Reproductive Justice is more than just Birth Control and Abortion

Reproductive Justice is more than just Birth Control and Abortion

By Mary Siskaninetz ’19

Sociology 2099, a course on Reproductive Justice, has been the most life changing class in my college career so far. It made me realize that I do not just have to sit by the sidelines on issues about women’s rights and reproductive justice. This class was specifically important to me because it made me rethink my whole career. I never thought of pursuing or looking up a job in reproductive health. Now, I am considering changing majors in order to be qualified to do reproductive justice work.

I think everyone should take this class. Not only to educate people on reproductive justice issues, but to eliminate wrong and shameful misinformation that circulates American media and culture. Environmental, racial, socio-economic issues can all play into how you receive healthcare.

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Reproductive Justice: Creating Change in the greater Cincinnati area

Reproductive Justice: Creating Change in the greater Cincinnati area

By Danielle Bessett

Picture of women of different races

Photo courtesy of

What is “reproductive justice”?

The word “reproduction” might conjure ideas about medicine and health care services, especially the ways we care for pregnancy and birth in the U.S. “Justice,” on the other hand, often evokes legality and smacks of legal battles, especially the contentious struggles over abortion nationally and right here in Ohio. These two frameworks – commonly referred to as “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights,” respectively – are critically important to insuring the autonomy, equality, health, and well-being of women and their families, but we can’t achieve reproductive justice by focusing just on medicine or the law or adding the two together. Reproductive justice is both complementary to these two frameworks and broader than them.

Women dancing artwork

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Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (now Forward Together) defines reproductive justice as “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” Perhaps it is no surprise that Black women (through the organization SisterSong) originated this term, since they and other women of color have long been devalued as mothers and disproportionately subjected to involuntary sterilization, interference with their parenting, and other challenges that have led them to prioritize not only the right to abortion, but also the rights to have children and to parent them.

UC Honors Class Researches Inclusive Social Movement Practices

Drawing from their experiences, Loretta Ross insists that a truly inclusive movement must reflect the fundamental tenet that “a woman’s societal institutions, environment, economics and culture affect her reproductive life.” Legal rights and appropriate, respectful health care are necessary, but so too are efforts to address poverty, racism, environmental degradation, militarism, and other oppressions.

Our class (Sociology 2099) is taking this mandate seriously this fall. We are:

  • learning about infant and maternal mortality, both nationally and here in Cincinnati.
  • discussing the public debates about birth, abortion, and surrogacy, as well as the facts and perspectives that are sometimes occluded in those debates.
  • studying both past reproductive injustices and recent social movements’ successes in our efforts to identify lessons for the future.

Service Learning with Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission

Across all of these topics, we will pay particular attention to issues of inequality: Whose parenting is valued and whose is not? Whose mothering is encouraged and supported and whose is not? Whose children flourish and whose cannot? And we won’t do it alone. We will be joined by expert guest speakers, many of whom are working to improve reproductive conditions in the greater Cincinnati area.

We are also delighted to partner with Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission (NKCAC) for service learning this fall. Service learning helps us to understand these issues from a slightly different perspective, and it also allows us to be part of the solution. It also helps us engage holistically, as the reproductive justice framework requires: NKCAC fights poverty by providing a range of services that support individuals and families and helping them gain skills and independence.

I can’t wait to see what this fall holds for us, not least because this course is for the first time part of the UC Honors program. From time to time, students will post blogs from our class, reporting on the work we are doing. I hope you will follow our journey!

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Ferguson, Baltimore and Cincinnati

Ferguson, Baltimore and Cincinnati

By Earl Wright II

On Tuesday, October 4, I will participate on a panel discussion on the implications of the Department of Justice reports on Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland titled, “DOJ Reports on Policing in Ferguson and Baltimore: What They Mean for Cincinnati and the Country.” During the few minutes I have to talk I will focus on two matters:

  • connecting the findings of the recent DOJ reports to an American history of policing that dates back to this nation’s years of reconstruction
  • advising the leadership in Cincinnati to use the findings from the DOJ reports proactively to provide leadership on issues of policing and, more importantly, to learn from the mistakes of police militarization as the trial of Ray Tensing nears and the decision on his guilt or innocence lay in the balance.

Black Codes

The Black CodesIn 1903 sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about the shadow slavery program that followed the ‘peculiar institution.’ During these years “Black Codes,” de jure and de facto laws severely governing the lives and freedoms of Black Americans, were established. Examples of punishable offenses include the gathering of two or more Blacks in a public area, and being unemployed. Having little to no protection under the law, thousands of men and women were unjustly jailed, some for simply not being gainfully employed. Their labor was literally sold to the highest bidder in the region. The successful bidder (i.e., plantation owner) then legally controlled the (slave) labor of the persons whom he purchased from local officials. This was practiced during the early twentieth century.

What say we today?

This practice is still in play today. One can look at laws connected to the American drug war that has led to a supply of able bodied persons whose ‘talents’ have been and continue to be utilized in private and government prisons for the production of various products at minimal expenditures. As it relates to Ferguson, Missouri, government officials purposely used the criminal justice system to extract monies from its primarily Black citizens to supplement the local budget.

The targeting of Blacks in this manner is eerily similar to that of years past. This gives one pause to raise the question, “How far removed from the reconstruction era are we?”

Militarized Use of Force

Ferguson shootingIn Ferguson and Baltimore the world witnessed how the militarization of an institution sworn to “serve and protect” the members of its community engaged in militaristic tactics designed for combat against enemies of this nation and in locations far from our borders. The militarized use of force against the members of ones community should not occur, unless the force employed against the policing community are also militarized. Notwithstanding the latter, the military rule over American communities must not be allowed.

What has the city of Cincinnati learned?

As the city of Cincinnati prepares for the trial of the University of Cincinnati police officer charged with killing Samuel DuBose one must ask the question, “what has the city of Cincinnati learned from the tactics of community engagement observed in other cities?” One can only hope that the powers that be in this city and region have carefully and clearheadedly examined the best practices in community engagement and policing. For if they have not then the name Cincinnati may, again, be added to the string of other cities whose citizens expressed displeasure with their treatment via the criminal justice system in ways that some may deem unpleasant. In order to prevent such unfortunate situations some of us at the University of Cincinnati are participating in a unit, The Cincinnati Project, that may serve as an intermediary between residents and the policing community.

The Cincinnati Project Serves as a Bridge

The Cincinnati Project (TCP) was established in 2014 to serve as a bridge between community stakeholders and institutional units at the University of Cincinnati such that those relationships can be (re)established and/or improved. The primary goal of TCP is to offer the skills and talents of members of the university community to the larger Cincinnati community whereby specific research needs of grassroots members of the community can be met. Moreover, TCP engages with community stakeholders as equal partners, not as a body of scholars single-mindedly focused on exploiting members of the community for our personal gain. However, as it relates to matters of social justice broadly and this panel discussion specifically, the goal of TCP is to serve as an intermediary whose efforts are useful in the maintenance of a prosperous and forward moving Queen City.

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