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Reproductive Justice is Black History

In 1994, twelve Black women came together and created the term “reproductive justice.” Understood as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” reproductive justice, or RJ, is an important critical framework for understanding how abortions fit in with other movements for social justice.  

This year during Black History Month, we’re looking at some of the people and local organizations that are embodying Reproductive Justice. No history can be completely told, and we’re only carrying our part of it along. For more information about the creation, key figures and future of the Reproductive Justice Movement, follow the links throughout this post!  

Key Figure of Reproductive Justice: Loretta Ross 

Loretta Ross was one of those twelve Black women that created the concept of Reproductive Justice in 1994. A cofounder of the amazing RJ organization SisterSong, Ross has been a lifelong advocate for justice, both in America and internationally. As one of the first activists to use the term “women of color” to highlight and unify the broad intersections between Black and brown activists, Ross has continued to expand our collective understandings of intersectionality and inclusion.  

Ross has been on the frontlines of feminism and Black activism for decades, and has served in many, many official capacities within the broader justice movement: program director for National Black Women’s Health Project; director of the Women of Color Programs at the National Organization for Women (NOW); cofounder of SisterSong; founder and executive director of the National Center for Human Rights Education, and so much more.  

In 2022, Loretta Ross was even the keynote speaker at Trust Women’s annual gala!  

Doing Reproductive Justice on the Local Level 

We take inspiration in this work from those national and international figures we see and read about in the media, and we try to bring that same spirit of activism, hope and resilience back to our own communities.  

The Kansas Birth Equity Network 

KBEN puts Reproductive Justice values into practice to bring communities together with medical providers and institutions to increase awareness of the myriad issues impacting Black families in Kansas. Founded by Dr. Sharla Smith, the initiative’s mission is “to use a community-centered approach to create solutions that improve Black maternal, paternal, and infant health in Kansas through training, research, healthcare, and advocacy.” 

The Kansas Birth Equity Network is a truly collaborative and engaged organization that’s thinking deeply about the systemic challenges that impact people’s ability to access the health care resources they need to raise health families. Whether working with physicians and health care providers in more traditional hospital settings, or doulas and midwives in communities across the state, KBEN is creating a world where Black families have meaningful access to essential health care.  

KS Birth Justice Society 

Black maternal mortality is a systemic injustice resulting from white supremacy institutionalized in our governments and health care systems. The Kansas Birth Justice Society is one organization dedicated to disrupting cycles of systemic harm and taking on the Black maternal health care crisis in Kansas. Their focus is on the larger context of birthing and families: they envision a Kansas where everyone can “thrive alongside their families in healthy, equitable communities and will live to their fullest potential.” 

This work is critical because Kansas is among the worst states for Black infant and maternal mortality. According to reporting from NPR in 2022, while national infant mortality declined overall in 2020, “in Kansas, it rose 19%--and for Black babies, it surged 58%.” Systemic racism, racial bias from providers and a lack of equitable access to health care resources can and do impact outcomes for pregnant people and infants, and KBJS is taking these issues head on for the good of our communities.  

None of this work happens in a vacuum, and no one organization can do everything. We’re so proud to work alongside these amazing Reproductive Justice activists and organizations. You can stay in the know with all of our work by following us on Instagram, or signing up for our advocacy emails.  

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