What is Reproductive Justice?

SisterSong 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.

The Herstory of Reproductive Justice (RJ)

Indigenous women, women of color, and trans* people have always fought for Reproductive Justice, but the term was invented in 1994. Right before attending the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where the entire world agreed that the individual right to plan your own family must be central to global development, a group of black women gathered in Chicago in June of 1994. They recognized that the women’s rights movement, led by and representing middle class and wealthy white women, could not defend the needs of women of color and other marginalized women and trans* people. We needed to lead our own national movement to uplift the needs of the most marginalized women, families, and communities.

These women named themselves Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, and RJ was born.  Rooted in the internationally-accepted human rights framework created by the United Nations, Reproductive Justice combines reproductive rights and social justice. The progenitors of RJ launched the movement by publishing a historic full-page statement with 800+ signatures in The Washington Post and Roll Call. Just three years later, in 1997, SisterSong was formed to create a national, multi-ethnic RJ movement.

We believe that Reproductive Justice is…

  • A human right. RJ is based on the United Nations’ internationally-accepted Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a comprehensive body of law that details the rights of individuals and the responsibilities of government to protect those rights.

  • About access, not choice. Mainstream movements have focused on keeping abortion legal as an individual choice. That is necessary, but not enough. Even when abortion is legal, many women of color cannot afford it, or cannot travel hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic. There is no choice where there is no access.

  • Not just about abortion. Abortion access is critical, and women of color and other marginalized women also often have difficulty accessing: contraception, comprehensive sex education, STI prevention and care, alternative birth options, adequate prenatal and pregnancy care, domestic violence assistance, adequate wages to support our families, safe homes, and so much more.

To achieve Reproductive Justice, we must…

  • Analyze power systems. Reproductive politics in the US is based on gendered, sexualized, and racialized acts of dominance that occur on a daily basis. RJ works to understand and eradicate these nuanced dynamics.

  • Address intersecting oppressions. Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Marginalized women face multiple oppressions and we can only win freedom by addressing how they impact one another.

  • Center the most marginalized. Our society will not be free until the most vulnerable people are able to access the resources and full human rights to live self-determined lives without fear, discrimination, or retaliation.

  • Join together across issues and identities. All oppressions impact our reproductive lives; RJ is simply human rights seen through the lens of the nuanced ways oppression impacts self-determined family creation. The intersectionality of RJ is both an opportunity and a call to come together as one movement with the power to win freedom for all oppressed people.

SisterSong’s Role
in the Reproductive Justice Movement

SisterSong is the largest national multi-ethnic Reproductive Justice collective. Our membership includes and represents Indigenous, African American, Arab and Middle Eastern, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Latina women and LGBTQ people. Membership also includes white, male, and pro-life allies who support women’s human right to lead fully self-determined lives. We are dedicated to growing and supporting the RJ movement, and to uplifting the voices and building the capacity of our movement sisters to win access to abortion and all other reproductive rights.

SisterSong is a:

  • Thought Leader publishing the latest in RJ analysis, uplifting little-known RJ issues, and connecting RJ with other movements

  • Movement Voice called on by the United Nations, White House, legislators, media, and leaders of large mainstream organizations to be the voice of RJ and women of color in the US

  • Ambassador bringing RJ into the mainstream, and striving to make it as well-known as civil rights or women’s rights

  • Trainer drawing thousands into the movement, building the skills of mid-career activists, and training people in groups focused on other issues to integrate the RJ framework into their work

  • Convener of the largest conferences of women of color working on RJ

  • Facilitator of key collaborations of RJ groups coming together to raise our collective power in areas of great movement need

  • Organizer mobilizing a large base of women of color and allies in rapid-response online and in-person action to quash threats to and grasp opportunities for the rights of marginalized women