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5.3: Reproductive Justice

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    Our Bodies, Our Rights: Demanding Bodily Autonomy 

    In May 1971 at La Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza, the first nationwide Chicana feminist conference, more than 500 Chicanas from across the country gathered in Houston, Texas to deliberate on their concerns and dreams of liberation. The majority of the attendees were college students between 18-23 years of age.32 In fact, many Chicana feminists were youth, including high school students, college students, graduate students, and young community activists. Two resolutions emerged from the conference that “called for free, legal abortions and birth control for the Chicano community; controlled by Chicanas” and “24-hour childcare centers in Chicano communities,” pointing out that “Chicana motherhood should not preclude educational, political, social and economic development.”33 Prior to the passage of Roe v. Wade, intense debates took place among Chicanas at major workshops and conferences on the topic of legal abortion. Despite their varying positions, many resolutions did pass in support, like the one mentioned previously, often calling for Chicana bodily autonomy and community-run clinics that could provide culturally relevant medical care, health education, birth control, and abortion services.   

    Chicanas, like other feminists of color, have long-expressed a wide range of concerns when it comes to reproductive health and justice including issues of “population control, sterilization abuse, unsafe contraceptives, welfare reform, the criminalization of women who use drugs and alcohol during pregnancy, and coercive and intrusive family planning programs and policies,” attending to the ways that racism, disproportionate rates of poverty, and environmental inequities play a role in these issues.34 Women of color’s expansive standpoint on reproductive justice, beyond the pro-choice movement’s singular commitment to legal abortion access, is illustrated in Figure 5.3.1. The image features a woman holding a baby wrapped in a blanket and bold text that reads, “Our bodies, our rights. Reproductive health is a human right. One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Sixty-one percent of abortions are obtained by mothers.” The mother’s shirt is covered with the words, "We need safe and healthy communities including an elimination of stereotype-based services and culturally competent providers who speak our languages. HIV and STD and AIDS information and services. We need drug and alcohol treatment services for women who are incarcerated and reproductive care coverage on all health plans. We need access to reproductive resources including birth control methods to meet our individual needs and an end to population control methods of coercive sterilization. We need prenatal and postnatal care. We also need safe and accessible and affordable abortion and contraceptive services and teen pregnancy services and comprehensive sex education beyond abstinence only."

    A woman carrying her baby, with the caption "Our Bodies, Our Rights. Reproductive Health is a Human Right.” Details in text
    Figure 5.3.1:Our Bodies Our Rights” by Meredith Stern, Justseeds is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

    A Brief History of Reproductive (In)justice

    Reproductive justice activism arises from resistance to a long history of systematic reproductive subjugation, particularly in Indigenous, Black, Latinx, poor, and disabled communities, dating back to the Spanish and English colonial eras and into the 20th century under U.S. eugenics laws, programs, and policies. Unfortunately, reproductive medical violence continues today, particularly among incarcerated and low-income communities of color.35 One contemporary example is the forced sterilization of incarcerated immigrant women in 2020 at the privately operated Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia.36

    For most of the 20th century, Mexican American and Puerto Rican women faced widespread forced and coercive sterilization and gynecological medical experimentation by the U.S. government and private doctors, who were often subsidized by the government. For example, the birth control pill was first tested on unconsenting poor women in Puerto Rico in the 1950s, resulting in three deaths, followed by decades of forced sterilization. As noted in Section 5.4: Cultural Activism, Chicanas and Latinas have been subjected to racist and sexist stereotypes about their sexuality and reproduction, which have served as justifications for discriminatory, often violent, policies and practices. This pervasive subjection to reproductive exploitation propelled Chicanas and Latinas into legal, legislative, and grassroots activism in the 1960s and 1970s.

