From the days of slavery to the present, the fight for reproductive justice has required Black/African- American women’s courage and stamina. Their struggle for bodily autonomy in America first required a fight for their value as human beings.
Black women fought for their rights long before the Civil War. They continued their activism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and on into the 21st century. Many, including Black/African-American women, thought a woman’s sole purpose was to have children. Elaine Brown, the first woman chair of the Black Panther Party from 1974-1977, worked to shift that organization’s rhetoric from supporting such a limited role. Thanks to her, the party platform included Black women’s reproductive rights.
For many years, the “pro-choice” movement, led primarily by White women, focused on the right to have an abortion—leaving behind Black/African-American women’s needs.
White women had access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion. Most Black women did not. There are many reasons, but limited access to affordable and effective contraception is among the most important causes. In turn, funding cuts to programs that provide contraception to low-income and minority communities, plus the scarcity of reproductive healthcare providers in neighborhoods where high concentrations of minority women live and work, significantly reduced reproductive healthcare access.
In 1994, twelve Black women developed the concept of Reproductive Justice. They defined it as a human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent their children in safe and sustainable communities.
In 1977, 16 organizations formed SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Their purpose is to improve institutional policies and systems that impact marginalized communities’ reproductive lives (Native American, African American, Latina, and Asian American). They continue to build political power at the local, state, and federal levels. They know that when marginalized people have sexual and reproductive equality, we all will benefit.
Now there is the threat of the majority conservative Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. That action will deny all women of their right to abortion. However, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, LGBTQ plus, and low-income women will suffer the most. For centuries now, Black women have fought for their sexual and reproductive rights. Their bravery and persistence are an inspiration for all. They are a force to reckon with.
Black women are creating history as they rise beyond the days of enslavement and Jim Crow to walk the halls of power.