What ‘reproductive justice’ means for the unborn child

In a speech she delivered recently in Wexford, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone highlighted what she termed ‘reproductive justice’. In her hands, ‘reproductive justice’ renders the rights of the unborn child completely null and void. Interestingly, however, other advocates of ‘reproductive justice’ while they are certainly pro-choice, nonetheless have misgivings about aspects of abortion that Minister Zappone does not seem to share.

Something called the Primer on Reproductive Justice and Social Change from Berkeley University in the United State defines ‘reproductive justice’ is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” However, the authors of the primer disagree about how exactly to apply ‘reproductive justice’ to real-life situations, including abortion. Some are nervous about singling out the disabled for abortion, others about sex selective abortion which mainly targets girls.

One of the authors, Mia Mingus, of Georgians for Choice, expresses concerns on the link between Reproductive Justice and Disability and speaks about the use of Prenatal Diagnostics (ultrasounds and amniocentesis) to deselect and abort unborn children with disabilities such as Down Syndrome. She goes on to note how this illustrates not only the deeply entrenched “ableism” among women and the culture-at-large, but also the fact that while many pro-choice feminists argue for the right to abortion, “many disabled feminists question the inherent ableism that surrounds the decisions to abort.”

Mingus condemns the targeting of those with Muscular Dystrophy, Spina Bifida and Sickle Cell Anaemia as anathema to an authenticate sense of what reproductive justice ought to entail.

Given that the government of which Minister Zappone is a member is fully set on regulating practices such as Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis, one can only wonder if this will set on her a collision course with some of her fellow travellers in the reproductive justice movement. Will Minister Zappone reject the right to abort on the basis of such ‘anomalies’ given how it implicitly encourages the discriminatory practices associated with ‘ableism’?

Another area which Minister Zappone needs to clarify is whether her support for the concept of reproductive justice extends to sharing the concerns voiced by The Committee on Women, Population and the Environment, National Gender, Eugenics & Biotechnology Taskforce. In its contribution to the Berkeley Primer, the Taskforce critiques Stem Cell Research for its dependence on women to provide eggs, which it rightly characterises as an invasive procedure that may have long term consequences.

The Taskforce also alerts those interested in pursuing reproductive justice to the dangers of the increased need for female eggs for scientific research. A practice which in its own words can “potentially be used to further exploit women’s bodies, as well as put women at risk for long term side effects from use of stimulants to produce.”

These are all areas which our own government intends to legislate for. Embryo ‘donation’ and embryo research are all set to be introduced and ‘regulated’ here under the General Scheme of legislation dealing with Assisted Human Reproduction. Will Minister Zappone vote against the government if they permit such practices and risk losing her ministerial seat? How committed is she to Reproductive Justice?

One more example will show how Minister Zappone will also have a hard time reconciling her call for Reproductive Justice with maintaining her support for the recommendations of the Citizens Assembly. Some of the contributors to the Primer highlight the repugnant practice of sex selective abortions which overwhelmingly targets female unborn children. Yet one of the key recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, the Report of which Minister Zappone wants to see introduced in full, is that access to abortion should be introduced without restriction as to reason. That most certainly encompasses the right to abortion of grounds of gender or sex.

Just how Minister Zappone, or anyone for that matter can proclaim themselves a supporter of ‘Reproductive Justice’ while also supporting the deliberate targeting of female embryos/children as a legitimate and protected expression of a woman’s autonomy, is anyone’s guess.