    As with other movements discussed in this chapter, Chicana and Puerto Rican women had to contend with the patriarchal ideologies that undergirded their nationalist movements as well as the racist and classist ideologies of the women’s liberation movement. Within many ethnic-based nationalist ideologies, women were expected to bear many children in order to produce future revolutionaries for the movement and abortion was recognized as part of a larger state-sanctioned campaign of cultural genocide. While Puerto Rican and Chicano nationalists ultimately denounced reproductive abuses, two organizations took different positions on the issue of abortion. Puerto Rican women were able to integrate the struggle for reproductive rights into the Young Lords Party Platform, resulting in the establishment of community-run clinics in New York that offered a wide range of birth control options, including abortion services.37 The Brown Berets also opened community clinics in Los Angeles, but the group was steadfast in their opposition to abortion, claiming that all forms of birth control were tools of genocide, leading Chicanas to form feminist caucuses within existing organizations as well as separate reproductive rights groups. 

    Reproductive Justice Organizations

    Both Puerto Rican and Chicana activists joined with other Latinas and women of color across the country to wage legal battles in their fight for reproductive justice. Latinas on the East Coast formed the multi-ethnic coalition Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CSEA) in 1974 and in Los Angeles, Chicana and Mexicana activists filed a civil suit against the Los Angeles County Medical Center for involuntary sterilization practices, who subsequently turned to CSEA for assistance. Local grassroots efforts of the 1960s and 1970 developed into more formal national-level Latina and multi-racial organizations in the 1980s and 1990s such as the Latina Roundtable on Health and Reproductive Rights (LRHRR) founded in 1989 by mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican women, Amigas Latinas en Acción formed in the 1990s in Boston, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR).  

    Organization Spotlight: California Latinas for Reproductive Justice

    Founded in 2004, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ) is a statewide organization committed to honoring the experiences of Latinas/xs to uphold our dignity, our bodies, sexuality, and families. We build Latinas’/xs’ power and cultivate leadership through community education, policy advocacy, and community-informed research to achieve reproductive justice. At CLRJ we recognize that Latinas’/xs’ reproductive health and rights cannot be viewed in isolation. So we do our work using the reproductive justice framework that emphasizes the intersection with other social, economic and community-based issues that promote the social justice and human rights of Latina/x women and girls and the Latinx community as a whole. 

    In other words, we recognize that Latinas/xs’ access to culturally and linguistically appropriate health care, a living wage job, quality education, freedom from discrimination and violence, among many other issues that affect Latinas’/xs’ daily lives, have a profound effect on Latinas’ reproductive and sexual health, as well as our right to self-determination in all aspects of our lives. 

    We advance our mission through four core strategies: 1) Policy Advocacy, 2) Community Engagement, 3) Community-Informed Research, and 4) Strategic Communications. In addition to these core strategies, an important value that permeates all aspects of CLRJ’s work is that of working in collaboration with other allies who share our commitment toward promoting the health and justice of our communities, including grassroots activists, community leaders, and coalitions, policymakers, policy advocates and researchers.38


    32 Marta Cotera, “La Conferencia De Mujeres Por La Raza: Houston, Texas, 1971,” in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings, ed. Alma M. García (New York: Routledge, 1997), 155-157.

    33 Vidal, “New Voice,” 21.

    34 Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena R. Gutiérrez, “Women of Color and Their Struggle for Reproductive Justice,” in Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice, eds. Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena R. Gutiérrez (Cambridge: South End Press, 2004), 3.

    35 Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, “For Latinas, A Fine Line Between Reproductive Justice and Eugenics,” Ms., August 13, 2010.

    36 Brigitte Amiri, “Reproductive Abuse is Rampant in the Immigration Detention System,” ACLU, September 23, 2020.

    37 We Do Everything that the Brothers Do:” Women of the Young Lords,” New-York Historical Society Museum and Library, October 14, 2020. An addition resource is “1968: The Young Lord’s Organization/Party,” Library of Congress.

    38 “About Us,” California Latinas for Reproductive Justice (CLRJ), accessed August 1, 2022.

    This page titled 5.3: Reproductive Justice is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Amber Rose González (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .