What is reproductive justice?

The reproductive justice framework – the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments — is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s decisions.

via SisterSong.

I recently learned a new buzzword—”reproductive justice”—which is being promoted by a black women’s group called SisterSong, and recently has been taken up by my own religious denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association.  The idea behind the phrase is that a women’s right to choose whether or not to have children goes far beyond the right to an abortion.  It means that women who want to have children ought to be free from the fear that they won’t be able to feed, clothe and shelter the children, that the children won’t be able to get medical care, that there won’t be day care when they go off to work, and so on.

I’ve read the platforms of the political parties on this subject, and it is one in which there is a real and meaningful divide.  The Democratic Party and even more so the Green Party endorse reproductive justice.   The Libertarian Party defines the issue as one of individual rights and responsibilities.  A woman has the right to get an abortion or not, as she chooses, the Libertarians say, but then it is the individual responsibility of the parent or parents to care for the child.

The Republican Party platform says the issue is not the right of the mother, but the right of the fetus, or unborn child, to be born.  It endorses help for mothers to make sure they are able to bring the child to term and then, if the mother is unmarried, to enable the newborn child to be adopted into a two-parent family.

I don’t quarrel with the two-parent man-woman family as an ideal, or with encouragement of adoption.  I know a woman who was an adopted child and, as an adult, sought out her birth mother.   The birth mother was a mentally ill person who would have been unable to care for her, so she is thankful to have been adopted.  But there aren’t enough adoptive parents to go around, and of course not every child is adoptable.

I agree with SisterSong, and I like the Democratic and Green party platforms on this issue, but I also think reproductive justice is as much about the responsibilities of parenting as it is about the rights of women.  I know a woman my own age who has tried to befriend a young unmarried mother who lives in the same apartment house.  She could teach the young mother much about housekeeping and child care, but neither the mother nor the irresponsible father think they need help or advice.  I think people like that are a problem, and I don’t know of any government program that is a solution—not that I advocate abandoning the children to their fate.

I imagine that if any SisterSong members read this post, they would respond that they know their responsibilities as mothers very well, and don’t need any admonitions from an elderly, childless, well-off white man such as myself.  Maybe so.  I hope I do not propagate the stereotype of the black unmarried mother drawing welfare.  To the extent that what I describe is a problem, it is not a problem of just one ethnic group.

Click on SisterSong for their web page.

Click on Why I Don’t Think Abortion Is Murder for an earlier post on the abortion issue.

Click on Honey Boo Boo Nation for thoughts on the limitations of reproductive justice.

Click on highlighted words for the full Republican, Democratic, Green and Libertarian party platforms, or read the portions of the platforms relevant to the reproductive justice issue below.

REPUBLICAN PARTY PLATFORM

Preserving and Respecting Traditional Marriage

The institution of marriage is the foundation of civil society. Its success as an institution will determine our success as a nation. It has been proven by both experience and endless social science studies that traditional marriage is best for children. Children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to use drugs or alcohol, engage in crime, or get pregnant outside of marriage. The success of marriage directly impacts the economic well-being of individuals. Furthermore, the future of marriage affects freedom. The lack of family formation not only leads to more government costs, but also to more government control over the lives of its citizens in all aspects. We recognize and honor the courageous efforts of those who bear the many burdens of parenting alone, even as we believe that marriage, the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage. We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity.

The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life

Faithful to the “self-evident” truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life. We oppose the non-consensual withholding or withdrawal of care or treatment, including food and water, from people with disabilities, including newborns, as well as the elderly and infirm, just as we oppose active and passive euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Republican leadership has led the effort to prohibit the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion and permitted States to extend health care coverage to children before birth. We urge Congress to strengthen the Born Alive Infant Protection Act by enacting appropriate civil and criminal penalties on healthcare providers who fail to provide treatment and care to an infant who survives an abortion, including early induction delivery where the death of the infant is intended. We call for legislation to ban sex-selective abortions – gender discrimination in its most lethal form – and to protect from abortion unborn children who are capable of feeling pain; and we applaud U.S. House Republicans for leading the effort to protect the lives of pain-capable unborn children in the District of Columbia. We call for a ban on the use of body parts from aborted fetuses for research. We support and applaud adult stem cell research to develop lifesaving therapies, and we oppose the killing of embryos for their stem cells. We oppose federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

We also salute the many States that have passed laws for informed consent, mandatory waiting periods prior to an abortion, and health-protective clinic regulation. We seek to protect young girls from exploitation through a parental consent requirement; and we affirm our moral obligation to assist, rather than penalize, women challenged by an unplanned pregnancy. We salute those who provide them with counseling and adoption alternatives and empower them to choose life, and we take comfort in the tremendous increase in adoptions that has followed Republican legislative initiatives.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY PLATFORM

Families

It’s time we stop just talking about family values and start pursuing policies that truly value families. The President and Democrats have cut taxes for every working American family, and expanded the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit. We believe that all parents and caregivers—regardless of gender—need more flexibility and support in the workplace. We support passing the Healthy Families Act, broadening the Family and Medical Leave Act, and partnering with states to move toward paid leave. We have invested in expanding and reforming Head Start and grants to states to raise standards and improve instruction in their early learning programs, and we support expanding the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. We must protect our most vulnerable children by supporting our foster care system, adoption programs for all caring parents, grandparents, and caregivers, and protecting children from violence and neglect. We recognize that caring for family members and managing a household is real and valuable work.

