Reproductive Justice

We believe Reproductive Justice, or RJ, exists when all individuals have the power, access and resources to make healthy decisions about their bodies, sexuality, relationships and families for themselves and their community.

COLOR fights for reproductive health, rights and justice!

Reproductive Justice is different from reproductive health, rights or choice. Here is a breakdown of the different terms and their meaning:

Reproductive Health (RH):

A continuum of physical, mental and social-emotional care pertaining to the reproductive system at all stages of life (e.g., information, screenings, treatment and care on STDs/STIs and HIV/AIDS, contraception, abortion). RH addresses a person’s ability to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so. It also focuses on the creation, monitoring and availability of different methods and services that someone might utilize to manage their health and fertility. RH groups are often involved in work around FDA approval and regulations, as well as traditional advocacy on abortion and contraception.

Reproductive Rights (RR):

Reproductive rights work is about the legal protections that exist and that we pursue through legislation and litigation in order to protect the right to access reproductive health care services. RR work has been largely focused on abortion and contraception. Reproductive rights is often narrowly focused on (1) approving a person’s ability to decide to terminate a pregnancy, and (2) ensuring they have the legal protections to act on that decision.


The term pro-choice has been used as a label for the work of reproductive rights organizations and the right to seek an abortion. It generally refers to political advocacy on behalf of access to abortion. It is often used as the opposite of “pro-life”. The media also utilizes “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion” to label what is presented as two sides of an issue. In recent years, there has been a great deal of discussion about both the limits of using labels, as well as the fact that the label “pro-choice” does not fully reflect the mission and work of the reproductive justice movement which incorporates a more diverse range of issues, voices and viewpoints.


Reproductive Justice (RJ):

The term reproductive justice was coined by Loretta Ross, the founder of the organization SisterSong in Chicago in 1994. The reproductive justice movement came out of an acknowledgement that women of color are often hurt most by attacks on our rights and communities and that our voices and experiences have often been left out of mainstream reproductive rights initiatives.[1]  

Reproductive justice is meant to be more than a label. It is a three-tenet framework that provides a different approach to doing the work. Reproductive justice affirms that person has the right and should have the ability: (1) to decide when to become a parent, (2) to decide to not become a parent and (3) to raise their children in a safe and healthy environment. From a messaging and organizing standpoint, reproductive justice incorporates a broad range of issues and is meant to emphasize the intersections between different movements and communities to cultivate greater understanding and create a stronger movement.

When the term “reproductive justice” emerged in 1994, the movement for reproductive freedom was dominated by the voices of white, cisgender, resourced women who had a singular focus on abortion. Many women of color, and black women in particular, felt excluded from the movement and wanted to see it include an analysis of the multiple oppressions marginalized communities face. Economic, sexual, racial, disability, immigration, and religious factors keep many people from being able to make genuine choices about their reproductive lives. Recognizing the need for a more intersectional approach to addressing barriers to reproductive health, women of color activists launched a movement for “reproductive justice” rooted in human rights values, cognizant of all our identities and circumstances, and addressing a range of issues. Going beyond abortion, reproductive justice recognizes the right to have a child, the right not to have a child, the right to parent the children we have with dignity, the right to control our birthing options, the right to choose our sexual partners, and the right to control our own gender.

Reproductive Justice takes a holistic, intersectional approach toward sexual and reproductive freedom by acknowledging the physical, economic, institutional, sexual, religious, and social factors that affect a women’s decision-making. This is an analysis that describes both the experience of oppression and the strengths that individuals and communities bring to bear on particular issues. Reproductive justice advocates believe that the identification of issues, constructing solutions, and organizing for change must arise from the communities that are most affected by reproductive oppression. When this is not the case, we see solutions that fail to reach marginalized communities or that ignore the realities of communities’ lived experience. In the process of supporting leadership of communities most affected, individual leaders must be supported, cultivated, trained and nurtured to develop their skills in the context of an accountable relationship to their community.[2]

Intersectionality: To ensure that women and girls can express our sexuality without judgment, plan and prevent pregnancy and also have healthy pregnancies, terminate a pregnancy when we want or need to and raise our children in a safe and healthy environment; we must challenge all barriers. RJ addresses the different forms of oppression and in its four dimensions: institutionalized (policy work), interpersonal (judgment, stigma, shame), internalized (empowerment and skill development) and ideological (authentic narratives).[3]

When we talk about doing intersectional work, we are talking about looking at not just reproduction, but also at other movements, issues and constituencies including LGBT, racial justice, economic justice, disability and other areas where people may be marginalized or may experience discrimination or barriers to their rights and liberties.

Lift: Used to convey solidarity and purpose. We talk about lifting up the work of a partner or the voice of an individual.

