Deepening our Commitment to Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice – and Exactly What That Means

December 9, 2019Ally Karpel

In the spring of 2019, an alarming surge in anti-abortion legislation was present in state legislatures across the U.S. Nine states enacted gestational age bans on abortion, many as early as six weeks – before most individuals even know they are pregnant. Fortunately, all bans have been blocked by federal judges from taking effect for the time being.

Four states adopted legislation that would ban abortion immediately in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, joining eight states that already had so-called “trigger bans” in place.

The Supreme Court also recently announced that it will consider the constitutionality of a Louisiana law that would result in the banning of all but one abortion provider in the state. In short, though abortion remains legal in all 50 states, there has been significant fear over the future of abortion rights in the U.S.

In the wake of the extreme state abortion bans, repeated attempts to restrict access to abortion by imposing targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws, and other attacks on abortion and contraception in the name of religious liberty, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC) has partnered with Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) to mobilize our communities to act for reproductive health, rights, and justice on a local, state, provincial, and federal level.

The WRJ-RAC Reproductive Health & Rights Campaign isn’t just about the legal right to an abortion – which, after all, is meaningless if it is not accessible or affordable. It isn’t even solely about abortion. Rather, the campaign is grounded in a "reproductive justice framework," a term coined in 1994 by women of color who sought to build a movement that extends beyond the basic legal right to access reproductive health services.

By rooting our reproductive health and rights work in a reproductive justice framework and committing ourselves to working in solidarity with communities of color and other marginalized communities, we are acting on the Jewish value of kavod ha’briyot, respect for individual dignity. Through this campaign, we will help build a world in which all people are able to shape their sexual and reproductive lives with dignity – regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, immigration status, geographic location, or income.

A reproductive justice framework is an intersectional approach that seeks to examine the ways social, political, and economic inequality and oppression impact the reproductive lives of individuals and communities. The reproductive justice framework has three primary human rights at its core: the right to have children; the right not to have children; and the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments.

The Reproductive Justice Movement was created by women of color precisely because communities of color are disproportionately harmed by restrictive reproductive health policies, experience elevated rates of maternal mortality, and face other systemic barriers to accessing reproductive health care. It is important, therefore, that we continue to center their leadership and expertise in our pursuit of this work.

Reproductive justice is not simply a “women’s issue.” When we frame reproductive health and rights issues as such, we erase and alienate individuals in the LGBTQ community, including trans men and nonbinary and gender non-conforming individuals who seek reproductive health care, including birth control, pregnancy care, and abortion services. For more on the importance of inclusive language and the barriers that the LGBTQ communities face when accessing reproductive health care, see the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Queering Reproductive Health, Rights & Justice Mini Toolkit.

Again, reproductive justice is not solely about abortion. Rather, it is about addressing the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country with a steadily rising steadily rising maternal mortality rate for the last three decades. What’s more, this country faces the unacceptable reality that women of color are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts, regardless of income, education level, or other socio-economic factors.

Reproductive justice emphasizes the importance of comprehensive sex education, essential if young people are to make informed decisions about their bodies, sexuality, and futures. It is about tackling the systemic discrimination pregnant workers continue to face in the workplace. It is about affordable and accessible contraceptives and family planning services. It is about speaking out against the misuse of religion to deny individuals the ability to obtain this type of care.

To learn more about the Reproductive Justice Movement:

Together we can build a world in which all people have equal opportunities to build their lives, their futures, and their families, with compassion and dignity.

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