The Fight for Reproductive Justice: Pass the Women’s Health Protection Act Now

By Danielle Mangabat

It has been almost a year since the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned the historic Roe v. Wade decision that provided a constitutional right to abortion. Since the Court’s decision last June, the impact of abortion restrictions and bans has been felt across the spectrum of race, class, and gender identity. Today, more than 20 percent of Americans reside in states where abortion is now illegal, which further endangers the health and well-being of all birthing people. People of color in particular continue to bear the brunt of the harm caused by the lack of protection of sexual and reproductive health rights. Post-Dobbs, 5.8 million Black women (56.7 percent) of reproductive age in the United States now face new barriers to abortion access.

Millions of people continue to face barriers to accessible and equitable reproductive health care and are criminalized for making decisions about their own bodies. Just last week, a federal judge in Texas issued an extreme and unfounded decision to suspend FDA approval of mifepristone, a safe and effective drug commonly used in medication abortion. If the decision is allowed to stand, it will eliminate access to this medication even in states where abortion is legal.

Now more than ever, it is crucial to codify a federal right to abortion. On March 30, Representative Judy Chu (D. Calif.), along with more than 200 original cosponsors, introduced H.R. 12, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). The bill is also supported by 101 civil and human rights groups, who wrote to lawmakers this week in a letter urging passage of this important reproductive rights legislation. WHPA would codify the right for patients to choose abortion and receive related health care. If passed, the legislation would promote access to abortion services, protect the right to choice and bodily autonomy, and eliminate barriers to health care access related to travel and commerce.

Since Roe, politicians have taken advantage of power to create more restrictions on abortion and reproductive health care, especially for communities of color and low-income people. It’s important to recognize that the Roe decision had shortcomings, including a lack of clarity around abortion regulation and a narrow focus on the right to choose. Additional restrictions like the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, created additional barriers to abortion care for low-income people. WHPA is an important step toward reproductive justice for all people, and additional protections, such as those contained in the EACH Act, are needed to ensure that the right to access abortion is not limited by economic status, race, gender identity, or sexuality. 

Lack of abortion and reproductive health care access, and oppressive restrictions on women’s bodily autonomy, perpetuate systemic discrimination against people of color. To that end, the House bill includes a findings section that addresses the importance of reproductive justice:

Reproductive justice requires every individual to have the right to make their own decisions about having children regardless of their circumstances and without interference and discrimination. Reproductive justice is a human right that can and will be achieved when all people, regardless of actual or perceived race, color, national origin, immigration status, sex (including gender identity, sex stereotyping, or sexual orientation), age, or disability status have the economic, social, and political power and resources to define and make decisions about their bodies, health, sexuality, families, and communities in all areas of their lives, with dignity and self-determination.

Reproductive justice is a movement and human rights framework created by Black women that acknowledges the systems of historic oppression that create daily barriers for people of color and low-income people in accessing abortion and reproductive health care. It also recognizes the intersectional issues that contribute to the lived experiences of Black women. For instance, Black women are more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than White women and have a higher rate of unintended pregnancies — across socioeconomic status and level of educational attainment. The reproductive justice framework contextualizes social determinants of health that impact BIPOC women — these groups have more limited access to health care, including contraception and other sexual health services that are important for pregnancy planning. Across the board, Black women are disproportionately criminalized and arrested and suffer more miscarriages and stillbirths than other ethnic groups. Disparities in health care access and health factors, coupled with the historic criminalization and state control of Black and Brown women and their bodies, continue a violent legacy of inequality that must be put to an end.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many of the states with the harshest abortion bans also have some of the highest rates of Black maternal death, child poverty, and infant mortality. By advocating for the right to bodily autonomy and choice, WHPA works to address the spectrum of harms that are experienced by people who have historically faced intersectional struggles and interconnected oppressions, such as white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, and heteronormativity.

Regardless of a person’s race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, access to safe and equitable reproductive health care services, including abortion care, must be available to all. WHPA is a step toward addressing some of these systemic barriers, especially those that have existed even with the protections of Roe v. Wade, and will help to provide individuals with the autonomy to make informed decisions about their bodies and their lives.

The Women’s Health Protection Act is a long-overdue federal recognition of the right to access abortion. And we cannot afford to wait any longer. For too long, people across the spectrum of intersectional identities have faced countless barriers to abortion access and control over the health of their own bodies on their own terms. This legislation works toward a future where the right to access abortion is a reality for all people.

To join the fight to codify a federal right to abortion, urge your members of Congress to show their strong support for the Women’s Health Protection Act and to call for its immediate passage. We are counting on our elected officials to pass this important legislation as we continue to work toward a future free from violence and state control of birthing people and their bodies. Congress must pass WHPA and continue to push for other federal legislation that will ensure that all people have access to the health care they need and deserve.

Danielle Mangabat is a spring 2023 undergraduate intern at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.