Reproductive Justice: An Introduction
By: Loretta J. Ross & Rickie Solinger
Esteemed authors and activists, Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger join forces for Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, an impressive and thorough primer on the birth of the movement reproductive justice, and how the history and impact of reproductive oppression are foundational to the U.S. sociopolitical landscape.
Ross is part of the group of Black women to coin the term “reproductive justice” in 1994 and is a founding member of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the pursuit of reproductive justice for the most marginalized identities. Solinger, for her part, holds a Ph.D. in History and has concentrated her work on the politics of reproductive justice, welfare, and incarceration, and their intersections with, race, class, and motherhood. Their combined expertise generates a highly accessible overview, designed for high school and college education, yet is ideal for any individual new to the theory of reproductive justice. The book is the first in a series on reproductive justice, published by the University of California Press which provides a comprehensive history and evaluation of the movement.
Language is critical to the telling of this history and Ross and Solinger commit to a sensitivity and specificity in their use of identifying terminology, to reflect both the past ages in which they reference and the evolved language of the present. In such effort, they define reproductive justice to be a modern foundation for understanding the multiplicity of the reproductive experience and the activism in defense of it, beyond the reductive binary of pro-life vs pro-choice, to underscoring three primary tenets applicable to every human being, “(1) the right not to have a child; (2) the right to have a child; and (3) the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments.” In essence, reproductive justice is a human right for all.
Extending the understanding of reproductive rights beyond abortion, to include a vision for parenthood with access to essential supports, is crucial in challenging the current conversation and organizing efforts surrounding reproductive rights. The unpacking of the concept of “choice” reveals the limitations of policy vs reality: who has access to appropriate medical care, education, and financial resources, to make the choice most personally desired? Underscored throughout the book is the divide in the experience of white women to that of women of color, despite the eventual sharing of the same written rights.
The history presented by Ross and Solinger provides a more nuanced understanding of the current state of public health and the ways that “the history of white supremacy operating in a capitalistic system penetrates and misshapes the present.” In a seemingly endless pandemic, with a government unfazed by the extraordinary loss of life, and in the state of Texas, where the new S.B. 8 Law, which caps legal abortion at six weeks and permits private citizens to enforce the abortion ban, the communities hit hardest are those of people of color, who have been maligned by the healthcare system and society at large for centuries, thus perpetuating a population more vulnerable than their
white counterparts. The thread of these circumstances can be followed back to the beginning of reproductive rights and their widespread impact on modern practices, policies, and beliefs.
Identity is paramount to the history of reproductive justice, as intersectionality cannot be unwoven from both the devastating blows and joyous achievements in the movement. Centered at the movement are women of color, who have suffered the greatest impact and who have fought the hardest for the most inclusive outcomes in policy and ideology. Children born to enslaved women have designated the same status as their mother, in order to grow the enslaved labor force in service of the white supremacist, capitalistic greed, whereas white women were encouraged to reproduce to advance the “superior” white population. Concurrently, the government instituted anti-natalist programs to diminish the Native population. In turn, Black women (along with Puerto Rican, Mexican, and poor white women), would go on to face forced sterilization once their labor could no longer be so explicitly stolen, and their value diminished in the eyes of the white colonizer.
Reproductive Justice expertly illuminates and contextualizes the reproductive history of the U.S. and is essential reading for every person. The impact of this work is urgently relevant as the matter of reproductive justice, is a matter of human rights, which to this day, are not guaranteed.
About the Authors:
Loretta J. Ross is an activist, author, and lecturer, currently residing as an Associate Professor of the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. Here she teaches courses on Reproductive Justice and White Supremacy. Her professional career as an activist began in the in the 1970s, when she was one of the first Black women to direct a rape crisis center. In the ‘80s, Ross founded, Ross created the Women of Color Program for the National Organization for Women (NOW). Ross co-created the theory of Reproductive Justice in 1994 and in 1997, co-founded the nonprofit organization SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Ross holds a B.A. in Women’s Studies from Agnes Scott College and is pursuing her Doctorate in Women’s Studies from Emory University. Her written works include Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundation, Theory, Practice, Critique; Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organizing for Reproductive Justice; and the upcoming release Calling In the Calling Out Culture.
Rickie Solinger is an activist, author, art curator, and historian, holding a Ph.D. in History from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the co-founder of Women United for Justice, Community, and Family, a women’s coalition dedicated to welfare justice in Boulder, Colorado. Solinger curates art installations that correspond to the themes of her books and act as interactive educational experiences. Her written works include The Abortionist: A Woman Against the Law, and Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the United States, and Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade, which won the first Lerner-Scott Award from the Organization of American Historians in 1992.