Queering Reproductive Justice

By Dena Robinson

Reproductive Justice, a concept created by black women, specifically by SisterSong, is defined 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.” While indigenous women, women of color, black women, and trans individuals have always fought for reproductive justice, the term itself was not coined until 1994.

Reproductive Justice, is not just about choice or abortion, at its heart, the movement is about access: the right to access comprehensive sex education, the right to access patient-centered care, the right to give birth (or not).

Reproductive Justice (RJ) came about as a movement, framework, and lens because the movements for choice, and even the abortion rights movement, has largely alienated some of the most marginalized groups, including women of color and trans people. Members within the movement recognize the truth that gender identity is separate from heterosexist biological classifications. In other words, the movement recognizes that RJ and reproductive oppression impacts trans bodies, too! Even more, RJ recognizes that we cannot have true reproductive freedom until all of our communities (immigrant, QTPOC, incarcerated, and so many others) are liberated. Which is why the RJ movement encompasses and intersects with other movements like immigrant justice, environmentalism, and prison abolition.

Being queer and/or trans is a form of resistance in itself, as is reproductive justice. Reproductive justice recognizes that we live (and can thrive) in a gendered, racist, white supremacist system ripe with Eurocentric beauty ideals.

Recently, big news came out of the Supreme Court: Justice Kennedy’s retirement from the bench, and the Court’s ruling in NIFLA v. Becerra, a case challenging whether crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which are notoriously known to spread false information to their clients, ought to notify folks of all of their reproductive options, including abortion.

The court ruled in favor of the CPCs.

While Justice Kennedy’s retirement has been called “devastating for LGBTQ rights,” it comes as no surprise. Justice Kennedy has long been hailed as a protector of reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality. He authored the opinions for landmark LGBTQ equality cases such as Romer v. Evans in 1996 (using the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination based on sexual orientation), and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 (a decision overturning Bowers v. Hardwick and striking down Texas’s — and other states’ — ban on sex between gay men or lesbians), United States v. Windsor in 2013 (ending the federal ban on same-sex marriage), and Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 (striking down bans on same-sex marriage). While I cannot dispute the impact Justice Kennedy has had on LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights jurisprudence, he was never really the judge for the Left, at least not in the way we thought.

Kennedy’s retirement begs the question of where we go next — what should our work become when there are seemingly insurmountable barriers at all levels? For me, a liberated future encompasses organizing, collaboration, and an intersectional, anti-racist lens.

Here are some lessons and pathways forward as we continue imagining a liberated future for all of us:

  1. While litigation is critical to engaging in reproductive justice and racial equity work, the courts (and the law) will never, ever save us. It can’t because of its limitations. We must ORGANIZE.
  2. Utilizing a reproductive justice lens simply means recognizing the ways that our society’s traditional conception of “choice” or “access” is exclusive, alienating, transphobic, and heterosexist. In many ways, a reproductive justice lens is closely aligned with utilizing an intersectional lens. And it recognizes that reproductive justice is not just about reproduction, it is about prison abolition, a world without borders and walls, a world free of drug and gang-induced violence. A reproductive justice lens imagines a world where children of color are not eating lead paint off walls, where children of color can go into a school and access the same education that their white peers can. Reproductive Justice imagines a world where all of us are free.
  3. Reproductive Justice is more than abortion access. Queering reproductive justice is about understanding how systems function to oppress individuals. A central aspect of queer theory is thinking about systems outside of heteronormativity. Here, queering reproductive justice is about the recognition that 1) those assigned female at birth are not the only ones who have abortions; and 2) a central aspect of queering reproductive freedom is the ability to live a truly liberated life, free from the oppressive systems of the gender binary, heterosexism, transphobia, and racism.
  4. Learn about the RJ issues that are unique to trans folks, that also intersect other identities, such as migrants.
  5. Familiarize yourself with the services Planned Parenthood provides, as this is an organization that is beginning to reframe its work using a reproductive justice lens.
  6. Incorporate a reproductive justice lens into your own work!
  7. Find out more about local, state, and national legislation that would prevent sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination.

Here are some organizations doing the work of queering RJ well:

  1. Uprise RI
  2. Sistersong – Sistersong is a collective of black women that originally coined the term “reproductive justice.” Check out Loretta Ross, a total badass, who is still centering the impact of reproductive oppression on the lives of black and brown people.
  3. If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice — If/When/How mobilizes and trains the future lawyers of the reproductive justice movement, with an eye towards racial equity and justice. I currently serve as the President of If/When/How’s Board of Directors.
  4. Boulder Women’s Health – Check out their blog on racial justice as reproductive justice. Trigger warning: mention of death and violence.  
  5. The Afiya Center: A Texas based organization that is committed to addressing the reproductive oppression directed towards Black women.
  6. The Lilith Fund: A Texas based organization that assists folks to access abortion by navigating racial and classist obstacles.