I consider myself pretty well-informed when it comes to knowledge about sexual and reproductive health. Growing up, I was lucky enough to attend public schools where sex ed beyond “abstinence only” was taught in our health classes, and I was lucky enough to attend a UU church that offered Our Whole Lives (OWL)* to children and youth. However, the discussions and reflections that followed from the first session** of UUCBV’s Reproductive Justice curriculum demonstrated that there is always more for me to learn, and I’m ready for it! One of the first things we discussed was the difference between Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights/Choice, and Reproductive Justice. The first addresses the provision of healthcare research, services, and facilities, while the second addresses the legal right to reproductive health care services through the legislative and electoral system. Reproductive Justice, though, aims to address the social inequities underlying barriers to healthcare and rights through its four main goals: the raising of children in safe and healthy environments, planned and healthy pregnancies, ending or avoidance of unwanted pregnancies, and expression of sexuality. As you can probably tell, Reproductive Justice requires a big-picture look at our society and how its problems are interrelated in complex ways.
During our first session, we played a game that illustrated the concept of Reproductive Justice quite well, in addition to giving me a bit of a history lesson. We were each given an event during the history of reproductive health/rights/justice in the U.S., and our task was to match it with the year in which it occurred. Four years especially stood out to me: 1865, 1976, 1996, and 2010. In 1865, emancipation became enforced throughout the U.S., ending the reproductive oppression that Africans and African Americans underwent during slavery. In 1976, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act gave tribes control over the Indian Health Service, ending the Service’s program of forced sterilization. In 1996, the existing welfare program was replaced with the more restrictive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, reportedly to prevent laziness, single-women-led households, and “genetically inferior” black communities from reproducing too quickly. And lastly, in 2010, the first official national strategy was adopted for combating HIV/AIDS, a sexually-transmitted disease that disproportionately affects marginalized groups and by that point had killed over half a million people. In just these 4 events, I saw how reproductive health, rights, and education intersect with race, socioeconomic class, and sexuality. I also saw how far we’ve progressed, and how far we still have yet to go. This is what Reproductive Justice means to me, and I’m looking forward to Session 2 where we can continue our engaging discussions and build on what we’ve learned so far.