Folks: Favored by the transgender community to describe a group of people.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE): Process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs and values about human sexuality. CSE includes age-appropriate, medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality including human development, relationships, decision-making, abstinence, contraception and disease prevention.[4] CSE enables young people to make informed decisions about their sexuality and health. Further, CSE equips young people with the tools to protect themselves from negative health outcomes, such as unplanned pregnancy and STI/STD/HIV.[5]

Sex positive: The embracing of human sexuality and consensual sexual activity as healthy. This social movement encourages and advocates for sex education, safe sex, sexual experimentation and sexual pleasure.

Mind, body and spirit: Acknowledging that the three domains deserve attention and care for them to harmonize. We fully thrive when all three aspects on our lives are valued and supported. As a reproductive justice organization, we will often talk about protecting each person’s health and dignity. We talk about ensuring that communities are healthy and thriving.

LGBTQ liberation: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people have been organized and fighting for many years for the ability to create relationships, the right and supports to build families and to parent and keep their children, and equal protection under the law in housing, employment, education and a range of areas including the same marriage benefits. This work is often referred to as LGBTQ liberation. A glossary of terms and definitions within the LGBTQ movement may be found here – including recommendations on discussing gender identity.

It should be noted that many people in the LGBTQ community embrace the term “queer” as it has an irreverent and empowered origin of taking back what had been a slur. It is also used to incorporate a range of identities, however not all people are comfortable with the use of the term and may not want to be described as queer.   

Disability: It is usually recommended that the term “person with a disability” is used to put the person first and not make a condition the primary description of who they are. The disability justice movement has recently pushed back on the first person language. As Amber Melvin of Reproductive Health Technologies Project describes it, by using “disabled person” we acknowledge how disabilities are not a result of one’s body, but disabilities are created by structural barriers that make it more difficult for folks with different bodies to navigate the world.[6]

We should look at asking people how they would like to be described in the same way we ask for preferred pronouns. At this time, our default will continue to be “people with disabilities” when a non-disabled person is describing a group or community.

Beyond terms, the intersections of disability, abortion and reproductive health is an area where the reproductive health, rights and justice movement(s) have often fallen short. This is true in the way that fetal anomalies are discussed as part of the decision to seek an abortion. It is also a fact that people with disabilities have not often been included in crafting policies or programs to ensure access to the full range of care a person might need.

Economic Justice: Economic justice is about both individuals and systems that impact the way that we earn a living and are treated in the workplace, access to wealth and fair wages, and the way that class impacts our ability to move freely in the world and to care for ourselves and our families.  The ultimate goal of economic justice to alter systems and policies in order to create an opportunity for every person to have the resources they need to have a dignified, productive, and creative life beyond economics. Economic justice includes issues such as welfare reform, minimum and living wage, job discrimination, pay equity, housing, social security, and pension reform, as well as addressing the structural inequality that prevents women and communities of color from having the same financial stability and access to opportunities and institutions.

Sample economic justice organization: 9to5 Colorado

Immigrant Rights: Fundamental rights and protections such as being treated with dignity, being able to build a life with your family and having access health care are should not be limited to people who are citizens of the United States. We are a country built on the labor of immigrants. Immigrant people and communities should be treated with respect. Right now, our broken immigration system is tearing families apart, preventing people from having a path to citizenship and denying the health and dignity of many undocumented people. Work on behalf of immigrant rights is focused on reforming the system and ensuring that immigrants and people seeking refuge in our country are provided with basic protections and the ability to build a safe and healthy life for themselves and their families.

Sample immigrant rights groups: We Belong Together, Immigration Equality, Rights for All People, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC)

Transportation access: In order to be able to take advantage of job opportunities, people need to be able to get to work safely and affordably. FRESC describes public transportation as a critical community need. Service cuts and fare hikes have a devastating and disproportionate impact on working families, students, seniors and the environment. Transit access promotes economic development as people have access to jobs wherever transit goes.

Sample transportation access groups: FRESC, 9to5 Colorado

Birth justice: Birth Justice is about a pregnant person’s right and ability to ensure the health and wellbeing of themselves and their baby, as well as to make their own decisions about labor and delivery and to be treated with dignity and ensured of affordable access to the information, care and services they need throughout their pregnancy. It intersects with all aspects of our lives: social, political, economic and cultural, as well as advocacy on health care access and criminal justice. Birth justice includes a range of issues such as right to utilize the services of a midwife or a doula and to give birth at home, health coverage for prenatal care, the right to refuse a forced C-section, the shackling of pregnant women, criminalizing pregnancy outcomes, threatening pregnant women struggling with addiction with incarceration and the overall right and ability to maintain our agency and bodily autonomy while pregnant and in labor.

Sample birth justice organizations: Elephant Circle, National Advocates for Pregnant Women