Reproductive Justice: Creating Change in the greater Cincinnati area

By Danielle Bessett
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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.

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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!

Reproductive Justice: Creating Change in the greater Cincinnati area
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