Activist Loretta Ross Gives Talk on Reproductive Justice
Issue   |   Tue, 10/31/2017 - 21:14

Loretta Ross, a human and women’s rights activist who helped coin the term “reproductive justice,” spoke about the origins of the reproductive justice movement and how it can be used to dismantle white supremacy on Tuesday, Oct. 24. Her talk was part of Reproductive Justice Week, which was hosted by the Women and Gender Center and the student-run Reproductive Justice Alliance.

Ross is the co-founder of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, which educates women of color on their reproductive rights, and currently a visiting assistant professor of women’s studies at Hampshire College.

Reproductive justice, she said in her talk, is a framework that focuses on the combination of reproductive rights, human rights and social justice.

“What is reproductive justice?” Ross said. “The right to have a child, the right to not have a child and the right to raise your children. Everyone should have that. It’s not that hard to explain — it’s just hard as hell to achieve.”

The concept of reproductive justice first emerged at a women’s conference in 1994. At this time, Congress was working on health care reform, but reproductive health care was not a part of the conversation in order to appeal to both Democrats and Republicans, according to Ross. During the conference, Ross and a group of black women from a variety of organizations and backgrounds began talking about the reform and its relation to social justice.

“As black women who understood abortion politics right and left, we were always frustrated at how abortion was always isolated from all the other social justice issues,” Ross said. “We decided to take the concept of reproductive rights and splice it together with the concept of social justice, and we coined the term of reproductive justice.”

Intersectionality serves as one of the main pillars of reproductive justice in an effort to protect rights, especially those of women of color, that some believe are not protected by the U.S. Constitution, according to Ross.

In her talk, Ross emphasized the importance of the connection between reproductive rights and human rights and what it means for women in the United States in particular.

“The U.S. Constitution, first of all, can’t handle intersectionality … Secondly, they don’t talk about the right to economic security or freedom from violence or housing or education,” Ross said. “None of that is in the U.S. Constitution. It’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as defined by white, slave-owning men. It’s a very impudent document, in my mind, for achieving and protecting our human rights.”

Among other roles, Ross works to bring people into the reproductive justice and activist movement. While such a task is difficult at times, she recognizes what helps people change their mentality.

“No words make them change,” Ross said. “The people I know who have made the most profound changes in what they believe have had personal experiences that got them there.”

In terms of change on an institutional level, Ross sees a need to overhaul the current cultural morality in order to construct a more equal society, she said.

“The best use of human rights for me, at this time, is for establishing the morality of a culture of caring,” Ross said.

“Right now we’ve got this atomized, individualistic, philosophical tradition that will never create the cultural caring that we need,” Ross added. “The next step in the sequence is to defuse and enter our political system so that we can construct a post-white supremacist world that’s built on how well we take care of each other.”

Melissa Pineda Brown ’20, a member of the Reproductive Justice Alliance student group, found Ross’s focus on the inclusivity of the reproductive justice movement especially intriguing.

“She focused less on the act of abortion and more on not only the significance [that] being able to get an abortion possesses — ensuring one’s bodily autonomy — but the greater power dynamics and oppressive institutions at hand that have made it so that women, often those who are poor women of color, end up having to make these decisions in the first place,” she said.

Co-president of the Reproductive Justice Alliance Samantha O’Brien ’18 has previously seen Ross speak several times but still found the talk important in creating her own beliefs around reproductive justice.

“Each time I hear her speak, it’s not so much a matter of learning something new as it is thinking about something in a way that I’ve never thought about before,” O’Brien said. “Her keen eye on the world and the precision with which she tells her stories really helps me clarify my own thoughts on many different issues.”

For the second year, the Reproductive Justice Alliance hosted Reproductive Justice Week in collaboration with the Women’s and Gender Center.

This weeklong event included a phone bank and a social media campaign urging government officials to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds from being allocated to pay for abortions.