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Organizing Intern Annika Fuller discusses the intersection of environmental and reproductive justice.

Reproductive justice: “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” 

Environmental justice: “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Neither the reproductive justice nor environmental justice movements are asking for something that is outside the realm of possibility. They’re asking for equitable access to what many white, middle and upper class people already have. Environmental and reproductive justice want the ability for everyone to live in a safe environment, free to make decisions about their own bodies and health. 

When a community does not see these forms of justice, there is a possibility for  both personal and situational disaster. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey’s flooding and overall intensity was exacerbated by climate change. Consequently,  clinics providing abortion services were forced to close down. When providers stepped in to offer no-cost abortions during the crisis, this essential health care seemed to be protected. However, Texas’ anti-abortion legislation coupled with the logistical and financial barriers the storm created meant many people went without the essential care they needed. 

The climate crisis is a prevailing challenge and threat. Storms like Harvey are more likely to continue to develop. The present administration has been doing everything it can to dismantle the already insufficient and superficial U.S. climate policy. This effectively means communities will continue to get hit with more frequent and more intense storms, weather pattern changes, and rising water levels threatening their homes. Many companies set up shop in communities of color and low-income communities, creating polluted water and air. All these factors lead to an environment that is unsafe for anyone to be raising their children in. 

This system of environmental and reproductive injustice has been built into the fabric of the supposedly progressive movements meant to tackle and dismantle these injustices. The environmental movement was built on the white supremacist ideals of the conservation icons universities still teach today. John Muir, Madison Grant, Henry Thoreau, and others all spouted ideas of “untouched” land that was a perfect escape from the realities of a country becoming more reflective of the world and less reflective of their mirrors. 

Additionally, the history of the reproductive rights movement must be reckoned with. Access to services like birth control was influenced by a drive to keep a dominant race-based class structure, with incentivized sterilization for poor people. The pro-choice movement has focused on an individual’s ability to choose whether or not to have children without looking at the bigger picture of whether or not everyone has the power or privilege in society to be the parent they wish to be. Today, advocates for reproductive rights and environmental justice must learn these histories so as not to repeat the systemic mistakes of the past.

Those left behind by the mainstream movements are now experiencing the most severe consequences without the equal opportunity to advocate for themselves. Communities of color, low-income communities, and Indigenous communities all face higher pollution than their white, middle and upper class counterparts. Facilities choose to locate themselves and their polluting materials near and in these communities because the government rarely acts on complaints and outcry from those communities. Members of these communities are facing serious health hazards like breast cancer, birth defects, spontaneous abortions, and infertility due to the landfills, incenerators, and power plants the companies believe they can place there while bulldozing over human rights without a sideways glance from elected officials. 

Reproductive and environmental justice are intertwined and cannot be realized without the other. Just like how their goals are very much alike, their pathways to get there are also extremely similar. For sustainable change, the foundations that environmental and reproductive oppression have been built on must be chipped away so new grass can grow instead.

Tags: repro justice, environmental_health