The Language of “Repro”

What’s the difference between reproductive health and reproductive rights? And what is reproductive justice? We hear these questions off and on, and maybe you’ve wondered yourself!

Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Organizations and individuals in the “repro” movement work within one or more of these frameworks. We thought we’d share a few basic definitions and resources to help clarify these closely aligned, yet slightly different approaches:

Reproductive Health

This refers to the direct provision of healthcare services related to people’s reproductive needs, like contraception, STI testing and treatment, mammograms and other cancer diagnostic tests, and ob-gyn care. Abortion care is considered reproductive health care. Planned Parenthood is an example of an organization that provides reproductive health care, along with many local public and private health clinics and physicians. Some, but not all, providers of reproductive health care also advocate for reproductive rights.

Reproductive Rights

Reproductive Rights are simply the rights and freedoms related to reproduction and reproductive health, which are controlled explicitly by laws that vary by country or state. Examples of reproductive rights include the right to legal and safe abortion, the right to birth control, freedom from coerced sterilization, access to reproductive healthcare, and the right to sex education. NARAL Pro-Choice America, founded in 1969, champions the idea that “Freedom is for every body.” They work “from the state house to the White House” advocating for legislatures and any other government body to support the autonomy and dignity of the individual human life and body. One’s body is one’s own. Others, especially a government, should not control a person and their body.

Reproductive Justice

Historically, U.S. movements for reproductive health and rights have centered the needs of white, mostly middle-class women, especially in the fight for abortion access. Even though Black women and women of color have solidly supported these efforts, their contributions and needs are often sidelined, minimized, or erased from the narrative altogether.

SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective defines Reproductive Justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” SisterSong formed in 1997 in the early days of the Reproductive Justice Movement.

Reproductive justice (RJ) is a movement created by, led by, and centering women of color. Developed in 1994 and grounded in the human rights framework, RJ elevates the needs and voices and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, over and against the prevalence of historically white-led women’s rights movements.

RJ encompasses reproductive health and reproductive rights, while also addressing the social, political, and economic systemic inequalities that affect women’s reproductive health and their ability to control their reproductive lives.

Reproductive Justice Resources

Sister Song’s website
Sister Song’s very active Facebook page
Sister Reach in Tennessee
Loretta Ross’ website
Loretta Ross’ Book Reproductive Justice: An Introduction

Reproductive Dignity

Reproductive Dignity is a term you’ll see us using a bit more often in Faith in Women communications, and we want to explain what we mean and why we use it.

At Faith in Women, we promote access to reproductive health care, we educate and organize faith voices in support of reproductive rights, and we believe whole-heartedly in doing our part to disrupt and dismantle white supremacist patriarchy in ourselves and our institutions. With gratitude and humility, we strive to align our work with the holy, world-changing vision of reproductive justice.

In the repro space, folks love a good acronym. You’ll often hear organizations use the catch-all “RHRJ” when talking about our work or our partners. The tent is big, and that’s a good thing!

None of these terms or acronyms has ever felt just right for what we do at Faith in Women, especially when we’re working in collaboration with others across the repro movement. For one thing, we bring a faith lens to the work of reproductive health and rights, which is rare in a movement where religion, especially fundamentalist Christianity, is rightly regarded as one of the main drivers of reproductive oppression. And as a white women-led organization, to call our work reproductive justice, however much we believe in the principles, would be to co-opt and water down an important framework meant to center Black and Indigenous people of color.

So last year, as part of the Leaders of Moral Courage Fellowship, the facilitators and fellows began looking for a term that describes our shared support of reproductive health, rights, and justice, while acknowledging the diverse perspectives, racial and gender experiences, and spiritual traditions embodied by the members of our group. One value we all held in common was the inherent worth and human dignity of all people; thus “reproductive dignity” was born. Try it out sometime and see how it fits into your ministry or faith community!

One thing to remember though: in justice work, we can often get caught up in the language, sometimes to the point of avoiding authentic relationships or even avoiding the work itself for fear of saying it wrong or causing harm. If our goal is to build a more just world, we should know the terms, understand our shared history, and respect and honor each other’s roles in the movement. And then we should get to work.