True reproductive freedom requires a living wage, universal health care, and the abolition of prisons. Black women see the police slaughter of unarmed people in their communities as a reproductive justice issue. They recognize that women are frequent victims of racist police violence and that cutting short the lives of black youth violates the right of mothers to raise their children in healthy, humane environments. (Roberts, 2015)
Reproductive justice is a framework and analytic that foregrounds how reproductive politics are entangled with broader infrastructures such as border controls, incarceration, medicine, political economy, population control policies, environmental degradation, among others. Building on Kimberly Crenshaw’s analytic of intersectionality, the framework of reproductive justice combines and extends discourses of social justice and reproductive rights. The term was first developed in 1994 in the U.S. by a group of Black women, Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, prior to the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. The group went on to form the SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Justice Collective along with groups of Native, Latinx, and Asian American women.
Central to the development of the framework was a critique of pro-choice/pro-life debates that structure claims for abortion access. Rather, reproductive justice advocates argue that paradigms of choice obscure the ways that women’s access to reproductive care is structured through the racialized lack of geographical and financial access to maternity care and contraceptives, histories of sterilization and eugenics, child removal policies, sexuality, and migration status. As Loretta Ross, a central figure in the reproductive justice movement argues, ‘a singular focus on abortion is patently inadequate to respond to these innumerable intersections of race, class, gender, and the state’ (2017: 302). Rather, in her ground-breaking work, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (1997), Dorothy Roberts traces state intervention into Black women’s bodies back to the invasive and violent controlling of enslaved women’s reproductive lives, connecting this to more contemporary sterilization policies, medical experimentation, and arguing that paradigms of choice fail to capture the complex constraints and experiences of Black women.
As a framework and praxis, reproductive justice has provided scholars and activists with a language to connect seemingly distinct contemporary issues, such as water contamination, police brutality, deportation, settler colonialism, and reproductive healthcare. For example, Rachael Lorenzo (2016) demonstrates how Indigenous land struggles are also struggles for reproductive justice:
Indigenous people whose water has been contaminated and land has been mined have experienced pregnancy losses, pregnancy complications, children born with disabilities, and gender-based violence. In a part of the Navajo Nation where many mines are located, childhood reproductive cancers have occurred at rates 17 times higher than in the United States as a whole. Women go missing in Farmington, New Mexico, where many oil workers stay while working, and their disappearances are heartbreakingly normalized. Our lands are not just reservations. They are literally what supports our families. In almost every indigenous community, our women and some two-spirit people are the caretakers of the land. What we put into our bodies directly affects our pregnancies and our general well-being. Standing Rock’s strong and well-founded opposition to this dangerous pipeline is not just an issue of tribal sovereignty not being respected by private entities and state governments, nor just an issue of environmental justice. This is also an issue of reproductive justice.
Reproductive justice has been integral to making sense of historical and present injustices brought to bear against poor and non-white communities. In bringing the lens of reproduction to bear against contemporary violences, the framework offers a way to draw out the connections and overlaps between various struggles as they relate to Black, Indigenous and non-white women’s reproductive lives. As such ‘reproductive justice provokes and interrupts the status quo and imagines better futures through radical forms of resistance and critique’ (Ross, 2017: 292).
Roberts, Dorothy. E. (1997). Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty. Vintage Books.
Ross, Loretta., GutiŽrrez, Elena., Gerber, Marlene., & Silliman, Jael. (2016). Undivided Rights: Women of color organizing for reproductive justice. Haymarket Books.
Ross, Loretta., & Solinger, Rickie. (2017). Reproductive Justice: An Introduction. University of California Press.
Davis, Angela. (1981). ‘Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights’. In Women, Race & Class, pp. 117-127
Davis, Angela. (1993). ‘Surrogates and Outcaste Mothers: Racism and Reproductive Politics
in the Nineties’. In The Angela Y. Davis Reader, pp. 210-221
Lorenzo, Rachael. (2016). At Standing Rock, Environmental Justice is Reproductive Justice. Rewire News.
Reproductive Justice Briefing Book: A Primer on Reproductive Justice & Social Change.
Roberts, Dorothy. (2015). Reproductive Justice, Not Just Rights. Dissent. Available online:
Ross, Loretta., Roberts, Lynn., Derkas, Erica., Peoples, Whitney., and Bridgewater, Pamela. (eds.) (2017). Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique. Feminist Press at CUNY.
Ross, Loretta. (2017). Reproductive Justice as Intersectional Feminist Activism. Souls, 19(3): 286-314.
Sister Song, Reproductive Justice.
1. Discuss the general challenges posed by reproductive justice scholars and activists to standard understandings of reproduction and reproductive rights.
2. What does reproductive justice tell us about the relationship between race and state violence
3. Discuss the relationship between reproductive justice and environmental justice.
4. How might frameworks of reproductive justice help us understand the connections between seemingly differing struggles for liberation and justice (e.g. trans, Indigenous, Black)?
Submitted by Kathryn Medien