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What Is Reproductive Justice?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on June 03, 2022

You’ve heard about reproductive rights, but what about reproductive justice? It combines “reproductive rights” with “social justice.” Reproductive justice says that you have a right to:

  • Control your own body
  • Choose to have children
  • Choose not to have children
  • Choose how you’ll have children
  • Take care of your children in a healthy and safe community

Where Did This Concept Come From?

Black women activists came up with the name “reproductive justice” and developed its framework in 1994. They felt they weren’t included in the reproductive rights movement, and their goal was to offer a broader view of reproductive freedom. For example, while birth control might be legal and there are places where you can get it, access to it isn’t the same for everyone.

Women in marginalized groups because of race, socioeconomic, or other factors may have a harder time getting effective birth control in any form. So, it’s harder for them than it is for others to control if and when they have children. These differences in access create restrictions of reproductive freedoms.

Those barriers can happen no matter what the laws say. They can also happen in different ways – and it’s not just about the right to delay having kids. Women in marginalized communities are also sometimes coerced into taking birth control, or pressured to have procedures that keep them from having children they want. This is not reproductive freedom and justice.

Reproductive Rights vs. Reproductive Justice

Reproductive justice includes reproductive rights. But it’s a more expansive and holistic way to think about what this means.

Reproductive rights focus on ensuring reproductive freedom based on laws, or what’s legal. They’ve focused primarily on “pro-life” versus “pro-choice.” They also include the right to sex education and family planning, including birth control.

Reproductive justice, on the other hand, is a mission that came about when people realized legal rights don’t mean everyone has equal access or choices. Despite what laws say, many people face barriers to reproductive health care, and to the right to make choices about having kids. This may be due to a lack of health insurance, safety, and/or other factors.

So reproductive justice draws attention to many factors that influence a person’s ability to make choices about having children and caring for them, including:

  • Economics
  • Social status
  • Gender
  • Race and racism
  • Environment

Where Do Reproductive Justice Issues Come Up?

Reproductive justice might not sound familiar to you. But you might see it talked about in the news. For example, leaders in reproductive justice recently talked to policymakers in Washington about the ways that some states make it harder for people to get reproductive health care. This is an issue of reproductive rights that could affect reproductive justice. That’s because laws that make reproductive health care harder to access are more limiting for those who lack resources.

While the reproductive justice movement began in the Black community, it’s important in other populations and situations, too. For example:

  • One study looked at the effects of immigration law enforcement on reproductive justice. Researchers used existing data on a Latin American community in Michigan. They wanted to see if a raid in the community made women change their plans to have children. They found that it did. After the raid, women were more likely to want to delay having children. The study shows that events that lead people to feel fearful or uncertain about the future can discourage them from having children when they’d otherwise want to. In this way, these are reproductive justice issues.
  • Another review explored reproductive justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. It looked at how the pandemic has affected access to reproductive health care, including birth control. It found in 24 studies that quarantines and social distancing measures did make reproductive care harder to access.
  • People with disabilities also may face more barriers in accessing reproductive health care or the ability to make choices about their bodies. One study found that more women with disabilities have had procedures that made them unable to have kids. They’re also less likely to use birth control methods that last a long time but can be removed. They suggest these differences may reflect discriminatory attitudes and policies toward people with disabilities having kids.
  • Reproductive justice also is relevant to how doctors counsel young people about birth control. It’s common for doctors to suggest contraception for all adolescents. But these recommendations may not always take into account the priorities and wishes of young people about their own bodies.
  • A reproductive justice framework also applies to reproductive technologies that help people get pregnant and have kids when they otherwise couldn’t. Such assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are costly and easier to access for people with resources than people without. They also may be less accessible to people in the LGBTQ community.
  • Climate change also can be a reproductive justice issue. For instance, studies show that rising temperatures may lead more babies to be born too soon, which may have health effects for both mother and baby. Worry about climate change also is leading more young people to say that they aren’t sure they should have kids.

So you can see that the concept of reproductive justice is a lot broader than reproductive health or rights. It applies to any area that affects the ability of individuals to make decisions about having children (or not) and raising them in a healthy way. Overall, the aim of the reproductive justice movement is to bring together many groups around various issues that empower people to make their own choices about having and caring for children.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

JAMA Pediatrics: “The Need for Reproductive Justice in Pediatrics.”

Social and Personality Psychology Compass: “Reproductive justice: A radical framework for researching sexual and reproductive issues in psychology.”

Harvard Law: “Reproductive Rights vs. Reproductive Justice: Why the Difference Matters in Bioethics.”

Whitehouse.gov: “Readout of White House Meeting with Reproductive Justice Leaders.”

PLoS One: “‘I’m going to look for you and take your kids’: Reproductive justice in the context of immigration enforcement.”

Reproductive Health: “Reproductive justice in the time of COVID-19: a systematic review of the indirect impacts of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health.”

Contraception: “Looking back while moving forward: a justice-based, intersectional approach to research on contraception and disability.”

Reproductive Health: “Queering reproductive access: reproductive justice in assisted reproductive technologies.”

Nature Climate Change: “Queering reproductive access: reproductive justice in assisted reproductive technologies.”

American Journal of Epidemiology: “High ambient temperature and the risk of preterm delivery.”

AMA Journal of Ethics: “What Are Risks and Benefits of Not Incorporating Information about Population Growth and Its Impact on Climate Change into Reproductive Care?”

NYC Health: “Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice: How Do They Compare?”

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