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Abortion Matters to Reproductive Justice

by Leila Hessini, Lonna Hays, Emily Turner, and Sarah PackerIPAS

Abortion Matters to Reproductive Justice

By Leila Hessini, Lonna Hays, Emily Turner, and Sarah Packer, IPAS


Reproductive justice includes the right of all women to safe and voluntary contraception; to become pregnant, carry, and bear children in a context free of violence and environmental toxins; and to affordable and non-judgmental abortion services. Many women, however, do not have the option to protect themselves against an unwanted pregnancy, to continue an unintended but wanted pregnancy, or to have a safe abortion. Despite Roe v. Wade's significance, the "right" to abortion means little to those whose options are already restricted by race, gender, sexuality, age, ability, or income. Traditionally, the issue of abortion has been isolated by the stigma attached to it. Nevertheless, abortion is a common part of the sexual and reproductive lives of most women, and its inclusion in the reproductive justice movement is essential in the pursuit of equality and justice.


Concrete examples illustrate why abortion is essential to achieving reproductive justice: Looking at abortion in the context of women's lives and articulating how it is inextricably linked to all facets of the reproductive justice movement can help de-stigmatize this very common, yet controversial, issue and foster its inclusion in other areas of social justice work.

These examples are not exclusive of each other and often combinations of factors play a role in a woman's reproductive oppression:

Abortion is a matter of…

·Racial inequity: When a Native American woman is denied coverage for an abortion because her health care is federally funded and is therefore subject to federal restrictions.

·Economic justice: When a woman discovers that abortion is not covered by her insurance policy. Most women seeking services (74%) pay an average of $468 out of pocket for a first-trimester abortion.

·Youth issues: When a pregnant teenager asks her boyfriend to beat her until she miscarries because she is subject to parental notification laws and feels she cannot involve her parents.

·Violence: When a woman is coerced into an abortion by her abusive husband or partner. Pregnant women in general are most likely to experience domestic violence. The leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide.

·Religious intolerance: When a woman with a dangerous ectopic pregnancy is refused treatment in a Catholic hospital because her life-saving surgery would be considered an abortion.

·Immigrants' rights: When an immigrant woman's language barriers and lack of access to health services cause her to resort to an illegal, unsafe abortion.

·Rights for people withdisabilities: When women in the U.S. with schizophrenia have less access to abortion through federal programs, such as Medicaid, and have higher rates of unintended pregnancy than women without mental illness.

·Imperialism: When U.S. foreign aid policies deny abortion care and referrals to women in developing countries who face the highest risks of dying during childbirth, and lead to the closure of clinics that once provided well-baby care, immunizations, and other comprehensive health services that actually reduce the need for abortions

…And all of these issues are matters of reproductive justice.

As the reproductive justice framework teaches us, these injustices cannot be divided. We may not be able to work on every issue, but we can ask ourselves: How does my work support or undermine the work of others in this movement? Although abortion can be a difficult and controversial topic, its inclusion in activism and advocacy is critical to the holistic vision of reproductive freedom and justice.

Suggested Actions

  • Volunteer as an advocate for women seeking abortion, or start an abortion fund to help low-income women afford services.
  • Ask your healthcare provider and health center about the services they provide. Find out if your provider considers him or herself LGBT-friendly or provides contraceptives and abortion services.
  • Educate your friends, family and peers about the importance of access to safe, affordable abortion.

Suggested Readings

  • Undivided Rights, Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena Gutierrez
  • Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement, Jennifer Nelson
  • Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America, Rickie Solinger
  • Killing the Black Body, Dorothy Roberts

Additional Resources

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Reproductive Justice Issues

What is Reproductive Justice?
Reproductive Justice in Our Communities
Parenting and Giving Birth
Abortion and Birth Control
Sex Education
Access to Reproductive Health Care
Reproductive Technologies
Spirituality and Reproductive Justice
Sexual Health, Anatomy, and STD's