Reproductive Rights and Intersectionality
As stated by Amnesty International, “[s]exual and reproductive rights mean you should be able to make your own decisions about your body and:
get accurate information about these issues
access sexual and reproductive health services including contraception
choose if, when and who to marry
decide if you want to have children and how many.”
Unfortunately, systems of oppression and/or governments stand in the way of people being in full control of their reproductive rights around the world. The ability to make informed decisions about your body is a human right, so it is important to fight for legal, complete, and accessible reproductive healthcare for everyone. So, let’s learn about reproductive rights and how they fit into other social justice work!
History of Intersectionality
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar, created the term “intersectionality” in 1989 to describe the multiple types of oppression that Black women in America experience. This term considered how it is impossible for Black women to separate their experiences of racism from their experiences of sexism, as these different systems overlap and influence one another.
The concept of intersectionality developed in response to the issues within feminist movements in the late 20th century, which centered around the experiences of White, cisgender, middle-class women. "Intersectionality" was a better way to describe the unique experiences of women of color.
Since 1989, the concept of "intersectionality” has grown to include other forms of discrimination that marginalized groups (groups that experience discrimination) face besides racism and sexism, including classism, homophobia, colorism, transphobia, xenophobia, and religion and disability-based discrimination.
History of Reproductive Justice
The concept of "reproductive justice" came from studying healthcare inequities through the lens of intersectionality. In 1994, a group of Black women in Chicago recognized that access to family planning and women's rights movements were led by white middle-class women. This did not represent the unique struggles that Black and Indigenous women faced in relation to their reproductive autonomy (the ability to make reproductive decisions about their own bodies) so they aligned reproductive rights with social justice and eventually formed SisterSong in 1997, a reproductive justice movement.
Reproductive justice is about having complete control over the decisions we make about our reproductive and sexual well-being. As we learned from intersectionality, different identities often mean unequal access, even when people live in the same community and under the same laws.
Why does it matter today?
As of 2020, the average woman in the US earned $0.83 for every $1 that a White, non-Hispanic man earned. However, this disparity isn't the same across different racial groups: Black women earned $0.63 and Hispanic women earned $0.55.
Here are some other examples of how racism sexism, ableism, and other systems of oppression intersect:
Black and Indigenous women in the US are 3.5 times more likely to die in childbirth than White women.
Disabled people are 3 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than non-disabled people, and less likely to have their assaults reported.
Here's an example of how this might play out on an individual level: In Texas, where abortion is highly restricted, there might be two pregnant people that want to terminate their pregnancies. The first person is able-bodied, has their own car and a partner that supports them in getting an abortion, does not have any children, and has sufficient economic resources. They can travel to an abortion clinic in New Mexico to get a safe, legal abortion. However, the second person is disabled, only has access to public transportation, has multiple other children, and does not have the money for the trip, childcare, or the procedure. They cannot get an abortion, so they are forced to stay pregnant and give birth.
As these two people in Texas demonstrate, certain legal and political structures have a larger effect on people that have more marginalized identities, including when people try to exercise their bodily autonomy. Reproductive justice accounts for the systemic poor healthcare access, absence of political representation, and financial disparities that limit reproductive choices for people of marginalized identities in today's world.
So what can I do about it?
Here are some easy ways to get involved:
Learn more about intersectionality, reproductive justice, and reproductive rights advocacy, and educate your friends!
Donate to abortion funds, which are grassroots organizations that create support systems for diverse groups of people in the US who cannot otherwise access abortions:
Contact your local, state, and national representatives and senators to share what matters to you. Here is a script of what you can say:
Stay up to date about the latest political and legal developments regarding reproductive rights. Follow and listen to BIPOC creators who are outspoken about these issues on the social media platforms you use.
Vote for candidates who support reproductive justice and account for principles of intersectionality in local, state, and federal elections! Register when you are 18 and make sure your voice is heard.