By Barbara Alvarez
Anne Nicol Gaylor Reproductive Rights Intern
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Reproductive Justice needs to be a key part of grappling with racial injustice in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder.
The Reproductive Justice framework was first articulated at a pro-choice conference in Chicago in June 1994 by 12 black women who worked in the reproductive health and rights movement. The group’s mission went beyond abortion access by focusing on the holistic health of families and communities. SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective defines Reproductive Justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”
One of these Reproductive Justice indicators is maternal mortality. In the United States, black maternal mortality is 2.5 times higher than for whites. Additionally, black women are less likely to have access to quality prenatal care. These statistics hold true even when adjusting for socioeconomic class or education. In fact, a 2016 analysis found that black, college-educated women were more likely to suffer severe complications during pregnancy and childbirth than white women who had never graduated from high school.
There are three levels of racism: institutional racism, personally mediated racism and internalized racism, explains Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, research director on Social Determinants of Health and Equity at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. This is compounded by the fact that black women are less likely to have health insurance, and hospitals in black communities have lower quality care.
To strive for Reproductive Justice, as SisterSong explains, we must analyze power structures, address intersectional oppressions, center the most marginalized, and join together across issues and identities. There are five ways to build intersectional, inclusive, and safe communities, a letter published by the Reproductive Justice Coalition in Essence Magazine outlines. This includes, importantly, investing in affordable health care, housing and food, and building up social services. And to achieve Reproductive Justice, we must also reject draconian legislation that favors religion over science. Indeed, Black Christian Reproductive Justice advocates are doing just that.
By fighting for Reproductive Justice, we proclaim that Black Lives Matter.
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Barbara Alvarez is from Madison, Wis., and attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working on a Ph.D. in library and information sciences with a minor in gender and women’s studies. Alvarez was a major winner in last year’s FFRF essay competition for graduate students, writing about the bible’s role in the abortion battle. She is FFRF’s first Anne Nicol Gaylor Reproductive Rights Intern, a program set up to memorialize FFRF’s principal founder, who was an early abortion rights activist and author of the book Abortion is a Blessing.