Review by Anna Clutterbuck-Cook
Activist Loretta J. Ross (Co-founder, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective) and historian Rickie Solinger (Pregnancy and Power) have co-authored an introduction to the concept of reproductive justice as “a contemporary framework for activism and for thinking about the experience of reproduction” (9). In stepping outside of the pro-choice/anti-abortion dichotomy and narrowly-defined notion of reproductive “rights” and “choices,” reproductive justice theory and practice asserts that our individual decisions about whether and how to bear children — and our parenting of those children — are profoundly shaped and constrained by the political contexts in which we live. Since the early 2000s, the labor of those in SisterSong and their allies has transformed how activists on the progressive left think and talk about abortion rights and reproductive health; even if you are not aware of the roots of this movement, if you support access to abortion you have likely encountered and adopted the language reproductive justice to articulate and defend your position.
Reproductive Justice: An Introduction (University of California Press, 2017) provides an excellent and accessible history of reproductive justice as both a set of ideas and as political practice. They begin with a tour of reproductive experiences in American history — experiences shaped by race, by class, by age, sex, sexuality, and gender identity. Those interested in a more in-depth examination of this history can look to Rickie Solinger’s previous work as well as the endnotes for further reading. Chapter two turns specifically to the ideas that drive reproductive justice activism: the importance of storytelling, intersectionality, human rights, and a recognition of the ways systemic oppression constrains individual agency. “At the heart of reproductive justice,” the authors write, “is this claim” that:
All fertile persons and persons who reproduce and become parents require a safe and dignified context for those most fundamental human experiences. Achieving this goal depends on access to specific, community-based resources including high-quality healthcare, housing and education, a living wage, a healthy environment, and a safety net for times when these resources fail (9).
Chapter three considers what is required for human beings to manage their fertility and what it means to reframe fertility management as a fundamental part of human agency, a human right for all people. When we understand reproductive agency as an inalienable human right, we can more clearly understand how structural and social inequality and oppression shape individual reproductive lives. The right to parent is equally important in this landscape as the right not to parent, and reproductive justice activists bring our attention to the myriad ways that women and other individuals capable of gestation and birth have been discouraged or coerced into infertility or separated from their children. Poor parents, parents of color, indigenous parents, parents with disabilities, young parents — women in certain communities are coded as bad mothers and policed in or prohibited from their mothering. Chapter four considers these injustices, and what might be done to address them as a society. The epilogue brings in voices from six women-of-color-led organizations that are doing reproductive work on the ground in the United States today.
Women and girls are not, of course, the only persons who can become pregnant, nor are mothers the only parents who give birth. Solinger and Ross address the necessity for including trans and nonbinary parents in their introduction, acknowledging that there is a need both to honor individual identities through inclusive language and also politically important to document how “politicians, lawmakers, policy makers, the judiciary, and ordinary people” have historically targeted people socially identified as female when establishing and policing reproductive boundaries “to achieve specific demographic, political, and cultural goals” (8).
Reproductive Justice is a text that presents theoretical concepts grounded in lived experience in a way that would be well suited to undergraduate and advanced high school students as well as learning groups in a variety of community-based settings. I would be particularly excited to see Reproductive Justice adopted as required reading in sexuality education contexts. We need the framework of reproductive justice to inform our reproductive activism now more than ever.
Anna Clutterbuck-Cook is the review editor for Dósis.