President Obama’s administration has offered men who want to be good fathers extra support. We have bolstered community and faith-based groups focused on fatherhood, partnered with businesses to offer opportunities for fathers to spend time with their kids at the bowling alley or ballpark, and worked to help deployed dads connect with their children. We all have a stake in forging stronger bonds between fathers and their children.

We support parents and their children as they work to lead healthier lives. With prevention and treatment initiatives on obesity and public health, Democrats are leading the way on supporting healthier, more physically active families and healthy children.

Civil Rights

We are committed to ensuring full equality for women: we reaffirm our support for the Equal Rights Amendment, recommit to enforcing Title IX, support the Paycheck Fairness Act, and will urge ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. We know that putting America back to work is Job One, and we are committed to ensuring that Americans do not face employment discrimination. We support the Employment Non- Discrimination Act because people should not be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The President and the Democratic Party believe that women have a right to control their reproductive choices. Democrats support access to affordable family planning services, and President Obama and Democrats will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers. The Affordable Care Act ensures that women have access to contraception in their health insurance plans, and the President has respected the principle of religious liberty. Democrats support evidence-based and age-appropriate sex education.

Protecting A Woman’s Right to Choose.

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs.

GREEN PARTY PLATFORM

Families and Children

We call for social policies to focus on protecting families. The young – our citizens of tomorrow – are increasingly at risk. Programs must ensure that children, who are among the most vulnerable members of society, receive basic nutritional, educational, and medical necessities. The Green Party supports and seeks to expand Head Start and Pre- and neo-natal programs. A Children’s Agenda should be put in place to focus attention and concerted action on the future that is our children.

A universal, federally funded childcare program for pre-school and young schoolchildren should be developed.

Family assistance such as the earned income tax credit, available to working poor families in which the parent supports and lives with the children, should be maintained and increased to offset regressive payroll taxes and growing inequalities in American society.

A living family wage is vital to the social health of communities.

Reproductive Rights

Women’s rights must be protected and expanded to guarantee each woman’s right as a full participant in society, free from sexual harassment, job discrimination or interference in the intensely personal choice about whether to have a child.

Women’s right to control their bodies is non-negotiable. It is essential that the option of a safe, legal abortion remains available. The “morning-after” pill must be affordable and easily accessible without a prescription, together with a government-sponsored public relations campaign to educate women about this form of contraception. Clinics must be accessible and must offer advice on contraception and the means for contraception; consultation about abortion and the performance of abortions, and abortion regardless of age or marital status.

We endorse women’s right to use contraception and, when they choose, to have an abortion. This right cannot be limited to women’s age or marital status. Contraception and abortion must be included in all health insurance policies in the U.S., and any state government must be able to legally offer these services free of charge to women at the poverty level. Public health agencies operating abroad should be allowed to offer family planning, contraception, and abortion in all countries that ask for those services. We oppose our government’s habit of cutting family planning funds when those funds go to agencies in foreign countries that give out contraceptive devices, offer advice on abortion, and perform abortions.

We encourage women and men to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It is the inalienable right and duty of every woman to learn about her body and to be aware of the phases of her menstrual cycle, and it is the duty for every man to be aware of the functions and health of his and his partner’s bodies. This information is necessary for self-determination, to make informed decisions, and to prevent unintended consequences. Unplanned conception takes control away from individuals and makes them subject to external controls. The “morning-after” pill and option of a safe and legal abortion need to remain available.

Economic Equality

Since, nationally, women earn only 77% of men’s wages for equal work, despite outnumbering men in the workforce and despite the U.S. 1963 Equal Pay Act, we support intensified effort to see this unfair gap closed, including support for the Paycheck Fairness Act now in the Senate as S.182 and similar legislation, and greater effort at enforcement.

Single mothers are the largest and most severely impoverished group in the United States, which explains why 25% of the children in our country live below the poverty line. Welfare reform has forced mothers to abandon their children while they travel to work at minimum wage jobs. With the extreme pay inequity, single mothers cannot afford child care, nurture their children, and move out of poverty.

LIBERTARIAN PARTY PLATFORM

Personal Relationships

Sexual orientation, preference, gender, or gender identity should have no impact on the government’s treatment of individuals, such as in current marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration or military service laws. Government does not have the authority to define, license or restrict personal relationships. Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships.

Abortion

Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.

Health Care

We favor restoring and reviving a free market health care system. We recognize the freedom of individuals to determine the level of health insurance they want (if any), the level of health care they want, the care providers they want, the medicines and treatments they will use and all other aspects of their medical care, including end-of-life decisions. People should be free to purchase health insurance across state lines.

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