The Students for Choice organization at the University of Michigan hosted a panel on reproductive justice for a group of about 35 students on Monday night at the Ford School of Public Policy.
Emily Peterson, lawyer and professor of sociology and women’s studies, began the discussion by explaining the origins of the term “reproductive justice.”
“We all, regardless of what our geopolitical boundaries are, have innate human rights,” Peterson said. “So they took that idea from the Human Rights Declaration from the UN and kind of encapsulated some of those concepts into a (reproductive justice) framework. But it was really founded by women of color, screaming you really need to be inclusive.”
Community member Cassy Jones-McBryde, the first Black organizing program coordinator for Planned Parenthood, elaborated on the impact of Black people on reproductive justice.
“Faye Wattleton was the first Black President of Planned Parenthood,” Jones-McBryde said. “She, back in the early ‘90s… helped center the discussion around Black people having access to reproductive support.”
After discussing its history, Peterson went on to define reproductive justice as having to do with more than just reproductive health.
“You need to acknowledge that as many people that tried not to reproduce, some were supposed to reproduce,” Peterson said. “Some have not had any control at all ever… it’s a very inclusive phrase for all types of recognition of bodily autonomy around reproduction.”
Kate O’Connor, fourth-year graduate student of American Culture, said introducing universal health care to all will help alleviate fears of expenses that sway women away from reproducing.
“One of the things about being pregnant or trying to become pregnant is infertility services are hard cover,” O’Connor said. “You can lose your job because you’re pregnant. Not legally, but if you are late two or three times in the morning because you are throwing up, then you can lose your job, which means you lose your health insurance if you have it through your job. If we move to a system of universal health insurance, some of those fears go away.”
Peterson identified issues with some high schools’ sex education programs that don’t offer a sexual education course that incorporates sex and not just abstinence. Peterson finds this most detrimental for communities with a lack of access to other educational resources due to economic framework or systemic racial oppression.
“One of the things that I think is really pressing is quite frankly, sex education and consent,” Peterson said. “Based on sex, I think that you need to start at the very beginning of training people how to have healthy or sexual conversations before we even start the reproducing part. So things as simple as a push for abstinence-only education will have a snowball effect.”
Jones-McBryde mentioned some ways she is trying to help foster reproductive justice at Planned Parenthood for Black women.
“I was able to have our first training for our health center staff about the African Diaspora, what it actually is and talk about how there is implicit bias in the way that we treat our patients sometimes, and how to dismantle that,” Jones-McBryde said.
Emily Statham, first-year Law student, said the University can help foster reproductive justice and inclusiveness by emphasizing the margin-to-center movement.
“I really liked one of the ideas mentioned about focusing on the margin-to-center movement,” Statham said. “So, this is the idea that reproductive justice as a movement was born out of the strife of Black women, and bringing people into the center of this conversation who currently exist on the margins. Whether, that be people who are LGBTQIA+ identifying, people who are racial and ethnic minorities, making sure that their own struggles when it comes to reproductive justice are informing the conversation, not reacting to the conversation, is I think the most important thing moving forward.”