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An Introduction and Road Map to Engaging with Reproductive Justice.

Loretta Ross and Rickie Solinger declare at the outset of this essential text that reproductive justice is based on three primary principles: (1) a person has "the right not to have a child"; (2) a person has "the right to have a child"; and (3) a person has "the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments" (p. 9, emphasis in original). These principles, based on a human rights framework, go "beyond the pro-choice/pro-life debate" (p. 9). Indeed, reproductive justice proponents challenge both the "pro-choice" and the "pro-life" frameworks, which rarely take into account the holistic needs of women and the societal structures that limit an individual's "choice" around fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood.

Reproductive Justice: An Introduction gets at the heart of the ways the U.S. government has been the catalyst for reproductive oppression, which is most heavily felt by those who are most marginalized. Reproductive justice, though widely known for its relationship to reproductive health and reproductive rights, is a political movement that combines reproductive rights ("a legal and advocacy-based model that is concerned with protecting individual women's legal right to reproductive health care services," p. 69) with social justice (p. 9). According to Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, reproductive justice "is achieved when women, girls, and individuals have the social, economic, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families, and our communities" (p. 70).

The book consists of four chapters and an epilogue that detail the history of reproductive oppression as well as its impact on women, specifically poor women, Native women, immigrant women, and women of color. Authors Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger emphasize the importance of documenting the history of reproductive injustices: "[W]e understand that the past explains a great deal about the present and also shapes the future" (p. 5).

Perhaps one of the most radical chapters is the epilogue, written by six reproductive justice leaders who share stories of the work they have been engaged in. As Ross and Solinger have pointed out, "storytelling is an act of subversion and resistance" (p. 59). It is in the epilogue that readers can witness the "movement-building and organizing framework that identifies how reproductive oppression is the result of the intersection of multiple oppressions and is inherently connected to the struggle for social justice and human rights" (p. 69). Readers get to hear the voices of women of color and youth working on issues that span HIV eradication, voter turnout, incarceration, and the need for access to doulas. Each story, each act of subversion, presented in the epilogue shows the great strength of collective, grassroots work. Moreover, it demonstrates just how reproductive justice, with its intersectional analysis, is building a movement of activists to create a new world where "the reproductive advantages and disadvantages of individuals and communities are not structured by race and class and other characteristics, are not enforced by law and policy, and do not ensure the perpetuation of inequality and injustice in America" (p. 237). Instead, using a reproductive justice framework, activists are working toward "building a just and sustainable world" (p. 236).

From the book's title, I expected more of a rudimentary explanation of reproductive justice--more storytelling, more step-by-step explanations of what reproductive justice is, its relevance in the 21st century, and how readers can get involved in movement-building efforts--in short, Reproductive Justice 101. What I encountered was a mature introduction that meticulously detailed the U.S. government's efforts to control women's fertility and sustain white supremacy. It is a brilliantly laid-out history of reproductive justice that of course includes why such a framework is needed in the first place. Policies, practices, and laws undergird the injustices we see today. For example, in 1662, Virginia Colony determined that the status of every child would follow the status of the mother, not the father as was customary. This law, further subjecting enslaved African women to inhumane treatment and reproductive injustices, guaranteed that sexual violence at the hands of slave owners would go unpunished, while at the same time it stripped vulnerable women of bodily autonomy. This 1662 law also ensured that the white slave owners would benefit from the pregnancies of enslaved women. Nearly four centuries later, the "extremist elements" of the Republican Party want "to limit the Fourteenth Amendment's birth-right citizenship provision to children born to a citizen of the United States and [seek] to deny citizenship to all children born in the United States to undocumented persons, a clear violation of the Fourteenth Amendment" (p. 214). This racist attempt to deny citizenship to a child born to an immigrant parent is another attempt to control a woman's right to parent, and it reeks of negative eugenics and reinforces the narrative of who is considered an "unfit" mother.

Ross and Solinger are a powerful team. I have come to know them through their scholarly endeavors and activist work. Ross, a co-founder of SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (1) and a staunch advocate for human rights, has been a reproductive justice activist for nearly three decades. Solinger is a scholar and "historian of reproductive politics in the United States" (p. 3). Her fascinating work on the politics of race and motherhood, Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race before Roe v. Wade (1992), especially its chapter on the right to parent, is an insightful companion to Reproductive Justice: An Introduction.

The emergence of reproductive justice in women's and gender studies, nursing, and Black studies courses speaks to its intersectional and Black feminist leanings. Indeed, reproductive justice not only complements academic fields but often challenges recurring narratives of singular focuses on white women, the pathologizing of women of color, and the absence of Black women. In all of my courses as well as in my research, I use reproductive justice in order to talk about the history of women of color in the United States, to make sense of current events such as family separations at the border under the direction of the current administration, and to envision a future where the human rights of every individual are recognized and upheld.

Ross and Solinger use storytelling and history to show how "[t] he law and other instruments of power could use [a] woman's body and her fertility to degrade her and her children, harm her community, and protect white supremacy in the United States" (p. 55). This use of storytelling and history--an insightful and engaging way to introduce reproductive justice--will keep the attention of the audience. Reproductive Justice: An Introduction is for students, scholars, and activists at all levels--those who are new to reproductive justice, those who have been in the movement for decades, and those wanting to deepen their work with reproductive justice as both theory and praxis. It grapples with the past of reproductive oppression at the same time that it centers reproductive justice as a radical space in which to envision a world where every person's human rights are realized, respected, and celebrated.


1. SisterSong is "a Southern based, national membership organization; our purpose is to build an effective network of individuals and organizations to improve institutional policies and systems that impact the reproductive lives of marginalized communities" (


Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger, Reproductive Justice: An Introduction. University of California Press, 2017. (Reproductive Justice: A New Vision for the 21st Century.) 360 pp. bibt. index, pap., $27.95, ISBN 978-0520288201.

[Charmaine Lang is a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her dissertation research examines the self-care practices of Black women activists in Milwaukee, and her teaching and research interests include African American studies, women and sexuality studies, Black feminisms, and reproductive justice.]
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Title Annotation:BOOKS
Author:Lang, Charmaine
Publication:Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2018
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