Reproductive ‘Justice’

by Ian Tuttle
Of course, abortion is part of it; but there’s much, much more.

It is not hard to tell what kind of persons penned the University of Chicago’s “abguide,” given passages like this:

*While this guide may refer to “women” when discussing study results or use female pronouns in some instances, we recognize that individuals seeking pregnancy counseling or abortion may not identify as women. We encourage readers to keep this in mind and provide sensitive counseling and care.

Abguide.uchicago.edu is the University of Chicago’s online abortion guide, “Accessing Abortion in Illinois: A Guide for Health Care and Social Service Providers,” and the above sentences appear on the homepage, presumably to prevent visitors from journeying further into the site still clinging to a binary view of gender. Created by the university’s Section of Family Planning & Contraceptive Research and its (deep breath) Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health, or Ci3, the abguide is a narrowly tailored resource: Only those determined to counsel women not to seek an alternative to terminating their pregnancy need peruse.

The site contains a predictable conglomeration of reassuring abortion statistics, warnings against crisis-pregnancy centers, and paeans to the importance of value-free pregnancy-option counseling. If, however, your values need “clarification,” you can access this handy worksheet developed by the National Abortion Federation.

All of this, the site announces on its homepage, “should be considered through a reproductive justice framework. . . . As described in one foundational document, the reproductive justice framework recognizes that ‘women’s ability to exercise self-determination — including in their reproductive lives — is impacted by power inequities inherent in our society’s institutions, environment, economics, and culture.’”

The foundational document in question is “A New Vision,” published in 2005 by Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ). The “Reproductive Justice Movement” — yes, there’s a movement — “explor[es] and articulat[es] the intersection of racism, sexism, xenophobia, heterosexism, and class oppression in women’s lives.” Because “reproductive oppression” is “both a tool and a result of systems of oppression based on race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age and immigration status,” reproductive justice must “engage with issues such as sex trafficking, youth empowerment, family unification, educational justice, unsafe working conditions, domestic violence, discrimination of queer and transgendered communities, immigrant rights, environmental justice, and globalization.” The ACRJ casts a wide net.

“A New Vision,” with its Port Huron–era complaints (“imperialism,” “cultural hegemony,” “White supremacy”), is a twelve-page repurposing of Marx — albeit less proletariat, more Pretty Woman — except that in lieu of “liberation” and a classless society comes “justice.” So successfully has the Left commandeered this ancient ideal that it has become a byword of political southpaws the way “freedom” is a byword of conservatives. That dichotomy is wrong, but it is pervasive, and “justice” is regularly spliced to a variety of niche progressive concerns to give them moral purchase: reproductive justice, environmental justice, social justice.

The problem with all of these, though, is that they are fundamentally contentless. The idea of earthly justice that has obtained since the days of Moses — “To each man, the things that are his own” — was grounded in the notion of “a perfect Justice that abides in a realm beyond time and space,” wrote Russell Kirk in his 1989 essay “The Question of Social Justice.” But reproductive justice does not strive to accord with any order of things outside itself — not even, evidently, biological fact. Nowhere does the ACRJ envision concretely what reproductive justice would look like, any more than Marx dwelt on the specifics of a classless society. Reproductive justice thus means nothing more than reproductive freedom,

The lack of a clear endpoint ensures that reproductive justice, like other infinitely malleable faux justices, has no limits as a political bludgeon. The goal must be left vague, because once the revolution is over, the revolutionaries are out of work. Its potency is in its obscurity. Part of the work, therefore, of opponents of movements such as this is to push for a rational account that includes at least some specifics. Defining the endpoint of justice cannot be left up to those who stand to gain from perpetual agitation. Al Sharpton has taught us that much.

In her 1972 essay “The Women’s Movement,” Joan Didion famously observed, “And then, at that exact dispirited moment when there seemed no one at all willing to play the proletariat, along came the women’s movement, and the invention of women as a ‘class.’” The “instant transfiguration” of half of the American population into an oppressed caste was, she remarked, an astounding achievement. Forty years on, the ACRJ, the University of Chicago’s myriad women’s groups, and others are seeking to reanimate that sense of collective victimhood. They ought not to be allowed to do so under the banner of “justice.”

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. fellow at National Review.