Dion Mensah, Research Intern | December 16, 2021 Blog Post

As 2021 comes to a close, climate change worsens and reproductive health is under unprecedented threat. But how do the movements for climate justice and reproductive justice intersect?

Many are aware of the range of environmental consequences and unprecedented damage to the natural environment associated with climate change. A driving force behind this is global warming, which is primarily caused by human activities (specifically that of fossil fuel burning). In addition to hotter global temperatures, it is important to note that climate change also includes major changes to the world’s weather patterns, including more frequent instances of extreme weather events with increased intensity and impact as well as rising sea levels. These extreme weather patterns have already contributed to the forced displacement and growing numbers of climate refugees. Some of the worst-case scenario predictions include limited water availability for the global population, extinction of many plants and animals, increased risk of invasive species and the possibility of biomes shifting types altogether.

At first glance, the many ways in which climate change impacts access to reproductive care and justice may not attract attention. However, as folks throughout the country continue to find ways to address these major crises of our lifetime, it is critical to consider the way our collective needs and demands for justice within these movements overlap. SisterSong’s definition of reproductive justice (RJ) highlights the need for “safe and sustainable communities” to guarantee quality care for those choosing to have children as well as for those choosing not to. Part of what is important to this is the actual natural, physical environment in which folks live and grow up. Fostering safe, healthy and sustainable environments is key to ensuring that all people, especially the ones who have been historically under-resourced, can live and grow to their full potential. Protecting and uplifting reproductive rights and justice incorporate protecting and uplifting the environments in which people are raised. Here, we find a central connection between the movement for RJ and the movement for climate justice.

Both the movements for environmentalism and reproductive access/rights have histories steeped in eugenics: environmentalists argued for population control as a means to protect the planet, and early reproductive advocates allied with eugenicists to curb the procreation of those deemed weak. To resist this and otherwise violent white supremacist cultures present, leaders within reproductive health and climate movements centered this justice lens within their broader respective fields of healthcare and climate change/environmentalism. As the Royal Irish Academy broadly explains, “Justice is generally understood to mean that which is right, fair, appropriate or deserved, with justice being achieved when an unjust act is redressed.”

Like the RJ movement, climate justice calls for structural changes and policy to combat systemic inequities, with a focus on environmental and climate change mitigation. Like the climate justice movement, RJ demands safe and sustainable environments to nourish future generations.

Climate justice recognizes that it is often the most vulnerable groups, and those who contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions, that bear the brunt of unprecedented changes to our Earth’s climate. The following diagram from the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health sums up the impacts of climate change on human health, all of which will disproportionately impact marginalized groups.


[Source: National Center for Environmental Health, CDC, 3/2/21].

Water scarcity and water contamination are major barriers to being able to raise children here in the U.S. and globally. It is reported that nearly 450 million children worldwide live in areas where they do not have enough water to meet their everyday needs, and diseases related to water and sanitation are currently one of the primary causes of death in children under five years old globally. Birthing people exposed to high heat temperatures and air pollution are put at greater risk of delivering premature, underweight or stillborn babies. Lesser discussed impacts extend to social conditions domestically and abroad that will also impact children and families, such as the increase in climate refugeeism and increased competition for water, both of which will fuel existing tensions related to migration and border conflicts.

Left unchecked, the diverse impacts of climate change will starkly impact healthcare, reproductive access and one’s ability to raise children across the U.S.

A Look At How Extreme Weather Due to Climate Change Has Impacted RJ Today: The Case of Texas, Senate Bill 8 and Hurricane Ida

Extreme weather caused by climate change has a direct impact on reproductive healthcare access. For example, during the 2017 Tubbs Fire in California, abortion clinics were forced to close, which forced people to find care elsewhere or forfeit abortion care altogether.

Another devastating example of this was seen recently in the state of Texas.  Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), one of the most extreme pieces of anti-abortion legislation in the country, went into effect in September 2021. SB 8 bans abortions after six weeks—with no exceptions in cases of rape, sexual abuse, incest or  fetal anomaly diagnoses—and provides incentives for vigilante citizens to report practitioners and receivers of abortion. As several court-reviews and federal lawsuits have been issued against the state to halt the enforcement, those seeking abortions have been forced to travel great distances across state borders to access care.

On the same weekend that SB 8 went into effect, Hurricane Ida hit the U.S. Gulf Coast. While Texas received minimal direct damage from the storm, neighboring states Louisiana and Mississippi—where Texans might have sought out abortion care—were left without power and experienced other widespread outages and damage to infrastructure after the powerful Category 4 hurricane passed through. Not only did Hurricane Ida force two of the three remaining abortion clinics in Louisiana to shut down temporarily, but it came at a time when folks throughout the region were scrambling to get people access to reproductive care after the passage of SB 8. Devastating, extreme weather events like Hurricane Ida will only continue to happen and will potentially worsen as the climate emergency continues. This will only further devastate communities failing to have their basic needs met and those already hit hard by class disparities, ultimately making existing barriers to reproductive care even more challenging to overcome.

Looking Ahead

“Environmental and reproductive justice want the ability for everyone to live in a safe environment, free to make decisions about their own bodies and health.” [Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, 7/1/20]

Climate change poses a serious threat to the basic resources humans need to survive and creates a barrier to people being able to act upon their reproductive autonomy. Climate change’s anticipated influence on socio-economic conditions will only worsen existing class disparities, which will most directly hurt people of color, poor and working-class people and all communities affected by oppressive systems of homophobia, transphobia, ableism, colonialism, white supremacy and more.

The clean, safe and sustainable environments necessary for caregivers to grow and raise their children are put in immense danger by the impending climate crisis. More frequent and severe climate and weather disasters will continue to directly inhibit folks from accessing reproductive health centers. Both movements take the important stance of centering marginalized communities in decision making and holding larger players accountable for their environmental destruction and attacks on bodily autonomy.

We must recognize that calling for climate justice is RJ: As we demand an end to reckless environmental harm and climate inaction, we are advocating for better physical environments that directly support birthing people, those raising children and children themselves. Likewise, RJ is climate justice. As we push for abortion rights and RJ, we are inherently calling in to view our rights to a clean and safe environment that can sustain humanity for future generations.

Dion Mensah is a research intern at Equity Forward. Their current areas of interest include climate justice, prison industrial complex abolition, and rights and liberation for queer and trans people of color (QTPOC). Dion is also a community organizer working on grassroots campaigns to resist state violence. In their free time, they enjoy reading, baking and spending time with their cat Nina.