For many of us, the link between mental wellbeing and our reproductive health is something that is not really talked about. Decisions about our reproductive health can be complicated, exciting, and confusing – especially because they also have long-term implications. In order to make those decisions, we need to be able to have 1) individual agency and 2) access to self-care. Both of these things are central to the framework and vision of reproductive justice. Embodying a reproductive justice lens empowers us to make the best decisions for ourselves. That’s why, as clinicians, it’s our duty to empower and educate clients about their sexual and reproductive health by centering reproductive justice in our work.
What is reproductive justice?
Reproductive justice is a framework that highlights the right to control our sexuality, our gender, and our reproduction. This right can only be achieved when we all have the complete power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, our families, and our communities. This main tenets of reproductive justice include:
- The right to not have children.
- The right to have children.
- The right to nurture the children we have (if we choose to have them) in a safe, healthy environment.
- The right to be free of reproductive coercion and violence.
Reproductive justice expands on the fight for reproductive rights by taking a holistic and intersectional approach. The framework, founded in 1994 by a group of Black women known as the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice, recognizes that having a right does not necessarily equate to having access. Reproductive justice acknowledges that BIPOC individuals, people with disabilities, low-income communities, and the LGBTQ+ population are disproportionately impacted. Essentially, reproductive justice is not only a framework, but also a vision and movement that demands rights, access, and resources for our reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy.
What does this actually look like? Reproductive justice includes resources and decisions surrounding the following:
- Affordable contraception
- Alternative birth options
- Comprehensive sex education
- Domestic violence support
- Family planning
- Healthy relationships and consent
- Perinatal care
- STI prevention and care
- Safe abortion care (support for before, during, and after an abortion)
- Sexual violence and abuse prevention education
- And much, much more…
Why does this matter?
There are so many messages we receive daily about what to do with our bodies, how to plan for a family, and what our lives are supposed to look like. External and societal pressures especially contribute to negative emotions and can often make us question our decisions surrounding our reproductive health. At the end of the day, reproductive justice emphasizes self-care and agency. A reproductive justice framework encourages us to take care of ourselves and allows us to feel any and all emotions. It reminds us that it is okay to be nervous and unsure and, at the same time, still be able to handle things and make decisions for ourselves.
Practicing Reproductive Justice in our Daily Lives
Here are three ways to practice individual agency and self-care when it comes to making decisions about our own reproductive health.
Decisions about our reproductive health are complex and can bring up a range of emotions. External pressures and messages sometimes contribute to our self-doubt or fears. It is important to explore your own emotions, limits, strengths, and boundaries. Alex Pitre and Kyle Vereyken designed an “All the Feels” Worksheet to help process one’s own emotions and seek clarity. They pose the following questions to help promote self-reflection:
- Where are these feelings coming from? From you? From people in your life? From beliefs around you?
- Are there any feelings that you expected to feel? Any that surprise you?
- Do any of your feelings conflict with others that you have?
- Which feelings do you want to let go of? Which do you want to hold onto?
- Identify Support Systems
Challenging reproductive health situations can often make us feel like we are alone. Take some time to think about the people in your life. Who do you feel you can be yourself around? Who do you trust to be there for you?
I also always encourage clients to seek out mental health practitioners that practice a reproductive justice lens. Narrative therapy can be useful in making sense of our lives, especially if an experience is resurfacing one month or even years later. As we experience moments and decisions, we give meanings and create narratives regarding what we went through. We can carry multiple stories that impact our understanding of ourselves, relationships, and communities. Sharing our stories out loud in a therapy setting can be empowering and sometimes, we discover alternative stories that can help us find acceptance and deeper understanding.
Embodying a reproductive justice lens in our daily lives will look different for all of us, but it starts with intentionality. Prentis Hemphill, Founder and Director of The Embodiment Institute, defines embodiment as:
“What is currently practiced or habituated in us. It is also the process of becoming more aware of practiced behaviors. [And] developing relationships to the rhythms and impulses in our own bodies.”
What does embodiment look like for you? This may mean connecting with our breath, defining and upholding our boundaries, or even strengthening our relationships. For me personally, embodying reproductive justice means centering hope as my self-care and learning to honor my intuition and knowledge.
Reproductive Justice Resources