Guest post by Kathleen de Onis
Within the reproductive rights movement disagreement exists regarding whether “choice” or “reproductive justice” best captures the reproductive health needs and human rights concerns of diverse women. Some feminist academics and activists assert that “choice” sufficiently encapsulates a broad social justice and human rights perspective capable of addressing the needs of all women—both privileged and marginalized. Meanwhile, other scholars and activists argue that because many women lack the ability to exercise real choices, the use of “choice” is insufficient for conveying the lived realities of marginalized women. Given this disputed terrain over language usage, my master’s thesis sought to clarify and work toward resolving this strain among activists and academics to engender a more discursively conscious and efficacious movement rhetoric. To do this, I analyzed press releases, blog posts, and newsletters from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. My findings were three-fold.
First, while diverse, English-speaking Latinas desire the ability to make choices and use the term “choice” to express both the presence and especially absence of choices, “reproductive justice” is a term that must be kept at the forefront of reproductive rights agenda-setting to ensure that eradication of poverty, discrimination, and other systemic ills is prioritized. As such, only once “reproductive freedom” is secured can “choice” encompass a host of reproductive rights options necessary for self-determination.
Second, because of linguistic and cultural differences, “reproductive justice” (“justicia reproductiva”) is a term that resonates with Spanish-speaking Latinas; meanwhile, “choice” (approximately translated “derecho a eligir” or “pro-elección”) fails to capture the same significance in Spanish as it carries in English.
Third, abortion rights broadly constructed is a particularly salient area of focus when addressing the needs of Latinas, especially immigrant Latinas, living in the United States. Consequently, the intersectional concerns of limited transportation, linguistic and cultural differences, and undocumented status must be considered in conjunction with the health care service of abortion.
Based on these findings, rather than continue the debate over whether certain reproductive rights terminology can capture a broad framework for women’s well-being, I find it more instructive to touch on the benefits and limitations of strategically employing certain terms broadly defined within different contexts and with distinct parties. On the one hand, when seeking support from organizations typically adverse to supporting abortion, emphasis on reproductive freedom or reproductive rights broadly defined is prudent to avoid alienating potential allies who associate “choice” with abortion narrowly constructed. Similarly, given the assertion by Latina reproductive justice activists that “choice” fails to resonate culturally and linguistically with immigrant Latinas, avoiding this term in immigrant Latina circles seems necessary. Several issues contributing to this lack of compatibility include the taboo nature of abortion, the polarizing life/choice binary, and the inability of the term to translate into Spanish. On the other hand, because the use of “choice”—both to express the presence and especially the absence of the right to make real choices—is pervasive in discussions regarding women’s reproductive rights in the United States, utilizing this term to articulate a broad agenda may be useful, as “choice” is more recognizable and accepted than “reproductive justice” or “reproductive freedom.” The challenge in this case, of course, involves transforming extant views regarding “choice” to embrace a more holistic framework for women’s liberation from procreative oppression—which the Latina Institute most certainly seeks to do.
Ultimately, regardless of the language that is selected in a given situation, reproductive justice activists and scholars must seek to frame arguments that reflect the multi-faceted and diverse lived experiences of all women—both marginalized and privileged. Despite continued efforts to oppress Latinas and their immigrant Latina sisters, the fight for reproductive justice must continue, as women and men from all backgrounds and interests unite in the common pursuit of salud, dignidad y justicia….health, dignity, and justice for all.
Kathleen de Onís holds an MA degree in communication studies; her research interests center on reproductive justice and other social movement discourse. She welcomes your comments or questions at: firstname.lastname@example.org.