Who Gets the Right to Choose? Reproductive Justice Is a Race Issue

Who Gets the Right to Choose? Reproductive Justice Is a Race Issue

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Reproductive rights are essential to the safety and wellbeing of all women. However, the specific reproductive issues faced by women of color are often left out of the mainstream reproductive rights movement.

End Forced Sterilization
Photo by End Forced Sterilization on Flickr.

Along with economic inequality and domestic violence, reproductive rights are one of the central issues of the women’s rights movement. The ability to decide when, if and how a woman gives birth is essential to her bodily autonomy and financial independence. But although this is often thought of as solely a women’s rights issue, it is a race issue as well.

Women of color are uniquely impacted by reproductive justice issues. Although all women are affected by policies and practices surrounding reproductive health, women of color have been disproportionately targeted by state-sanctioned reproductive violence such as forced sterilization.

Forced sterilization may seem like an antiquated practice, but the United States government has used these procedures to target communities of color as recently as a few decades ago. Between 1929 and 1974, 3,040 people of color (mostly black women) were forcibly sterilized in North Carolina alone. The law that allowed involuntary sterilization was not repealed until 2003.

Additionally, in a study conducted in 1968, Puerto Rican demographer Dr. Iose Vasquez Calzada found that a shocking 35.5% of all Puerto Rican women between the ages of 20 and 49 had been sterilized. The majority of these sterilizations took place without the freely-given consent of the women, who were almost all poor and working-class. The mass sterilization of low-income Puerto Rican women was an initiative funded by the US government to “catalyze economic growth” by reducing the number of children born into poor families.

Even though these violent and dehumanizing practices are no longer in place, the struggles of women of color today are still inextricably linked to the reproductive justice movement. In a compelling article by Katherine Cross titled “The Price of Our Blood: Why Ferguson Is a Reproductive Justice Issue,” Cross writes that violence (both institutional and individual) against black people is so widespread that many black women are hesitant or unwilling to have children in a world where they will be discriminated against, attacked, or even killed without consequence.

Cross argues, “Put another way, there can be no reproductive justice for all until the state-sanctioned murder of Black youth in this country is addressed.”

Reproductive justice is a crucial issue for all women, but advocates and activists need to be aware that certain populations of women experience this issue in different ways. In a world where homicide is the number one killer of Black boys and men ages 15 to 34, in a world where over 1,000 Native American women have been murdered or have disappeared since 2012, in a world where Latina women are demonized for having children out of a racist fear of “anchor babies,” it is essential to see racism as a facet of reproductive justice. Women of color are being denied the right to raise families in safety and stability, and that is a reproductive justice issue.

Strengthening the economic wellbeing of women and families is the mission of the Women’s Foundation of California. That is why the WFC is seeking to support the reproductive justice movement in California by offering one-year grants of up to $40,000 to organizations that are promoting reproductive rights in their communities, especially organizations that focus on women of color, low-income women, LGBTI women, women with disabilities, women who are formerly or currently incarcerated or immigrant women.

Learn about the WFC’s Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice Fund and apply here.

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