By Dr. Morgan Healey, ALRANZ President

I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at ‘That’s What She Said: Intersectional Feminist Day Conference’ hosted by the University of Canterbury Feminist Society in collaboration with NZ Tertiary Women’s Focus Group on feminism and intersectionality. I took the opportunity to position abortion law reform within a wider reproductive justice framework. While reproductive justice came out of the black women/women of color feminist movements in the US, it offers an important critique of pro -choice movements that have historically focused singularly on abortion. In doing so, pro-choice activists have often erased the multiple oppressions that different women and pregnant people experience.

In summary, and to quote Loretta Ross, the National Coordinator of SisterSong Women of Colour Reproductive Health Collective, reproductive justice is:

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.

As part of my talk I used the framework to make connections between current events and reproductive justice. The excerpt below was entitled ‘when race and reproductive intersect’ and is a call to all reproductive activists to acknowledge that bodily autonomy extends to more than just the right to an abortion: it requires challenging racial injustices which position certain raced bodies in unsafe and unequal power relationships.

Many of you will likely be aware of the protests happenings in Ferguson, Missouri in the US, where an unarmed black 18 year old, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by the police. His death is not uncommon: it is estimated that ten black people, mostly men, are shot per week in the US by the police, or another statistic that stated that a black person is killed by the police every 28 hours. In a recent article from the US media outlet, Slate, it was noted that St. Louis has a long history of racial segregation. This persistent inequality and marginalization is exacerbating the current protests, with large crowds taking to the streets to express their outrage at the ubiquity of such incidences.

In the Slate piece, the author talked to several young men taking part in the protests, and they explained that on average they are stopped by the police for nothing more than walking down the street ‘while black’ sometimes 10 times a month or once a week. And this level of racial profiling isn’t unique to Ferguson. Urban segregation is said to be increasing in cities across the US caused by the growth of social and economic inequality post -global financial crisis.

But what does racial segregation have to do with reproductive justice? Quite a bit. As multiple media sites have reported – Colorlines, MS, the Huffington Post and RH Reality Check – the ability of women of colour to be able to have and raise children safely and free from violence is paramount to the concept of justice. These are necessary and important connections to make. Racism and racial inequality play a huge role in the reproductive decisions many women make.

Specifically, would-be-parents have to consider their children’s daily safety, wondering if their children will be stopped by the police for nothing more than ‘walking or driving while black’. These are serious concerns that no parent should have to face, and ones that is essential in not only understanding women’s reproductive decision-making and options for parenting but also the importance of reproductive activists advocating for racial equality.

For more on reproductive justice and the articles mentioned above check out:

Prochoice Public Education project


Colorlines: Black Feminists Respond to Ferguson by Miriam Ziola Perez

MS: Black youth in the Crosshairs  by Anita Little

RH Reality Check: What is a woman’s issue? Women of color challenge the prevailing narrative by Emma Akpan

Huffington Post: What Does the Crisis in Ferguson Have to Do With Reproductive Justice? by Terry O’Neill, Nat President of NOW

Slate: Why the Fires in Ferguson Won’t End Soon by Jamelle Bouie