The Reproductive Justice Framework
The SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (SisterSong) defines Reproductive Justice as “a woman having the human right to decide if and when she will have a baby and the conditions under which she will give birth, the right to decide if she will not have a baby and her options for preventing or ending a pregnancy, and the human right to parent the children she already has with the necessary social supports in safe environments and healthy communities, and without fear of violence from individuals or the government.”
Although Black women had coined the phrase “reproductive justice” in 1994, it remained dormant until 2003 when the SisterSong introduced the framework at its first national conference in Atlanta, Georgia. While many groups began to use the term, very few truly understood the breadth and depth of this new framework grounded in human rights. For example, a 2005 conference sponsored by Planned Parenthood Federation of American and the Women’s Studies Department at Smith College called “Reproductive Justice for All” focused on reproductive rights and policy, instead of on how issues of race, class, and gender combined impacted women’s ability to be free from various forms of reproductive oppression. Also missing were the voices of women of color in key leadership roles.
Through the efforts of human and women’s rights activist, Loretta Ross, the organizing strategy for the 2004 March for Women’s Lives was grounded in the reproductive justice framework. Arguing that the conversation need to be more about what it took for women and girls to be healthy, have healthy families, and live in healthy communities, Ross pushed the March organizers to change the name of the March from the March for Choice to the March for Women Lives, thereby embracing a reproductive justice mantra. The March for Women’s Lives brought over one million women to Washington, D.C. During that same year, Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, in consultation with SisterSong, released its policy paper which added invaluable modifications and additions to the original reproductive justice framework.
Bond Leonard and Ross would later come to refer to reproductive justice as the framework that got away from its founding mothers. So many different groups embraced the framework and staked a claim in its development that the historical role of Black women in coining the phrase and laying its initial framework was almost erased. Some groups have used the term as a replacement for reproductive health or reproductive rights. This is a complete misunderstanding and misuse of the term. Reproductive justice is grounded in an intersectional theory and analysis that links race, class, and gender as contributing factors in the reproductive oppression of women. It is a framework that seeks to create the conditions for women to be healthy, have healthy families, and to live in healthy communities. Finally, the reproductive justice framework recognizes the expertise of women through their lived experiences and supports their personal agency as leaders and integral stakeholders in the movement.
Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice and SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. A New Vision for Advancing Our Movement for Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Justice. Report. Oakland: Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, 2005. Print.
SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice. “Reproductive Justice 101 & 102 Training.” Atlanta. 2006. PowerPoint.