The Complex World of Reproductive Justice

The term “reproductive justice” has become a buzzword amongst those in the reproductive health fields – and for a good reason.

Throughout history, women and people with uterus’ bodies have been controlled and politized. This still rings true in today’s society, where reproductive health is attributed as a political issue – not a basic human right. 

What is reproductive justice?

While the phrase was coined in 1994, there are different definitions depending on what communities you ask.

The U.C. Berkeley, California School of Law describes reproductive justice as “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.”

While this is a good starting point, there’s so much more to it. Starting with understanding the necessity of inclusivity. 

Integrating Inclusivity 

While focusing on the achievement and protection of women and girls is absolutely necessary and crucial, it’s missing a big piece of the puzzle. Part of understanding the broad scope of reproductive justice is understanding that this doesn’t just apply to your binary understanding of “cis woman” and “cis girl”. 

The new era of reproductive justice is gender inclusive. Meaning it recognizes that people who don’t necessarily identify as women still need the same access to reproductive healthcare and education.

Trans-men, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, and non-binary people can all get pregnant, have periods, have babies, abortions, and any other experience that comes from having a uterus and vagina. 

An important piece of the puzzle for reproductive justice advocates is to push for expansion of services for non-cis-women, and with that greater education for providers so that they know how to interact with the wide range of populations they may encounter. 

Inclusion is not just about gender, it’s recognizing the very narrow framework of who is often able to access reproductive health services, and pushing to expand that lens.

It’s imperative that providers and advocates understand the effects of systemic racism of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), within the healthcare system. 

Reproductive justice advocates are constantly pushing providers to check their own biases and dismantle how the effects of systemic racism play out on an individual basis. Given the unacceptable racial and ethnic disparities of the U.S. maternal mortality rate, this work can literally save lives.

Along with racial disparities, many providers and advocates neglect the need for reproductive education and access for people with disabilities, or who are neurodivergent. This means expanding sexual education and honoring the many variations of being human, and the desires that come with it. 

We can’t talk about inclusion without discussing intersectionality. Intersectionality is the idea that humans are multifaceted and that our overlapping identities dictate how we navigate through the world.

Intersectionality understands that navigating reproductive health care as a queer, non-binary person of color, looks different than it does for a straight, white, cis-gendered woman, or any other variation of being human. 

Let’s Thrive

While saving lives is imperative, it’s also important to emphasize and celebrate practices that help people thrive and feel supported in their reproductive health. 

Modern medicine has made so many incredible advances in the field of reproductive health. But at the same time, it has consistently perpetuated harm for people seeking reproductive healthcare. 

Given the incredibly violent and racist background of modern obstetrics and gynecology (Trigger Warning: you can click this link for more details), it’s easy to see how a field that stems from the oppression and violation of Black women can continue to perpetuate this standard throughout modern medicine. 

Reproductive justice emphasizes the need for expanding access to, respecting, and celebrating traditional and Indigenous women’s health practices including midwifery, herbal medicine, vaginal steaming, and so much more.

The future of reproductive health care looks like a balance between modern medicine and traditional practices, with education and expanded access to all. 

What Does Reproductive Justice Cover?

One of the difficulties of understanding reproductive justice is that it includes so many different topics and parts of the human experience. 

Reproductive justice means expanding birth options and giving more rights, support, and education to birthing people during pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and postpartum. It means giving young people the tools to navigate period health and menstruation. It is making sex education accessible to all, and destigmatizing STIs, while prioritizing consent culture, pleasure and wellness.

Reproductive justice is increasing abortion access, and knocking down organizations that try to limit reproductive healthcare rights. It’s understanding the broad range of reproductive health disorders that can impact a person’s well-being and overall health.

It is preventing and healing from sexual violence, and understanding the ways sexual abuse can impact someone’s health and wellness. It is increasing the amount of culturally sensitive and trauma-informed providers who will be able to support their clients and patients, instead of creating more trauma.

…And so much more. 

If reading this has stirred something in you to develop a deeper understanding of the world of reproductive justice – awesome.

Because this article is just a teeny tiny introduction into a topic that you could spend lifetimes dissecting. Reproductive justice is always changing and adapting depending on politics, societal norms, scientific understanding, and the current zeitgeist.

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