Infertility is a Reproductive Justice Issue

As a reproductive justice (RJ) activist I have spent years advocating for abortion rights and access to birth control. Simplified, the movement often focuses on how not to get or remain pregnant. However, there is little to no time spent on discussions of infertility or one’s ability to get and stay pregnant. Even organizations that hold themselves out as “full spectrum”, may address miscarriage and other forms of loss but rarely confront issues of infertility. Similar to other forms of reproductive loss, infertility is stigmatized and people are often silenced. It is our responsibility as RJ activists to shed light on this issue.

Infertility is impacted by issues of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. In my own journey, I was privileged enough to have health insurance to cover appointments with reproductive endocrinologists, a myriad of tests, and ultimately several forms of assisted reproductive technology (ART). Lack of economic resources can prevent someone from not only receiving a diagnosis but also engaging in ART, if they so choose. I know many people whose options were limited due to financial means. This is unacceptable. ART is not something that should be available to a lucky few who can afford it. Not to mention that there is also lack of access that isn’t due to finances. Some insurance companies won’t cover ART if it is due to “social infertility” meaning single women and queer couples. If I had fallen in love with a woman, I may have been denied coverage. In addition, studies have shown that there is a “knowledge gap” for people of color on fertility options. Many non-white racial groups struggle with infertility at high rates without the same access to resources. The group most likely to access ART are white, educated, wealthy women. After decades of forced sterilizations of women of color, there is no coincidence that the government is not invested in marginalized communities gaining access.

On a personal note, as a Latina, there has been an added pressure around family building as a indicator of success. I have 2 degrees and own a home, indicators towards upward mobility that it very hard to do in this country. It is something I am very proud of. However, to many in my community, accomplishments are nothing without children. The expectations around pregnancy and parenting have made speaking out about infertility struggles that much harder. I would venture that many other women of color share this sentiment. I know that the feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are not strictly culturally specific, but I think there are added cultural standards in various communities of color, including religion, that add to the silencing of this issue.

The reproductive justice community needs to provide space for people to discuss infertility. It needs to talk about the ways in which infertility is stigmatized in various communities. I did not consider these issues as part of my RJ work before experiencing them myself. I always viewed the tenant of RJ, “right to have children” through what I thought was an intersectional lens, but did not include infertility. Like so many of us, the personal becomes political. Since experiencing infertility, I have provided workshops for people who have experienced reproductive loss and infertility. I have been lucky to collaborate with local yoga studios and the organization Holding Our Space, but there is more work to be done. It is our responsibility as RJ activists to call out inequity in ART and make space for those who need support in their infertility journeys. We need to destigmatize discussions of infertility and include these experiences in this movement.