This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered back-to-back rulings ending the constitutional right to abortion in the United States and undercutting the federal government’s ability to regulate carbon pollution.
These two issues, once considered distinct, actually overlap significantly in the lives of millions of Americans.
Like the broader abortion rights movement, reproductive justice—a concept coined by women activists of color in 1994—centers on the human right to bodily autonomy, including the decision whether or not to have children. It also gives extra consideration as to how race and class affect a person’s ability to seek abortion care and raise their children in healthy, sustainable communities.
We know that nearly half of the women who seek abortions live below the poverty line, with poor women being five times more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy. Communities of color, and poor communities of all races, already lack equitable access to health care, sex education and contraceptives. Abortion bans hurt these people the most.
Intersectional frameworks like reproductive justice offer people the opportunity to join the fight for basic human rights like abortion—and a healthy environment, too. That’s because many of the people most impacted by abortion bans are also most impacted by pollution.
People of color are 61 percent more likely than their white counterparts to live in counties suffering from significant air pollution. And on average, they live in areas that are nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter. Pollution and heat exposure increase the possibility of preterm labor, stillbirth, low birth weight, asthma and other adverse conditions.
Reproductive injustice, in short, is inseparable from environmental injustice. Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” offers a devastating example.
Between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, over 140 petrochemical plants and refineries have been polluting the Mississippi River, spoiling land and poisoning predominantly Black and poor communities for decades. The area suffers air pollution-linked cancer at rates fifty times higher than the national average, with residents suffering from many other acute and chronic health conditions and, as a result, decreased life expectancy.
Residents also report higher rates of miscarriages in a state where these are now more likely to be prosecuted under a harsh new anti-abortion regime.
According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the states doing the most to restrict reproductive health care also do the least to invest in social programs that benefit families and children. We worry they’re also doing the least to protect pregnant people, children and families from pollution.
If extremist state governments want to force people to give birth, why are they working against ensuring a viable future for the next generation? They’re violating people’s bodily autonomy not only with harsh abortion restrictions, but also by refusing to protect them from environmental threats.
The principles of reproductive justice are needed now more than ever to protect basic human rights—including access to abortion, bodily autonomy and a healthy environment to grow up in. All of these fights are now more closely linked than ever.
Our futures, our bodies and our communities must not be sacrificed in the interest of extremism or greed.
This column was produced by Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.