Climate justice is reproductive justice

Overturning Roe v. Wade compounds climate injustice, as severe weather becomes more frequent and extreme.

A draft decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, leaked by Politico, indicates that the court could strike down the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion in the United States — Roe v. Wade — later this year. This move, in an era where climate change is already exacerbating existing inequalities, puts us all at risk.

The Roe v. Wade decision, which has been a landmark for reproductive justice across the United States, is the only federal protection that legalizes abortion across all 50 states and DC. Now, it is likely that 23 or more states will ban abortions across the United States, according to data from the Center for Reproductive Rights.

With the intention to overturn the right to safe abortions, the Supreme Court has now signaled that they will stop at nothing to eliminate access to essential healthcare for our most vulnerable populations — putting millions of lives on the line. 

This ruling is a nail in the coffin that has been years of conservative American leaders with power, working to make reproductive healthcare more difficult to access. This ruling has no basis in concern for the lives of children or women like it claims; if it did, they would be fighting for universal health care, climate legislation to safeguard our children’s futures, comprehensive sex education, universal childcare, paid parental leave, targeted disaster recovery funding, a rebut of the foster care system — this list goes on and on. 

“Climate justice is reproductive justice,” said Davis. “There are a whole host of studies that have proven that environmental degradation is caustic to the lives of women, pregnant people, and folks that are in the postpartum period.”

The fact that conservatives are fighting against those measures makes it even more obvious that overturning Roe v. Wade is a targeted attack to maintain the status quo of inequality and injustice that keeps them in power, including over other people’s bodies. Access to reproductive healthcare is a necessity in this climate emergency, especially for people who already experience systematic oppression and marginalization.

The systems of patriarchy and white supremacy that have been chipping away at reproductive rights for decades since Roe v. Wade was passed, are the same systems that perpetuate climate injustice and push us further into the climate emergency. Dehumanizing people by denying their right to bodily autonomy is no different than allowing fossil fuel companies to pollute the planet for profit without being held responsible for the consequences. In both cases, rich and powerful men are held to a different standard, and are able to unjustly exploit others without recourse. Neither issue can be addressed without looking at these larger systems and intersectionalities.

And it’s important to note that Roe v. Wade is already a fairly weak protection — in many states, abortion is functionally banned or so limited that it is extremely difficult to obtain. In Texas, for example, citizens are encouraged to report anyone who helps someone else obtain an abortion, in exchange for a bounty. Overturning Roe v. Wade, opens the door for more extreme criminalization of abortion and provides a gateway to additional bans on other forms of reproductive healthcare.

“We’re talking about places like Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where they have the worst maternal health and also some of the poorest infrastructure to deal with climate disasters.

Currently spoke with Kelly Davis, the executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice — an organization focused on transforming society for the complete health and well being of Black women, femmes, girls and gender expansive folks. We asked her about the connections between reproductive justice and climate justice. 

Davis explained how the term “reproductive justice” was coined by Black women in 1994, and that it includes the ability to parent children in a healthy environment, if one choses to be a parent.

“Climate justice is reproductive justice,” said Davis. “There are a whole host of studies that have proven that environmental degradation is caustic to the lives of women, pregnant people, and folks that are in the postpartum period.” 

The imminent risk of a loss of federal protections for reproductive care affects anyone with a uterus, low-income people, queer people, Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color seeking reproductive health care. Those who are already marginalized, and have historically been failed by the U.S. health care system, will continue to face barriers to safe and affordable reproductive healthcare, like abortions.

In the same vein, women, girls, trans people, nonbinary people with uteruses — are all more likely to be affected by climate change and disaster. As Currently’s Zaria Howell wrote for The 19th last summer, disasters have a disproportionate effect on women’s health and earnings. Pregnant people are especially vulnerable to climate change and environmental stressors. LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be faced with compounding inequalities that make them more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

In the United States, people of color are more likely to be affected by climate and environmental stressors because of environmental racism. Low-income people are not only more likely to face climate disasters, but they also have a more difficult time recovering. In short — any group that faces marginalization and therefore may face challenges accessing reproductive care, is also more likely to be impacted by climate change. As disasters and climate-fueled severe weather become more frequent and extreme, this will only create more barriers to access. 

“Exposure to displacement or disasters means folks have a harder time even accessing needed reproductive health services, and because of the stress of climate disasters, things like prematurity and low birth weight — which are the leading causes of infant death among Black Americans — skyrocket,” said Davis, “All of it exacerbates vulnerabilities, and Black women and pregnant people are left to fall through the cracks, not from our own volition… but because the state policies push us through the cracks.”

In 13 states there are abortion “trigger-laws” — or abortion bans designed to go into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned — on the books. These states include Arkansas, Idaho, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Many of these states have experienced and are still recovering from severe weather from just this past year. 

“Of the 13 states that have trigger bans, several are states with the highest proportion of Black residents, also with some of the highest proportion of man-made climate disasters — such as hurricanes and tropical storms.” said Davis, “We’re talking about places like Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, where they have the worst maternal health and also some of the poorest infrastructure to deal with climate disasters.”

In 2020, Louisiana ranked 49th out of 50 in women’s and children’s health, and its public health system is chronically underfunded — even as the oil and gas industry there has successfully lobbied for tax breaks worth billions of dollars. In the meantime, recent hurricane seasons have relentlessly battered the coast and the low-income coastal communities, and they are only getting worse.

As always, mutual aid collectives, local abortion funds, and local activists are doing the essential work to ensure communities have the resources they need to access safe abortions. In regions where abortion is limited and disaster is seemingly constant, community activists are working double time to keep up with the compounding crisis. 

The New Orleans Abortion Fund is a prime example, working not only to help those in need access abortions but, doing tireless disaster planning — both in their own states and surrounding ones. 

According to Davis, climate and reproductive justice activists should be working together, including aligning themselves with causes that challenge these blatant examples of racism and bodily oppression.  

Davis noted how the climate movement, for example, has often pushed “population control” as a climate solution — an idea that is largely rooted in racist ideas about limiting the births of non-white people. 

 “The answers of climate degradation are not found in the wombs of melanated people,” concluded Davis.

If you are feeling panicked, here is some very level headed advice from abortion activist Steph Black: 

If you are considering donating, I encourage you to choose a local abortion fund, local abortion support organization, local clinic, or mutual aid group in a state where access to abortions is most likely to be banned.


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