Deepening our commitment to reproductive health, rights, and justice

Women's rights are human rights poster

In the spring of 2019, an alarming surge in anti-abortion legislation took place in state legislatures across the U.S. Nine states enacted gestational age bans on abortion, many as early as 6 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 other 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. Even as 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 RAC has partnered with Women of Reform Judaism 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, is not just about the legal right to an abortion — after all, the right to an abortion is meaningless if it is not accessible or affordable. It isn’t even solely about abortion. The campaign is about building 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.

The Reproductive Health & Rights campaign is grounded in a Reproductive Justice framework, a term created in 1994 by Black women who sought to build a movement that went beyond the basic legal right to access reproductive health services. “Reproductive justice” is not interchangeable with “reproductive rights” or “reproductive choice,” nor does it simply mean doing such work with a generic sense of “justice” in mind. The Reproductive Justice Movement was founded by, and will always be led by, women of color. But by rooting our reproductive health and rights work in a Reproductive Justice framework and committing ourselves to work in solidarity with communities of color and other marginalized communities, we are acting on our Jewish values of kavod ha’briyot, respect for individual dignity, to build a society in which one’s reproductive life is not dictated by their race, class, geography, or other identity factors.

So, what exactly is Reproductive Justice and what does it mean to ground our existing reproductive health and rights advocacy in a Reproductive Justice framework?

  • The Reproductive Justice framework has three primary human rights as its core: to have children, to not have children, and to parent children in safe and healthy environments. A Reproductive Justice framework is an intersectional approach that seeks to examine the way that social, political, and economic inequality and oppression impacts the reproductive lives of individuals and communities.
  • A Reproductive Justice framework demands that we center the lives and experiences of the most marginalized individuals and take our lead from the communities who are most impacted. 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. The Reproductive Justice framework was created by women of color, and it is important to continue to center their leadership and expertise in our pursuit of this work. 
  • Language matters. 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 toolkit.
  • As mentioned previously, Reproductive Justice is not just about abortion. It is about addressing the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country with a maternal mortality rate that has been steadily rising for the last three decades. Additionally, we face the unacceptable reality that Black women 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, which is essential for young people 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.

As you continue to reflect on how to be better advocates, activists, and allies in your communities, consider signing up for the Reproductive Health & Rights Cohort of the Brit Olam to join a network of congregations, sisterhoods, and Reform communities seeking to take collective action on reproductive health, rights, and justice. 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.

To learn more about the Reproductive Justice Movement and connect with organizations leading on these issues, consider:

Ally Karpel is the WRJ-RAC Reproductive Health & Rights Campaign Associate, where she drives strategy around the Reform Movement's reproductive rights advocacy and works to mobilize Reform communities to take action on a local, state, provincial, and federal level. Prior to her current role, Ally was a 2018-2019 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She is a proud member of Temple Emanu-El Dallas, and an alumna of URJ Greene Family CampThis blog was originally published on the RAC's blog.

Published: 12/03/2019

Categories: Our Partnerships, Reform Movement, Our Social Justice, Women's Rights