Environmental Justice is Reproductive Justice too!
LaTricea Adams, cofounder of Black Millenials 4 Flint, an organization that focuses on work around lead exposure throughout the country, proposes an honest question regarding the fight for reproductive justice,” If the womb, the first environment, is not protected, what is life?”
SisterSong is one of the country’s leading organizations focusing on reproductive justice. It defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” As stated in the definition of reproductive justice, it is vital to raise and give birth to children in environments that do not have poor environmental quality, especially in water and air quality.
The increasing concern for reproductive justice and how the environment impacts pregnant people stems from the latest report published by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which summarizes the most recent climate science. The report illustrates that the world can expect heat waves to become more frequent and intense, ultimately exposing the global population to more dangers of extreme heat. It also highlights the climate impact on pregnant people and the risks associated with this changing environment. In the report, scientific research supports how climate change affects maternal and fetal health.
Not only do pregnant people in the United States have to worry about more severe heat waves and a volatile climate, but environmental contaminants as well, especially if the pregnant person resides in low-income communities and is a person of color, where most health disparities prevail.
There are numerous harmful impacts that pregnant people are at risk of due to poor environmental health and contaminants, such as:
- Lead* exposure results in lower fertility rates and a higher risk of stillbirth
- Fracking* is connected to higher rates of preterm birth and congenital heart defects
- PFAS chemicals (commonly found in drinking water) can decrease fertility and increase blood pressure in pregnant people
- Extreme heat and wildfire smoke lead to poor pregnancy outcomes
In addition, social determinants of health (SDOH) significantly influence racial health disparities that impact Black women and women of color, especially in low-income communities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) social determinants of health are the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. These conditions include where people are born, work, grow, live and the systems that shape their daily lives. Examples include income and societal protection, education, food insecurity, early childhood development, structural conflict, and access to affordable health services of decent quality.
In North Carolina, these social determinants of health play a key role for those who reside in Duplin and Sampson counties, where there are a majority of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These industrial, agricultural operations are environmentally harmful to the communities around them and have sparked many environmental justice discussions and awareness. These environmental health issues impact the pregnant people who reside in these communities and cause racial health disparities. For example, in the 2022 North Carolina March of Dimes Report Card, the Maternal Vulnerability Index is very high in both Sampson and Duplin counties and surrounding counties. The Maternal Vulnerability Index is a county-level, national scale to identify where and why moms in the U.S. are vulnerable to poor pregnancy outcomes and pregnancy-related deaths. This issue is significant when considering the maternal health of Black women, where the report states that preterm birth rates are 52% higher for Black women than those among all other women. These statistics highlight how essential it is to consider the chain reaction of these issues and how they are interconnected and impact one another.
With these concerns in mind of many, multiple organizations have urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be more proactive in reproductive justice. The EPA has established an Office of Environmental Justice and Civil Rights. A strategy and commitment to address reproductive justice could positively impact our communities’ environmental health and well-being. Such methods include better coordination at the government level, increased direct funding, and uplifting the reproductive justice work already being done.
The fight for reproductive and environmental justice has many intersections, and organizations in one or both must heavily assist each other to tackle these intersectional issues.
Join the fight today! This National Women’s Health Network article states how you can get involved and show support for the Reproductive Rights Movement:
- *Lead: is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust (EPA)
- *Fracking: the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc., to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas
- Fetal death and reduced birth rates associated with exposure to lead-contaminated drinking water
- Environmental advocates ask EPA to take stand on reproductive justice | The 19th
- Living near oil and gas wells may increase preterm birth risk | Stanford News
- Our Current Understanding of the Human Health and Environmental Risks of PFAS | US EPA
- Social determinants of health
- Unchecked growth of industrial animal farms spurs long fight for environmental justice in Eastern NC
Environmental/Health Equity Fellow