Health Reform: A Victory for Reproductive Justice

Despite a significant set back for abortion access, health reform is still a victory for reproductive justice. 

By Jill Morrison, Senior Counsel,
National Women’s Law Center

(originally posted at 

As an organization that supports abortion rights, we at the National Women’s Law Center consider health reform a bittersweet success. The bill that was signed into law yesterday (and the Executive Order regarding abortion) will certainly not advance abortion access. It can be argued that abortion access will actually be harmed by Health Reform if insurers respond by dropping abortion coverage that they previously included.

Nonetheless, I am going to celebrate Health Reform, because it advances the cause of Reproductive Justice. One of my very first postings here at was on Reproductive Justice, so here is a quick refresher. The Reproductive Justice movement was started by Women of Color to address concerns that had long been neglected by the mainstream reproductive rights community. The Reproductive Justice movement places reproductive health and rights within a social justice framework. The movement supports the right of individuals to have the children they want, raise the children they have, and plan their families through safe, legal access to abortion and contraception. In order to make these rights a reality, the movement recognizes that Reproductive Justice will only be achieved when all people have the resources, as well as the economic, social, and political power, to make healthy decisions about their bodies, their sexuality, and their reproduction. 

I can say, unequivocally, that despite the shabby way abortion is treated in health reform, the signing of the bill yesterday was a major step forward for Reproductive Justice. For example:

Health reform will help women avoid pregnancies they don’t want: 

  • A woman who once made too much money to get Medicaid will find that she is now eligible for it, so she will have access to contraceptive services and can delay childbearing until she is ready.
  • A woman who once couldn’t afford health insurance is now able to afford it with a subsidy provided by health reform. She will have a gynecologist who counsels her on family planning options, and the method she chooses will be covered. 

Health reform will improve women’s chances of having healthy children:

  • A woman who didn’t have insurance through her employer will be able to buy insurance in the health exchange. She will receive prenatal care without having to pay deductibles or co-pays, increasing her chances of having a healthy pregnancy.
  • A 22 year old woman who was nearing her college graduation was on the verge of losing coverage under her parents’ health insurance plan. Instead, she is able to stay on their plan until she is 26. A routine visit to the gynecologist shows she has chlamydia. Thanks to early treatment, she doesn’t develop pelvic inflammatory disease—a common complication of chlamydia which contributes to infertility. When she is ready to have a child, she is able.

And health reform supports our right to raise our children, because it includes economic supports for us to do so:

  • A woman who thought she would have to relinquish custody of her son to her ex-husband so her son would have health insurance doesn’t have to. Health reform will provide subsidies so she can afford family coverage, so her child can get treatment for his asthma and she can retain custody. 
  • A pre-med major who thought she would have to choose between her education and raising her child is surprised to discover that her college now provides housing and childcare for parents, thanks to funding provided in the health reform bill.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Health reform isn’t perfect from a reproductive justice standpoint (for example, it also excludes undocumented people and includes funding for abstinence only programs), but overall, it advances the goals of Reproductive Justice. Thanks to everyone who called, emailed, debated with friends and family and otherwise supported health reform. All of us, including advocates for Reproductive Justice, have reason to celebrate.