“Black women, girls, and gender-expansive people are dynamic leaders in every part of this country.”In a time when reproductive rights are under threat and being actively eroded in the United States—and when Black people simultaneously face a landscape of unequal and inequitable access to healthcare—what does an agenda centered around Black reproductive justice look like?
A new report from In Our Own Voice, the 2023 National Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda, seeks to answer that question.
The Two Truths of Reproductive Justice
In the expansive report written by Regina Davis Moss, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice; Toni M. Bond, cofounder, president, and CEO of Interfaith Voices for Reproductive Justice; and Dazon Dixon Diallo, founder and president of SisterLove, Inc., the authors offer up an “innovative, proactive policy agenda” in collaboration with over 50 Black women’s organizations and advocates to support Black reproductive justice. The authors write:
Black women, girls, and gender-expansive people are dynamic leaders in every part of this country; they are often the backbone of our families, our movements, our economy, our democracy. They rise up in moments of crisis, organize, and pave the way towards racial, gender, and Reproductive Justice.
But, say the authors, “Two truths can exist.”
At the very same time, Black women, girls, and gender-expansive people face continued and perpetual state, local, and federal attacks on their civil and human rights….Since the [Supreme Court’s Dobbs] decision, bodily autonomy has continued to be under attack….This new landscape is volatile, untenable, and disastrous to Black women, girls, and gender-expansive people (2).
The threats to Black women and girls are many, say the authors. However, they hold onto the belief that “our path forward hinges on an unwavering commitment to Reproductive Justice.” The authors go on to state:
We need to employ a collective framework grounded in human rights and Black Feminist theory. One that centers the intersectional impact of race and gender in the ability to live free from oppression, and appreciates the interconnectedness of identity and issues. An approach that makes clear that we can’t leave any piece behind: not the right to health care, to dignified birth, or to access abortion; not equity in housing or education; not fair employment or school discipline practices; not clean water or lead-free schools; not any of the social, economic, political, or cultural supports needed for Black families to thrive (3).
Reproductive Justice as a Human Right
The new report incorporates four “human rights values” that inform its analysis and recommendations. Rooted in a human rights framework and Black feminist theory, they are:
- The right not to have a child
- The right to have a child
- The right to social and economic support to parent the child(ren) one already has, free from various forms of violence
- The right to sexual expression and sexual pleasure
These four values also dictate the “obligations of governments and society” to ensure those rights are realizable for individuals.
“Black birthing people have unacceptably poor outcomes in the US.”The report also lays out some two dozen distinct areas of focus, divided among health equity, care and access, social justice, community justice, and safety; and it spells out recommendations on each front. Individual policy areas and accompanying recommendations are too numerous to list in this article, but the full report and executive summary are available to the public.
Overall, the report prescribes an agenda of Black reproductive health that radically challenges the status quo and originates from sobering critiques of what that status quo means for Black women and girls.
Under “Maternal Health and Pregnancy Care,” the report calls for, among other things, the establishment of a Federal Office of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Wellbeing, increasing funding for doulas and midwifery, funding for better epidemiology to study morbidity and mortality across the United States, requiring states to extend postpartum care to a minimum of one year, and the implementation of universal incomes for low-income pregnant people.
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The report states:
Reproductive Justice can only be achieved when Black women, girls, and gender-expansive individuals can experience pregnancy and childbirth without endangering our lives. Yet, Black birthing people have unacceptably poor outcomes in the US—including staggering rates of death related to pregnancy and childbirth (9).
The report also calls for measures toward reproductive justice to be extended to incarcerated women, who are already at increased risk of poor maternal health. For Black incarcerated women, maternal health outcomes are particularly dire.
On access to abortion care, arguably the agenda’s most resonant issue in present times, the report makes a half-dozen recommendations, including passing a series of abortion access bills currently in Congress; ending cost-sharing for abortion care services; and eliminating funding for “crisis pregnancy centers,” usually run by groups with a religiously informed antagonism toward abortion access.
Social Justice Is Reproductive Justice
The agenda doesn’t stop at what might be considered more conventional areas of reproductive justice but contains numerous additional recommendations around social justice, community justice, and safety—dimensions of Black health and wellness that aren’t often considered in the same space as traditional reproductive justice issues:
For Reproductive Justice to be fully realized, all members of our society—particularly Black women, girls, and gender-expansive individuals—must have equal access to…equitable access to resources, protections and opportunities that foster autonomy, liberty, and wellbeing that allow Black women, girls, and gender-expansive individuals to reach our full potential (12).
The issues considered here range from voting rights to police violence and gender-based violence, economic justice, education justice, LGBTQIA+ liberation, environmental justice, food justice, housing justice, immigrant justice, elder justice, disability justice, and justice for sex workers—each topic again carrying recommendations for governmental and societal action.
Progress has often been halting, if not stalled altogether.
These many threads all come together under one unifying theme of advocating for the safety of Black women and policies that create the conditions needed to thrive. “Safety requires that Black women, girls and gender-expansive individuals are free from community-based dangers that impair our ability to create and raise our families,” the report states (16).
As an update to the 2021 Policy Agenda, this 2023 agenda encompasses an acknowledgment that progress has often been halting, if not stalled altogether, on the many reproductive justice fronts that the agenda seeks to advance.
The document acknowledges its expansive list is likely to grow. As reproductive justice advocates continue to push for safe, equitable spaces for Black women, girls, and gender-expansive individuals, the Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda will evolve to meet the moment.
“We will continue to expand the list of issues and policy solutions that are needed to actualize complete liberation in our lives. We offer this policy agenda and the accompanying solutions as starting points so that policymakers can work with our communities to make Reproductive Justice a full reality” (19).
While this report highlights policies that are widely expansive and adaptable, articulating and presenting them is just a start. The next, more difficult step would be implementing these policies in a meaningful way that benefits those groups and individuals that reproductive justice advocates aim to uplift.