By Deborah Reid
Women of color created and defined the concept of reproductive justice, which is firmly rooted in a human rights framework that supports the ability of all women to make and direct their own reproductive decisions. These decisions could include obtaining contraception, abortion, sterilization, and/or maternity care. Accompanying that right is the obligation of the government and larger society to create laws, policies, and systems conducive to supporting those decisions.
For many underserved women, however, obtaining true reproductive justice has remained an elusive goal. From the 1920s to the 1970s, the ultimate level of denial of reproductive freedom occurred when women of color, low-income individuals, and immigrant women were subjected to routine government-sponsored sterilization without their knowledge or consent.
Underserved women in the United States continue to experience disparities that harm their reproductive health. Compounding this problem is the nation’s track record of interference with the reproductive lives of women in these communities. Infamous legal cases also arose due to the harm caused to women across the country, such as in Buck v. Bell (low-income white women in Virginia), Relf v. Weinberger (young African-American women in Alabama), and Madrigal v. Quilligan (Latinas of Mexican origin in California). All of these cases focused on laws and policies authorizing sterilizations of certain individuals without their knowledge or consent for the “benefit” of society.