Speaking of Women's Rights: What’s Reproductive Justice got to do with it?

Monday, December 12, 2011

What’s Reproductive Justice got to do with it?

Although I may be close to aging out of the “young person” demographic, I have a visceral response when I hear comments such as “feminism is not an issue for today’s young women” or the suggestion that there is a dearth of young reproductive rights activists since “women today don’t care about abortion or know what it means for equality.” We may not be burning bras (did this even happen?) or growing our armpit hair (well, maybe some of us still are), but today’s feminists and reproductive rights activists -including women, men and gender non-conforming individuals- are not apathetic, we are here and we are asking for a lot more than “choice” and equality.

I am sure of this, as I am part of an amazing organization, Law Students for Reproductive Justice. LSRJ is the country’s only student-led national nonprofit that is training and organizing future legal and policy advocates to be committed to ensuring that all people can exercise the rights and access the resources they need to thrive and decide whether, when, and how to have and parent children with dignity, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

With its presence on 100 campuses, including some that are in very ideologically conservative states, LSRJ has provided a forum for students to learn how they as lawyers can be part of the Reproductive Justice (RJ) movement. RJ is a framework, created by women of color leadership that expands traditional notions of reproductive rights (typically centered on abortion and birth control), and takes into account the ways that race, class, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender expression, immigration status, and ability impact access, agency and autonomy in shaping ones reproductive destiny. Or put more simply, what does having the right to abortion or birth control mean if you cannot exercise that right due to poverty, immigration status, or disability? Or, what if you just want the right to have and parent children in a safe and supported way?

The legal community has labeled reproductive rights and justice as an illegitimate field of study and not a worthwhile area of practice. This is troublesome when we see no end to decades of regressive policy making, judicial interpretation, and court stacking that some call an all-out war on women and reproductive health. In response, LSRJ has guided 23 victorious campaigns for new reproductive rights and justice law courses, clinics, and reading groups. LSRJ has distributed over 35,000 electronic and print publications, including the Constitutional Law Primer and the recent release of the second edition of the Human Rights Law Primer. What I am most proud of is LSRJ’s Reproductive Justice Fellowship, which has created entry points for recent law graduates in the field of reproductive health, rights and justice.

Thanks to organizations such as LSRJ, today’s feminists and reproductive rights activists are given tools to resist the criminalization of mothers and separation of families due to poor child welfare laws and racist immigration policies; the elimination of a basic safety net for our poorest people, including people with disabilities and mental health problems; the reductions in basic health care; the reduced funding for abortion and birth control; and the lack of comprehensive sex-education for our youth. We are advocating for real equality strategies for gender non-conforming people, not Hate Crimes bills that do little to prevent violence against our communities, and instead provide more resources for criminal punishment systems that have been the perpetrators of violence against our communities. We may not have symbolic images like bra burnings for our generation, but we are mobilizing to reduce structural inequalities to help make reproductive rights a reality in all people’s lives.