The History of Reproductive Justice

February is Black History Month, a month dedicated to recognizing and acknowledging the contributions of Black Americans throughout our history and celebrating the impact the Black community has had and continues to have on making our world better and more beautiful. While it's important to uplift Black stories and history throughout the year, TeenSource is taking this opportunity to talk about how Black activists and leaders have been at the forefront of framing and advancing reproductive justice for more than two decades.

History of the Reproductive Justice (RJ) Movement

In 1994, a group of Black women found themselves at an international conference on Population and Development in Cairo, but noticed that the discussions around reproductive rights did not take into account the unique needs of women of color, marginalized women and trans people. They decided to form a movement, coining the term Reproductive Justice (RJ) to address these needs, and eventually formed an organization now known as SisterSong.

What is Reproductive Justice?

  • Reproductive Justice is a framework based on the idea that it is a human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.
  • Unlike the general "reproductive rights" movement, the RJ movement focuses on ACCESS, not choice. Even when abortion + other reproductive health services are legal, many women of color cannot access those rights due to cost, transportation challenges, and other barriers. These issues can be even more complicated for teens. RJ believes that there is no choice where there is no access.
  • RJ is not focused only on the right and ability to access abortion — it equally highlights the right to have children and raise them in a healthy environment. Bodily autonomy, meaning the right to choose what to do with your own body, goes both ways.
  • The RJ movement addresses more than reproductive heath services alone — it also focuses on the systems that allow Black Indigenous and People of Color to better access services, such as adequate health care, housing, immigrant rights, food security freedom of sexual and gender expression, and environments free of violence. 
  • The RJ framework reminds us that EVERYONE deserves to make their own choices when it comes to things like if or what type of birth control to use and if or when they want to parent a child, this includes teens who should not be encouraged by doctors or health care providers to make specific choices based on their age.

How can we help advance Reproductive Justice?

  • Center the voices and experiences of Black women, youth, and people of color.
  • Analyze power systems and change policy that impacts the lives and wellbeing of BIPOC women and their families.
  • Address issues of intersectionality — we must look at all the barriers to equity and well-being for BIPOC, instead of looking at reproductive health as a separate issue. Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.

Learn more + spread the word!

You can learn more by checking out the websites and social media accounts of Black-led RJ organizations, sharing resources, and incorporating RJ ideas into your larger understanding of sexual and reproductive health access.

Here are some places to start:

SisterSong (WebsiteTwitter, Instagram)

Black Women For Wellness (WebsiteTwitter, Instagram)

In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda (WebsiteTwitter, Instagram)

California Black Women's Health Project (Website, Twitter, Instagram)