Image from The Repeal Hyde Art Project
Imagine being a minor in Austin with undocumented parents this week. You find out you’re pregnant. You’re not sure your parents would consent to an abortion, but even if they did, they’d be scared to go to an abortion clinic where they might need an ID to get the parental consent form notarized. You go to your school counselor, who tells you she isn’t allowed to talk about abortion — sorry. None of your friends know how to handle the situation, and you have no other family to turn to, either.
This teen has the same right to an abortion as any other minor in Texas, but in this scenario, her choices feel very limited — largely because she comes from a family of undocumented immigrants. This is one of several situations in which a person’s choice is directly impacted by the color of their skin, the gender they identify with, their sexuality, class, and ability, to name a few. That’s where Reproductive Justice comes in.
In 1994, a group of black women gathered at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, and recognized the need for a movement outside of the women’s movement, which had largely ignored and alienated people of color. The new movement would be based on the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and would speak to the ways race, gender, sexual identity, and class affect the human right to govern one’s own body — aspects the women’s movement failed to acknowledge. They coined the term “reproductive justice” to describe this new movement.
Three years after Reproductive Justice was born, a group called SisterSong formed with the goal to represent the rights, needs, and perspectives of women of color. SisterSong works towards three Reproductive Justice core principles — that every woman should have the human right to:
- “Decide if and when she will have a baby and the conditions under which she will give birth.
- Decide if she will not have a baby and her options for preventing or ending a pregnancy.
- Parent the children she already has with the necessary social supports in safe environments and healthy communities, and without fear of violence from individuals or the government.”
Without those choices, no woman lives free from oppression, capable of making her own decisions about her body and future. Reproductive Justice fights against this particular oppression. As Loretta Ross, one of the cofounders of SisterSong, writes on the Trust Black Women website, “Reproductive Justice is a positive approach that links sexuality, health, and human rights to social justice movements by placing abortion and reproductive health issues in the larger context of the well-being and health of women, families and communities.”
In this way, reproductive rights are essential to all other human rights. If a woman cannot govern her own body, she’s missing a key part of her rights as a human being, a freedom that is directly affected by the resources or restrictions of her community.
Or, as Ross puts it, “a woman cannot make an individual decision about her body if she is part of a community whose human rights as a group are violated.”
As we considered before, an undocumented minor has a right to judicial bypass for abortion like any other minor, but may be scared to go to a courthouse because of her immigration status. Someone who lives in an area with polluted water cannot control how that environmental danger impacts her pregnancy, limiting her reproductive choices. A trans person looking to get pregnant may not be able to find a health provider that supports their gender identity and their reproductive choice. A young white woman may be denied an IUD by a provider who thinks she might ‘change her mind’ and want children within a year, while a teenager of color might be pressured into getting an IUD instead of the pill because her provider presumes she’s not responsible enough to remember her medication.
As explored above, a community with restricted access to basic human rights still faces oppression, even if they legally have the right to quality health care or a clean environment, to name a few. And, of course, the playing field is not even — women of color struggle much harder than white women do to access resources and services they need. Because of this, SisterSong strongly advocates for a focus on accessibility, not just choice.
Ross refers to the idea as “perfect choice.” Perfect choice relies on access to resources that help people make choices — “access not only to abortion services but also to prenatal care, quality sex education, contraceptives, maternal infant and child health services, housing, and reform of the health care delivery system,” says Ross.
At JDP, we know that minors have a right to judicial bypass. But when their school schedules conflict with the court hearing, when their Medicaid doesn’t cover abortion, and when the nearest clinic is across a city with poor public transportation, having that vague right is not very helpful.
Restricted accessibility, among several other roadblocks, continues to serve as a tool of oppression and control against women, particularly marginalized groups. In Texas alone, the regulations and restrictions on abortion often make doing so a big ordeal. Each regulation taken individually isn’t that bad — wait 24 hours for an ultrasound? Okay. Have an abortion only in an ambulatory surgical center? That seems feasible. Restrict how the abortion pill is dispensed? Doesn’t seem that bad. But combined, the laws end up being tightly restrictive and burdening on women of color especially.
In examining the ways every pregnant-capable person is oppressed or restricted, Reproductive Justice serves as an intersection, and works towards interconnectedness. Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” SisterSong, and others fighting for Reproductive Justice, know this to be infinitely true — our fight will not be won until the most marginalized are protected and afforded their deserved human rights.