This year marks the 30th anniversary of Reproductive Justice, a framework rooted in a fierce and uncompromising rejection of the status quo. Yet this week marks a much different milestone, the Dobbs decision that effectively ends the right to abortion as we know it. As health services researchers gather from across the country for the 2024 AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting, there are important opportunities to consider the role and contributions of evidence in Reproductive Justice. 

Reproductive Justice is more than a fight for the right to choose; it is a powerful declaration that our reproductive decisions are inextricably linked to our collective freedom. 

The concept of Reproductive Justice was first articulated in June 1994 when a group of twelve women of African descent convened in a hotel room during a conference in Chicago. Led by former Atlanta City Council member "Able" Mable Thomas, they developed a framework to address the shortcomings of the mainstream reproductive rights movement, thus giving birth to Reproductive Justice. 

Reproductive Justice is not just about the right to have abortions or the right to have children. It’s about the right to parent those children in communities, free from fear, violence, and oppression. It’s about considering the impacts of race, gender, income, living conditions, and systemic racism within the medical industrial complex on our reproductive decisions. It’s a framework that acknowledges the intersections of our identities and the systemic barriers we face.

Today, we are at a pivotal moment in history. Following the Supreme Court's 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landscape of abortion access has dramatically shifted. Without basic federal legal protections around abortion access, which were never enough to begin with, states across the country have created a patchwork of bans and regulations on abortion access. As of last month, 14 states have a total abortion ban and 27 states have abortion bans based on gestational duration. We’ve seen time and time again that abortion bans and restrictions harm Black communities, Indigenous communities, people of color, and poor and working-class communities the most. This new era of reproductive health, rights, and justice demands that we dream boldly and act urgently.

A Bold Vision for the Next 30+ Years

As the Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), a network of 100 abortion funds nationwide that help reduce economic and logistical barriers for people seeking abortions, I reflect on this legacy of the Reproductive Justice framework with a hopeful vision for the future. I believe abortion funds are the crucial bridge between our current access crisis and the future where Reproductive Justice is truly a reality.

As I write this blog post, I think about the AcademyHealth 2024 Annual Research Meeting conference attendees and members who want to collect, share, and translate evidence to improve policy and decision-making as part of the Reproductive Justice movement. There are opportunities to collaborate with grassroots organizations like abortion funds to understand the impact of their role in direct service delivery. Exploring how wraparound services like transportation, childcare, translation, and doula support actualize the ability of our Network to eliminate barriers to abortion access by funding abortion and building power will capture a more complete story of abortion post-Dobbs. In fact, during my time at Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, working with researchers at Emory RISE  to evaluate the demographic data of healthline callers informed targeted organizing and outreach efforts while amplifying the work happening in communities across the Southeast.

The reality is that everyone does not need to be a reproductive justice activist, but I encourage everyone to use the Reproductive Justice framework as a lens to guide their work. This means acknowledging the history of the harm that the medical industrial complex has caused on historically marginalized people coming from Black and Indigenous communities as well as communities of color. It means learning from the mistakes of the past and making a commitment to shift conditions to ensure that people are steps closer to living liberated lives. It means meeting people where they are at the intersection of abortion access and the myriad of issues that impact our ability to thrive daily. It means a commitment to experience liberatory moments, even if we don’t achieve full liberation in our lifetimes. We may not get it right all the time, but I do want people to ask themselves how far they are willing to go for our collective liberation.

 Abortion funds are at the forefront of the fight for abortion access, providing vital support such as financial assistance, transportation, childcare, translation services, doula support, and accommodations for those traveling to receive health care. With decades of experience, they expertly navigate the complex political landscape, supporting their communities with unwavering compassion and care. By centering their communities and remaining nimble amid constant political change impacting bodily autonomy, they remind us of our collective power to resist and build the worlds we envision.

For me, Reproductive Justice is not merely a concept – it is my North Star. It informs every decision I make as I build power for abortion access. But Reproductive Justice is about so much more than abortions. It’s about changing the systems and institutions that keep us from experiencing true reproductive freedom. 

I do this work to honor our ancestors and to ensure a better future for our descendants. The stark reality is that marginalized communities face widening disparities in accessing health care. Despite these challenges, there is an abundance of love for our communities, fueling the dedication of abortion funds. We prioritize those navigating oppressive systems, striving to dismantle barriers hindering healthcare access.

Let us recommit to the Reproductive Justice principles and center those who are most affected by these barriers. Together, we must build a future where Reproductive Justice is not just a dream, but a reality.

Learn more about the 2024 ARM sessions related to women and gender health, policy implications for reproductive health, and other sessions on health care related to pregnant and birthing people here

The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of AcademyHealth or of their respective affiliated employers/organizations. 

Oriaku Njoku

Oriaku Njoku

Executive Director - National Network of Abortion Funds

Oriaku Njoku (she/they), is the Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds and is a first-ge... Read Bio

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