I was introduced to the topic of reproductive rights as being chiefly framed in terms of access to abortion rights and other forms of reproductive healthcare; by extension, the right to bodily autonomy. To me, it was about more than abortion, most of my feelings concerning reproductive rights were focused on having control over whether or not I would have a child and access to all the medical services necessary to keep my reproductive system running smoothly and healthily. My entire outlook was based on my own very narrow, relatively privileged life experience.
Though I was passionate about what I knew, I was ignorant about a lot of the factors that determine whether a woman has access to reproductive healthcare, and I didn’t know the history of the development of that health care. I didn’t have more than a vague idea about the history of abortion rights either, and the idea of “family planning” wasn’t at all controversial in my mind.
I had no idea that one of the “fathers of gynecology” owes one of his most notable accomplishments to the fact that he was able to take advantage of the bodies of non-consenting, un-anesthetized slave women – or that many women, several of whom were women of color or women with physical and intellectual disabilities, were forced or coerced into being sterilized in the United States over the last century or so. I really didn’t know what reproductive rights could mean to those outside my socio-economic ‘brackets.’
After doing some research, it has become clear to me that the same social and economic disparities which determine many women’s access to healthcare or freedom to choose whether to become pregnant also greatly affect their ability to sustain and care for those families in question if they come to exist. For that reason, many argue that reproductive rights also have to include access to things like healthcare, daycare, school supplies and healthy food. Under current conditions, women who are forced to carry out an unwanted pregnancy for lack of economic access to contraception, the morning after pill, or an abortion will be forced to choose between giving up her child and incurring an ever-growing financial and emotional weight of caring for a human life.
In the 1980s, many reproductive health organizations for women of color sought to expand on mainstream reproductive health issues in terms that were more inclusive, leading them to define and advocate for a new, comprehensive framework. Sister Song, a group founded in 1997, defined reproductive justice as follows:
“Reproductive Justice includes the right to have children, not to have children, and parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments,” and additionally, “the human right to bodily autonomy from any form of reproductive oppression.”
The group stresses that framing reproductive issues solely in terms of the ‘right to choose’ isn’t enough, and in order to achieve reproductive justice, there must be constant focus on intersecting oppressions, analysis of power systems, and effort to “center the most marginalized.”
Reproductive justice is about entire life cycles. It’s not restricted to birth control or abortion rights, or STD testing. It’s about the right to autonomy in every aspect of reproductive health and the right to basic care for families, for children who will shape the future.
Over the next few months, I want to explore some of these less talked about aspects of reproductive rights and the histories of particular things I find especially disturbing. If you have any ideas or issues you’d like to be included, let me know in the comments. Better yet, consider pitching the idea to write on your own! Send all ideas to Obviweretheladies@gmail.com !