What is Reproductive Justice?
Everyone involved in the struggle for choice, for reproductive rights, for reproductive justice probably has their own idea of what these terms mean, and indeed whether or not the shift away from “choice” and “rights” talk to “justice” talk is a good idea. This post doesn’t pretend to be any kind of knock-down drag-out final word, it’s just a start.
In the United States, a good discussion is offered by Sister Song: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, which opens like this:
The reproductive justice framework – the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments – is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s decisions is important for women of color.
It represents a shift for women advocating for control of their bodies, from a narrower focus on legal access and individual choice (the focus of mainstream organizations) to a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power.
Zakiya Luna, a researcher at the University of California Berkeley, argues that the move toward reproductive justice emerged from Black feminist organising, rather than from traditional pro-choice/abortion rights movements deciding to change. Impetus has also come from LGBTQI people.
But not everyone thinks this shift is a good idea – or at least they have some words of caution. Writing in Abortion Review, Jennie Bristow, canvases some concerns about this shift and links to other good discussions. She spends a bit of time reporting on comments made on the issue by Ann Furedi, head of the UK abortion provider British Pregnancy Advisory Services.
One problem with emphasising the limits of the pro-choice argument in terms of wider social change, Bristow writes, “is that it undermines the importance of the pro-choice argument in its own terms”.
Another concern is that the reproductive justice argument “implicitly endorses the prejudice behind many of the arguments made by opponents of abortion, who stress that women are being compelled to abort their pregnancies by a society that does not care enough for them”.
Both Furedi and Bristow’s articles are well worth a read. Interestingly, not long after it was posted in January, BPAS decided to change the name of its journal from Abortion Review to Reproductive Review.
UPDATE, 26 April: Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice has written an interesting piece on the justice/choice discussion that’s posted at RH Reality Check, titled “Why We Are and Must Remain For Choice“. Among his points: “Seeking to have an impact on everything can lead to having no impact on anything”; “There is a danger of turning allies into adversaries”; “Abortion becomes something to talk about later—but not today”; “Steering us toward a party platform only serves to narrow our base” (this one is pretty U.S. focused).
UPDATE, 12 May: A group of authors have written a response to the above piece by Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice. It’s titled Understanding Reproductive Justice: A Response to O’Brien.