Reproductive Justice is Every Woman's Right
By Zenaida Mendez
Director of Racial Diversity Programs
Reproductive rights advocates are demanding a comprehensive movement that addresses women's reproductive health and choices. As the largest multi-issue women's rights organization in the United States, for 40 years, NOW has advocated for reproductive freedom and access to reproductive health services for all women.
Looking toward the future in July, members at NOW's conference passed a resolution calling for a collaborative reproductive justice campaign that would "connect the relevance of reproductive rights, health care and justice to the race and ethnicity of all women, including women with disabilities."
The term "reproductive justice" emerged from the experiences of women of color. In the 1970s, extraordinary women like Frances Beal and Toni Cade Bambara articulated why the reproductive health of women of color needs to be considered within the context of their lives. In the 1990s, author Kimberle Crenshaw re-emphasized the need for a more comprehensive reproductive choice movement that embraces and empowers all women, but with the understanding that there is a link between the economic means of women of color, where they live, go to school and worship and their sexual health and human rights.
Organizations and activists addressing women's reproductive rights and health, including Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, among others, have set out to define and advance three main frameworks for addressing reproductive justice. Their analysis emphasizes the relationship of reproductive rights to human rights and economic justice.
The three frameworks are: Reproductive Rights, which encompasses
legal protections for women, such as the right to a legal abortion embraced
in Roe v. Wade and the right to contraception and family planning;
Reproductive Health, which emphasizes necessary reproductive services such as access to pap smears and pre-natal care; and
Reproductive Justice, which recognizes that reproductive oppression is a result of the intersection of multiple oppressions and is inherently connected to the struggle for social justice and human rights. Women of low economic means suffer consequences from the lack of access to complete health care (for example, the high rate of cervical cancers among women of color).
This integrated approach is about a woman's total reproductive health and its relationship to her living conditions and her daily experiences at work, school, home, and on the street. The goal is not to single out parts of a woman's body, but instead see women's lives and experiences as a whole.
Reproductive justice is a framework to advance our discussion about how women's health, access to medical care and economic justice are all political issues that must be connected in the minds of our elected leaders and reflected by their actions. We know that women of color and poor women's reproductive options and self-determination are restricted in many aspects. Reproductive health is directly tied to the economic conditions in a woman's community, including environmental factors and experiences of women of color vis-a-vis race, class, and gender. For example, people who live where there is no supermarket and limited access to fresh food suffer the health consequences.
Reproductive justice discussions take us beyond relying on the constitutional right to abortion granted in Roe v. Wade. Even as this right remains technically intact, the majority of poor women and low income women in the U.S. are denied access to safe, legal abortion for a variety of reasons, including bans on abortion funding for services at government health care facilities and through government-funded health care programs. Counties across the country continue to lose women's health clinics in rural areas, and even where there are clinics with abortion providers, women face unreasonable waiting periods required in some states before an abortion is performed. Imagine a woman of low economic means living in rural Mississippi having to travel to Jackson, to the only abortion provider in the state, and then having to spend the night to meet the waiting period requirements. The added cost and extra time away from work may make it impossible to access a legal procedure.
NOW's reproductive justice campaign integrates the organization's reproductive rights work with our economic and social justice work to provide activists and supporters a framework to connect our issues and strengthen our fight to end discrimination and advocate for justice for all women. Legal rights are just one part of a much larger picture. Diversity and inclusion calls for NOW and the women's rights movement to embrace this model that fights for reproductive freedom as a human rights struggle and one that includes all matters of equality and social justice.
The right to have or not to have children and the right to live in conditions that enable each woman to make optimal choices for her own life is key to bringing about true reproductive justice for all women. NOW's reproductive justice agenda includes: affordable child care and housing for low income women; pre- and post-natal care accessible to all women; child nutrition and pre-school programs, comprehensive school-based medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education for our youth; family planning and counseling; guaranteed job security for pregnant employees; paid family and medical leave; access to birth control and emergency contraception; affordable and accessible reproductive health care; treatment programs--not jail time--to assist pregnant substance abusers; and, last but not least, universal health care for all.
*Zenaida Mendez served as NOW's Director of Racial Diversity Programs
from 2003 until September 15, 2006.
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