What Is Reproductive Justice?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on August 04, 2022
5 min read

You’ve heard about reproductive rights, but what about reproductive justice? It combines “reproductive rights” with “social justice.” Reproductive justice includes all human beings. It 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


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.

People in marginalized groups because of race, social and economic factors, or other reasons may have a harder time getting effective birth control in any form. So, it may be harder for them than it is for others to control if and when they have children.

These differences in access restrict 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.

Those 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 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.”

For example, The Supreme Court of the United States took away the constitutional right to legal and safe abortion with the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June 2022. That’s an issue of reproductive rights. But it’s also about reproductive justice. 

Reproductive justice also includes the right to sex education and family planning, including birth control. It’s a mission that came about when people realized legal rights don’t mean everyone has equal access or choices. 

Many people face barriers to reproductive health care and to the right to make choices about having kids. This may be due to federal or state laws, or other regulations. It also might be due to lack of health insurance, safety, and/or other things.

So reproductive justice draws attention to many things that affect a person’s ability to make choices about having children and caring for them. Among these are:

  • LGBTQ stigma, bias, and system inequalities 
  • Economics
  • Social status
  • Gender
  • Race and racism
  • Environment


Reproductive justice might not sound familiar to you. But you might see it talked about in the news.

For example, the Dobbs ruling removed the federal right to abortion and leaves it to individual states to regulate access to it. This is an issue of reproductive rights that could affect reproductive justice. 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:

  • More than half of all states are expected to prohibit or restrict access to abortion as effects of the Dobbs decision unfold. Currently, some states ban abortion regardless of circumstance, others allow it in some cases, and some protect your right to abortion access. Lower-income people and women of color in states that ban abortion will be impacted most. Experts agree they’re more likely to have health, social, and economic consequences when abortion is not legal and safe. In doing this, the Dobbs decision helps drive the sexism and racism that research has shown happens when reproductive rights and services are denied.
  • 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.