The Struggle for Reproductive Rights for Women of Color

Mar 20, 2024 | Healthcare, News

Social and political events ignited the resurgence of the women’s movement in the United States during the late 1900s. The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed widespread social unrest, civil rights activism, and anti-war protests. Women began challenging traditional gender roles and societal expectations, inspired by broader social justice and equality movements. The women’s movement in the United States, predominantly championed by white, middle-class feminists, often overlooked the unique challenges faced by women of color. Despite this marginalization, women of color persisted in organizing and advocating for reproductive justice. Recognizing the intersectionality of their identities and the interconnectedness of various forms of oppression, women of color came together to challenge reproductive oppression and fight for autonomy over their bodies and reproductive choices.

On June 24, 1983, Black women gathered for the First National Conference on Black Women’s Health Issues. This gathering of Black women in Atlanta marked a pivotal moment in the reproductive justice movement, giving birth to the term reproductive justice. The power and purpose of this gathering lie in its recognition of the multifaceted nature of reproductive oppression faced by women of color. By bringing diverse voices and experiences together, the participants articulated a framework beyond traditional reproductive rights discourse, encompassing economic justice, racial equality, and the right to parent in safe environments. This gathering not only gave voice to the struggles of Black women but also provided a platform for solidarity and collective action, empowering women of color to assert their autonomy over their bodies and lives. Thus, it laid the foundation for a more inclusive approach to reproductive justice activism that continues to shape advocacy efforts today.

Diverse Strategies in Reproductive Justice

Since then, women of color have organized for reproductive justice in diverse and unique ways, including grassroots activism, community education, and legal advocacy. These women created networks and organizations prioritizing marginalized communities’ unique needs and concerns. For example, organizations like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice conduct culturally competent educational campaigns on topics such as contraception and reproductive rights within Latina communities. In addition, groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights have litigated cases to protect reproductive rights for women of color, including access to abortion and maternal healthcare.

These efforts were rooted in self-determination, allowing women of color to define their reproductive rights agenda on their terms. The definition of reproductive justice by women of color challenged the mainstream women’s movement agenda in several ways. It highlighted the inadequacy of solely focusing on issues like access to contraception and abortion without addressing the broader systemic inequalities that disproportionately affect marginalized communities. Additionally, it critiqued the tendency of mainstream feminist movements to prioritize the concerns of white, middle-class women at the expense of women of color.

Disparities in Maternal Health: Focus on North Carolina

Still today, women of color find their reproductive autonomy under siege due to racist, discriminatory policies that disproportionately affect them. Last year, the North Carolina General Assembly voted to override Governor Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 20, an anti-abortion policy that adds restrictions to abortion care services and prohibits abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy. Policies like Senate Bill 20 exacerbate the challenges faced by women of color in controlling their bodies and making informed decisions about their reproductive health. Reproductive justice remains a critical issue today because it embodies not only the right to access contraception and abortion but also broader concerns such as economic stability, racial equality, and the ability to parent in safe and supportive environments.

Black women in North Carolina face significant disparities in maternal health outcomes, with Black mothers experiencing higher rates of maternal mortality, pregnancy complications, and inadequate access to prenatal care. According to the CDC, 60% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Arguably, the gap in services that exist for marginalized communities who are in between poverty and financial stability in North Carolina is a violation of Black women’s reproductive rights. Efforts to address these service gaps have included community-based initiatives, policy advocacy, and healthcare reforms to improve access to quality care and address systemic inequities. Democracy and voting rights are vital tools in this struggle, offering a means to challenge unjust policies, elect representatives who prioritize the interests of those most impacted, and elevate the voices of women of color. Through active participation in democratic processes, we all can work towards a future where reproductive justice is not just a dream but a reality for all.

Verdant Julius

Verdant Julius

Environmental Health Fellow

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