What Do We Mean by Reproductive Justice?

By Shailushi Ritchie, Development and Communications Officer for the Women’s Foundation of California.

Last week, I went to a Board of Directors meeting for ACCESS, a small grassroots organization that focuses on reproductive justice.  I’ve been on the board for almost 10 years and have seen it go through many changes—new staff and programs, policy projects and new partnerships—but its mission remains the same: ensuring reproductive health care is available to all Californians. It’s a mission that’s near and dear to my heart.

ACCESS recently adopted a reproductive justice framework and it has confused some of my fellow board members.  “I’ve been through two trainings,” said one woman, “but I still don’t get it.”

I think the term “justice” is what gets her mixed up.  Nowadays it seems many issues are using a justice framework—racial justice, environmental justice, criminal justice.  It can be hard to really grasp what it means when it seems like it’s the concept du jour.  Most people understand reproductive health and reproductive rights, but what the heck is reproductive justice?

My take is that reproductive justice is about looking beyond one’s own rights to the larger social and economic context that affects someone’s ability to exercise their rights. Reproductive justice is about making sure that every woman – every person – has access to the reproductive health services that they would like to use. In other words,

  • women in rural communities wouldn’t have to drive 45 minutes to get birth control because the one local pharmacist refuses to provide it;
  • pregnancy and prenatal care would be available to anyone who sought it, and having a certain type of insurance wouldn’t mean that your care was better than someone else’s;
  • a 12 year old boy wouldn’t have to act as an interpreter during his mother’s annual pap smear; and
  • the cost of a tank of gas wouldn’t prevent a woman from ending her pregnancy.

Reproductive justice, like all justice frameworks, looks at the forces that create an uneven playing field and gives some people an unfair advantage over others.  While we can never create equal opportunity for everyone, we can create a web of policies and systems that reduces the burden on those who are disadvantaged.  When you consider that justice is really about making sure that things are fair, reproductive justice…well, just makes sense.

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