Reproductive Justice & Human Rights

Reproductive Justice: What It Means and Why It Matters (Now, More Than Ever)

“What is reproductive justice?” This is almost always the first question we are asked when describing the Black Women’s Health Imperative’s work in reproductive justice and sexual health.

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Oftentimes, people think the term reproductive justice is synonymous with reproductive rights. However, the two are distinctly and philosophically different.

Reproductive rights are centered around the legal right to access reproductive health care services like abortion and birth control.

But what good is a right if you cannot access the services that right has provided? This is why reproductive justice is critical. Reproductive justice links reproductive rights with the social, political and economic inequalities that affect a woman’s ability to access reproductive health care services.

Core components of reproductive justice include equal access to safe abortion, affordable contraceptives and comprehensive sex education, as well as freedom from sexual violence.

Reproductive Rights are Human Rights : United Nations Office of the High Commissioner

Women’s sexual and reproductive health is related to multiple human rights, including the right to life, the right to be free from torture, the right to health, the right to privacy, the right to education, and the prohibition of discrimination.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) have both clearly indicated that women’s right to health includes their sexual and reproductive health. This means that States have obligations to respect, protect and fulfill rights related to women’s sexual and reproductive health.

The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health maintains that women are entitled to reproductive health care services, goods and facilities that are: (a) available in adequate numbers; (b) accessible physically and economically; (c) accessible without discrimination; and (d) of good quality [see report A/61/338].

Despite these obligations, violations of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are frequent. These take many forms including denial of access to services that only women require, or poor quality services, subjecting women’s access to services to third party authorization, and performance of procedures related to women’s reproductive and sexual health without the woman’s consent, including forced sterilization, forced virginity examinations, and forced abortion. Women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are also at risk when they are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage.

Violations of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are often deeply engrained in societal values pertaining to women’s sexuality. Patriarchal concepts of women’s roles within the family mean that women are often valued based on their ability to reproduce. Early marriage and pregnancy, or repeated pregnancies spaced too closely together, often as the result of efforts to produce male offspring because of the preference for sons, has a devastating impact on women’s health with sometimes fatal consequences. Women are also often blamed for infertility, suffering ostracism and being subjected various human rights violations as a result.

A list of important resources:

The Me And White Supremacy Workbook by Layla F. Saad takes readers on a “a journey of personal reflection and deep shadow work. The purpose of this workbook is to educate people with white privilege as to their internalised racism, and facilitate personal and collective change to help dismantle the oppressive system of white supremacy.”

We Testify — Lifting up the abortion stories of society’s most oppressed and marginalized communities

Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts

Reproductive Justice: An Introduction by Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger

Radical Reproductive Justice by Loretta Ross

Undivided Rights — Essays by the founders of Reproductive Justice

Handbook for a Post-Roe America by Robin Marty

The Mothers — A novel by Brit Bennett

Little Fires Everywhere— A novel by Celeste Ng

In the US, the Hyde Amendment punishes low-income pregnant people seeking abortion. Click to learn about the Hyde Amendment.

The Global Gag Rule — also known as the Mexico City policy — is a dangerous anti-abortion policy that risks the health and lives of women and girls around the world. Click here to learn about the Global Gag Rule.

How To Talk About Abortion

Stigma Fighters Worldwide