During the height of the Clinton administration’s health care reform debate of the mid ’90s, a group of Black women coined the term “reproductive justice” as they joined the social justice and reproductive rights movement. In this, Black women’s health care reform became a historic action that launched a movement beyond the issue of abortion.
As we politically engage in the 2016 elections, we have an opportunity to imagine an even more expanding definition of reproductive health that moves beyond the routine jargon we assign to reproductive rights. For example, during Black Breastfeeding Week in 2015, Black women organized the Lift Every Baby campaign to demystify cultural stigmas and challenges around breastfeeding, as well as highlight the persistently high Black infant mortality rate.
While reproductive health falls under the gendered value system of being a “woman’s issue,” a more nuanced definition would bring us closer to a revolution — one that thinks about the reproductive experiences of all members of varying Black communities. This would include communities impacted by environmental racism, mass incarceration, police violence and brutality.
Linking abortion care and police violence may seem counter-intuitive, however, a community without abortion access can lead to fatal complications. Yet, from the medical industrial complex to the prison industrial complex, women’s movements have been the lens through which we lift up reproductive justice. In fact, reproductive liberation has fallen on the backs — and wombs — of Black women.
This movement includes access to safe and legal abortion. While we’ve come a long way the abortion access we enjoy is not the standard. In the reproductive future, decisions made by the U.S Supreme Court could remove the blindfolds from the women who travel to unspecified locations to receive illegal and unsafe abortions. Though Texas lawmakers may not actually know how abortion works, we have to have hope for the future.
In the future, reproductive justice will be synonymous with Black safety.
Then we can do away with anti-shackling coalitions in the South or in Massachusetts to the North because incarcerated women would not be locked down while birthing in prisons or medical institutions nearby. Black youth will not be killed while hopping over fences with no anticipated justice. It also means access to mental health care, which is a part of reproductive justice, so our survival becomes a reproductive responsibility and that Black women live in communities where accountability is not trumped by respectability in the face of their trauma.
We also must recognize the ways of claiming, or not, of gender expressions and the fact that this, too, is a reproductive right. It means opening the doors of clinics to folks who do not experience their lives as women yet still live their reproductive lives freely. It means creating access for trans justice in reproductive justice spaces.
As we move forward our own political agendas in this election year, let us reflect on the various ways we can protect and push forward reproductive futures.
Sevonna M. Brown, a Ms. Foundation Public Voices Fellow, is a human rights project manager at Black Women’s Blueprint in New York.