Teaching Reproductive Justice

"Reproductive justice -- women having power over our own bodies -- is the crucial first step toward any democracy, any human rights, and any justice."

That quote by feminist icon Gloria Steinem is on the cover of a new book titled Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, by ACP advisory board member Loretta J. Ross. along with historian Rickie Solinger.

The book itself is a first step in educating new audiences about a movement that was created in 1994 by women of color, including Ross, a cofounder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.  Ross will publish two more books about the topic in the near future, including one titled Radical Reproductive Justice. 

At the official launch event in Atlanta this month, Ross said the book is designed for high school and college students and "will contribute to the exciting upsurge of reproductive justice activism and scholarship."

Here is an excerpt from Chapter One: A Reproductive Justice History:

Reproductive justice is a contemporary framework for activism and for thinking about the experience of reproduction. It is also a political movement that splices ‘reproductive rights’ with ‘social justice.’ The definition of reproductive justice goes beyond the pro-choice/pro-life debate and has three primary principles: (1) the right not to have a child; (2) the right to have a child; and (3) the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments. In addition, reproductive justice demands sexual autonomy and gender freedom for every human being.

At the heart of reproductive justice is this claim: all fertile persons and persons who reproduce and become parents require a safe and dignified context for these most fundamental human experiences. Achieving this goal depends on access to specific community-based resources including high-quality healthcare, housing and education, a living wage, a healthy environment, and a safety net for times when these resources fail. Safe and dignified fertility management, childbirth, and parenting are impossible without these resources. 

The case for reproductive justice makes another basic claim: access to these material resources is justified on the ground that safe and dignified fertility management, childbirth, and parenting together constitute a fundamental human right. Human rights, a global idea, are what governments owe to the people they govern and include both negative and positive rights. Negative rights are a government's obligation to refrain from unduly interfering with people’s mental, physical, and spiritual autonomy. Positive rights are a government’s obligation to ensure that people can exercise their freedoms and enjoy the benefits of society. 

Reproductive justice uses a human rights framework to draw attention to — and resist — laws and public and corporate policies based on racial, gender, and class prejudices. These laws and policies deny people the right to control their bodies, interfere with their reproductive decision making, and ultimately, prevent many people from being able to live with dignity in safe and healthy communities. 

The human rights analysis rests on the claim that interference with the safety and dignity of fertile and reproducing persons is a blow against their humanity — that is, against their rights as human beings. 

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