Reproductive Justice and the Policing of Black Bodies

Categories: health
05/23/2018

Deep in our family photo album is a picture of my mother holding me. Her slender arms are wrapped around my small body and there’s a slight smirk on her face. After learning about the history of the policing of black women’s bodies in America and how giving birth in this state for a black women is a feat and accomplishment; I was reminded in this photo that I am grateful that my mother is here and healthy because some don’t have that privilege.

Black women are 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy complications than their white counterparts and have higher rates of complications during pregnancy. These numbers persist due to implicit bias embedded in the medical system that disregards black women’s concerns, lack of access to resources such as health care and systematic racism that leads to weathering. Even more so, our reproductive freedoms are constantly being breached by these forces.

I am saddened and angered that the Trump administration has proposed to implement the ‘ Global Gag Rule,” ultimately depriving women of color and low income women in this country with reproductive health care that has under Title X been readily available to them for years. This law will further increase the disparities for black and low income women to adequately provide for their bodies via birth control options, adequate cancer screenings and family planning. This rule will further put these already vulnerable groups at risk for more health complications. Furthermore, coupled with cuts in entitlement programs such as WIC, our political culture continues to perpetuate this idea that motherhood is a class privilege, reserved for women with enough funds to provide their kids, while simultaneously eroding the very democratic notion of freedom of choice.

Despite the history of devaluing women’s choices, improving quality healthcare can be achieved through policies using a reproductive justice framework. Coined by black feminists in a 1994 pro-choice rally, “reproductive justice” has created an ideology that advocates for the right to have a child, the right to not have a child, the right to control our birthing options, the right to control our sexual partners and the right to raise their children, in safe and healthy environments. Reproductive justice also incorporates the environments and state of childbirth for black and low income women which have so often been wrought with neglect. Through this lens, reproductive and women advocates can implement programs and policies that can address and fight issues that instigate breaches on our freedom to do what we please with our bodies.

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Nadia McKinney is a recent graduate from Cornell University. She majored in Biology and minored in Anthropology. While in college Nadia was an advocate for educational equality for under-served communities, women’s rights and health equity. Currently, she conducts clinical research on HPV and sexual histories. She is passionate about empowering women to love themselves fully despite societal notions that constantly shape who they should be. In the future, she hopes to create policies that will improve maternal health for women of color.