Reproductive Justice

Rights versus Justice

I’m sad this article didn’t come across my digital desk until just now because it is a brilliant piece that calls out structural racism within the reproductive rights movement, takes a hard swing at the criminalization of pregnancy, and asks some serious questions about the motives of a movement that frames family planning and birth control as social goods only if they ally with political priorities of those pushing the agenda. 

In this article, Dr. Dorothy Roberts, Reproductive Justice Scholar, Professor at UPenn, and author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproductive, and the Meaning of Liberty, gives a great introduction to Reproductive Justice.  (If you’ve got the time, Roberts’ article has a link to best-selling author Katha Pollitt’s rebuttal, which offers some good points about reproductive rights movement).

Roberts outlines many of the underlying difference between reproductive rights and reproductive justice.  For many, rights and justice sound the same. But often, as Roberts points out, when platforms call for extending rights, the value of those rights is only measured by how much they are worth to other people (e.g. birth control is good because it saves money on welfare, etc).  This market value conception of rights is especially damaging for historically marginalized and persecuted groups.  If you do not have the resources to access a “choice” then you don’t have a choice.  And the commodification of these rights limits their availability to anyone not accessing them for the “right” reasons. It is here when the notion of reproductive rights as we understand them, fail to produce justice. 

When the richest country in the world has the worst maternal mortality rates of any industrialized nation, and those health disparities are more likely to be fatal to black women (all women of color are at higher risk, but black women bear much more of the burden), the liberal notion of individual rights is not enough.  It is not an individual problem that could be solved with more access to particular goods and services, reproductive injustice is a wide-scale socially and politically constructed problem that requires a wide-scale politically and socially conscious solution.

Looking through the reproductive justice frame takes in the whole field, while reproductive rights takes a specific chunk and works to repair it.  Ultimately the two movements have similar goals and should work together to achieve them, but reproductive rights does not go far enough to get reproductive justice.