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The Right of Ownership: Reproductive Justice

June 27, 2021

Can we agree that 2020 was a rough year?

Right, I know that is a massive understatement. But, as an optimist, I have always maintained a glass half-full is better than half empty. I watched many hours of television while sheltering in place. I felt a need to follow the news on all stations. I was here, you were there, and our lives were changed due to COVID-19. Many lives were lost, and families are still losing loved ones. We mourn the unbelievable sadness of death without the last loving goodbye.

We also mourned the death of George Floyd. “I can’t breathe” became powerful words and a mantra for racial injustice. Mr. Floyd’s death was witnessed by many people around the world. We witnessed the assault on humanity. The impact of racism became an unavoidable fact that we cannot unsee. As a black female physician, I hoped and prayed for the people of the world to acknowledge the need to fight for racial justice.

Here in America, we have laws to protect people from discrimination based on race, gender, age, and ability. The laws exist because, as a people, we are still working on how to be a just society. The laws exist because a few people wish to deny the undeniable, the right of racial justice.

Some forms of injustice are not as easily identified.

Reproductive Justice

What is reproductive justice?

It is about ownership of one’s body. It is about individual choice and a woman’s fundamental right to decide the fate of her life and her body. It is about equality of reproductive and sexual health choice for all.

I am old enough to have witnessed the power of choice as women changed their hospital birth experience from a regimented routine to a family centered environment. The reality of economic power is a driving force for change. Hospital administrators and CFO’s recognized that a woman’s childbearing experience was important for their institution’s financial survival. Hospitals and healthcare facilities continue to develop a positive relationship with the communities they serve and recognize that survival is quantified by social media and personal narrative.

Black and brown women share the benefit of family-like birthing rooms, have insurance, and desire the same care as everyone else. I have observed the conduct of nursing staff in the presence of white families and black and brown families. I have observed the behavior of physicians in the same context. Black and brown women are often treated as though the quality of their experience is less important. This is especially true in rural hospitals. It is shocking and heartbreaking to hear the birth stories told by women of color.

The right to choose must exist throughout a woman’s reproductive years. The right to choose is not about pro-choice versus pro-life. It is the right not to have a child and the right to have a child. It is about the right to parent the child in a safe and healthy environment. It is about gender freedom and extending the same care to all. Because it is the right thing to do.

Equality of access without restriction is necessary for global reproductive health. Access to health care, access to family planning choices, and the right of ownership of one’s body, without restriction must be independent of economic power.

Discussions of ownership of one’s body is more difficult when children are the oppressed. Thankfully, there is a global consensus which refutes practices such as female ‘circumcision’ and child brides. Increasing the age of consensual sex is proof of global health initiatives that protect the most vulnerable. Countries like the Philippines are working to increase the age of consent from twelve years of age, to sixteen. The age of consent in Japan and South Korea is thirteen. In Bangladesh and China, the age of consent is fourteen; fifteen is the age of consent in Thailand; Australia and Indonesia have maintained the age of consent at sixteen years of age.

Reproductive justice must include our LGBTQ communities. Justice is defined as equality for all. Reproductive justice means abolishing laws and policies that justify racialized and genderized reproduction.

Reproductive health is as basic as clean drinking water.

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