Reproductive Justice is defined 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." This definition has been taken from an organization called SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. SisterSong's mission is to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights. The SisterSong organization is based in Atlanta, Georgia but their work stretches far beyond that state's border. SisterSong's Reproductive Justice teams partner with organizations all around the United States to offer trainings and workshops that assist each organization they work with to achieve their organizational goals while examing those goals through the lens of reproductive justice. The SisterSong Reproductive Justice teams partner with mainstream organizations to help them understand how their efforts affect marginalized women and trans people.
SisterSong in partnership with the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health collaborated on a critical shadow report that was presented to and received full cooperation from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This report, "Reproductive Injustice: Racial and Gender Discrimination in U.S. Health Care" addresses the racial disparities that still exist in healthcare today in the United States and prevents people of color from receiving accessible and appropriate prenatal, intrapartum and postpartum care. This lack of care means that Black birthing people are four times more likely to die than their white counterparts during the childbearing year.
SisterSong and the Center for Reproductive Rights now co-lead the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, (BMMA) an organization that has developed a national framework for state accountability around issues of maternal health. It is a collaboration of Southern black women’s organizations and individual black women leaders who are raising awareness and recruiting activists and organizations to join them in pushing for policy changes like Medicaid expansion, which can help keep Southern black women safe. We learned more about the Black Mamas Matter Alliance earlier this month in a Science & Sensibility post "Birthing While Black, Worse Outcomes, More Deaths" as we started Black History Month by discussing the fact that Black birthing people face higher mortality rates.
The Yale Global Justice Health Partnership just released a report "When the State Fails: Maternal Mortality and Racial Disparity in Georgia" (where SisterSong is headquartered) that demonstrates how governmental systems are failing Black women during their pregnancies, births and postpartum period.
Investigators preparing this report did so as a result of collaborative conversations with the Black Mamas Matter Alliance and the Center for Reproductive Rights. The YGJHP report indicates that there are four interconnected system failures, that contribute to maternal health disparities in Georgia
- Access to and quality of care,
- Insurance access and pricing,
- Funding for maternal health in Georgia, and
- Accountability around data analysis and use, specifically with regards to the state’s maternal mortality review committee.
The consequences of these failures mean that Black parents and babies are unable to access care, are receiving subpar care when they do access that care and are more likely to die or experience complications during their childbearing year than their white counterparts. The statistics and outcomes associated with Black parents and babies are at crisis level. This is a total system failure. The current systems in place need to be completely overhauled. The report states that reforms to policy structures are central to changing the pattern of maternal health disparities. “So often the state level solutions that are recommended are focused on individual behavior change rather than examining the systemic failures that contribute to and exacerbate the racial disparity,” said Kwajelyn J. Jackson, member of the Steering Committee for BMMA.
It is important to center the voices of Black women-led organizations and support them in achieving their goals. These organizations are directly involved with helping Black communities to receive the assistance and program structure that will change outcomes. People interested in helping to improve these outcomes can offer their time, energy and financial resources to SisterSong, Center for Reproductive Justice, Black Mamas Matter Alliance and more. These organizations are helping Black birthing people and their children to literally fight for their lives, and there is really nothing more important. Reach out to these organizations or others in your community led by people of color and offer your resources to help them achieve their goals. It matters.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System; Tucker MJ, Berg CJ, Callaghan WM, Hsia J. The black–white disparity in pregnancy-related mortality from 5 conditions: differences in prevalence and case-fatality rates. Am J Pub Health. 2007;97:247–251.
“Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System.” Reproductive Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017. Web. 5 Oct 2017