Reproductive Justice probably isn’t what you think it is

 

Office of Public Witness webinar takes a deep dive into often misunderstood movement

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, shown speaking to the Presbyterian delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March, lead a webinar on Reproductive Justice Tuesday. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — Before she told the audience what Reproductive Justice is, the Rev. Shanea D. Leonard had to say what it isn’t.

“Most people think that it’s all about abortion, but it’s not,” Leonard said at the top of a Tuesday afternoon webinar, presented by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness (OPW) in Washington, D.C. “It’s so much more than that, but it’s inclusive of that as well.

“It is your ability to control your body, your life, and how you want to live out your reproductive choices.”

The webinar was prompted by several recent state laws enacted to limit or eliminate access to abortion, but as Leonard and moderator Christian Brooks of OPW noted, have also limited access to information, contraception and reproductive healthcare.

In the short online session Leonard, the associate for racial and gender justice for the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, explained the history of the Reproductive Justice movement and went over PC(USA) policy related to reproductive rights.

“Reproductive Justice is a movement created by black women and led by women of color,” a slide in Leonard’s PowerPoint presentation explained, “a theory of reproductive freedom for all people and an everyday way of life that affirms the multiplicity of our identities.”

Leonard returned to the term “intersectionality” numerous times during her talk to explain how the convergence of people, cultures, and issues impact reproductive life.

“Reproductive justice is not just a single-issue thing, nor do we live single-issue lives,” Leonard said.

The roots of the movement are found in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and began to take shape at the Illinois Pro-Choice Alliance Conference that year in Chicago. One of the big issues 25 years ago was the Clinton administration’s proposed healthcare reform, which did not include access to abortion.

“Not wanting to use the language of ‘choice,’ because they represented communities with few real choices, they integrated the concepts of reproductive rights, social justice and human rights to launch the term ‘Reproductive Justice,’” Loretta Ross of the SisterSong Women of Color Collective wrote in “Reproductive Justice: An Introduction.”

Leonard said that the work for Reproductive Justice is based in SisterSong, a group of 16 organizations of women of color that formed in 1997 to “advance the perspectives and needs of women of color,” another PowerPoint slide said.

“The work that these organizations do is not just around contraception. It’s around faith, it’s around youth, environmental justice and so forth and so on,” Leonard said. “If I have clean air, which is an environmental justice issue, then that’s conducive to my reproductive health. If I have paid leave, which is a pay issue, that’s connected to my reproductive health.

“It’s the totality of what’s going in.”

Leonard went through several General Assembly statements on and related to reproductive rights from the 2006 Statement on Late-Term Abortion to the 2018 General Assembly’s Religious Freedom Without Discrimination resolution which states, in part, “The General Assembly thus states its understanding of the Christian faith to be opposed to discrimination on matters of gender orientation and identity, and in support of freedom of the conscience in matters of reproductive rights.”

“We have the right to advocate, to talk about, and even have this webinar right now, based on what our General Assembly has said, the resolutions that have been put out, information that has been moved by the General Assembly,” Leonard said. “We are simply working right now according to what our church has said.”

And continuing to work is what both Leonard and Brooks encouraged in a political climate where reproductive rights are being threatened and even curtailed.

Christian Brooks (left), shown speaking to Presbyterians attending Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C., in March, moderated a Reproductive Justice webinar presented by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness on Tuesday. (Photo by Rich Copley)

“Abortion is an important part of reproductive justice; however, reproductive justice is also about making sure that the 16-year-old girl living in a low socio-economic neighborhood has access to prenatal care if she decides to keep her child,” said Brooks, representative for domestic issues in the Office of Public Witness. “She has access to adequate medical professionals so that she can have her baby safely.”

Leonard said that Planned Parenthood is often mischaracterized as an abortion-focused organization when it is often the only place women can go to for reproductive healthcare in rural and marginalized areas.

Asked in a viewer question what people can do to support Reproductive Justice, Leonard advised learning more and then acting.

“If you believe or don’t believe in abortion, what we’re called to do is stand on the side of justice and stand with the oppressed, which is what Jesus did,” Leonard said. “Jesus stood for those who were oppressed and those who were marginalized, and to be Christ-like is to do the exact same thing Jesus did.”

 


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