed to promote and support Reproductive Justice.
A Reproductive Justice framework was specifically built by women of color in response to specific social injustices. Particularly in the healthcare and criminal justice systems, these women of color were faced with discrimination and were not acknowledged as a part of the “pro-choice” women’s health movement. The National Black Women’s Health Project took issue with the word choice for masking the ways that “laws, policies and public officials punish or reward the reproductive activity of different groups of women differently.”
Reproductive Justice is the rejection of Reproductive Oppression.
Reproductive Justice demands every person have the right to conceive, birth, and parent when and how they so choose, with nurturing social supports in place, and includes the right to prevent and end pregnancies.
Summed up simply, RJ is the right to parent, the right not to parent, and the right to parent the children we already have. It is an intersectional framework within which to address many social justice ills. It also challenges the controlling of bodies, families, communities, and our resources so our selves, children, and communities can thrive.
Within the context of Reproductive Justice, we understand and acknowledge that access to clinical, alternative, and holistic care for pregnancy release, as well as supportive care around it, will be unequal and inequitable based on a myriad of social and societal factors-including but not limited to- race, class, socioeconomic status, immigration status, health insurance, geographic location, physical ability, history of trauma, and more.