In her response to a recent article in the New York Times, Dawn Laguens, writing on behalf of Planned Parenthood, makes an initial gesture at “inclusiveness,” honoring the history and contributions of women of color—individuals and organizations—who moved beyond “choice” and reproductive rights more than 20 years ago to craft a new paradigm: reproductive justice. But Laguens quickly narrows her focus to this point: choice does not capture the difficulties poor women and women of color have when they try to access abortion services.
Laguens’ persistent focus on the association between “choice” and abortion—the origins of this relationship and some of its impacts—expresses a core present-day mission of Planned Parenthood and other choice-driven organizations: to protect the right and the access to legal abortion and contraception currently under vigorous attack. But that focus in no way expresses or honors the vision or the agenda of reproductive justice advocates.
The reproductive justice framework claims that the right to be pregnant and to be a mother is as profoundly important to women’s lives as the right to constrain fertility and avoid being a mother. If women need access to legal abortion and contraception to accomplish the latter, what resources to do they need if they get pregnant, stay pregnant, and become mothers? The reproductive justice framework shows that these women—and their children—require a healthy environment, decent housing, a living wage, access to medical care and child care to live safely and with dignity, as full persons. The reproductive justice framework incorporates the importance of contraception and abortion and also makes a case that goes far beyond these resources.
As the author of the 14-year-old book cited in the column, I would like to ask why Laguens did not choose instead to name any of the scores of reproductive justice organizations or to quote any of the powerful contemporary voices of women of color, such as Loretta Ross, Sujatha Jesudason, or Toni Bond Leonard, who, having developed the reproductive justice framework, have articulated its vision with clarity and integrity, have worked with unstinting commitment and effort to develop allies in all communities for decades now, and whose engagement Planned Parenthood should no longer appear to avoid?
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