Reproductive rights have been a controversial issue for decades due to the legal battles surrounding abortion. Yet, activists in the emerging reproductive justice movement often use a human rights analysis to challenge the women’s movement’s emphasis on “law on the books.” As such, reproductive justice activists consider how lack of economic and social human rights limit people’s rights to have a child (e.g., for low-income women) and the right to parent (e.g., for incarcerated parents). A human rights frame is an unusual choice given its history in the US. In the 1940s, African American leaders unsuccessfully attempted to challenge racism through engaging human rights. However, their successful movement for limited civil rights became the model for successive US movements. Why, despite the dominance and success of a civil rights frame, did the later reproductive justice movement choose the human rights frame? In addition, what have been the consequences of this adoption on the wider women’s movement? To answer these questions, I analyze SisterSong, a national reproductive justice coalition, and its engagement with human rights. This dissertation draws on interviews, archival documents, and participant observation. I explore the confluence of domestic and international events that led to this choice of mobilizing around human rights. Then, I examine specific ways activists leverage human rights through the concept of reproductive justice. I further demonstrate how women of color and their allies work to move narrow definitions of reproductive rights from a limited concept of “choice” toward a more inclusive reproductive justice. Finally, I examine the contradictory articulations of human rights consciousness exhibited by activists, and what their varying consciousness suggests for a possible domestic human rights movement. Many reproductive justice activists perceive that engaging with the human rights-based reproductive justice frame allows them to bring their “whole selves” into a movement, rather than requiring alignment with competing movements that fail to address their complex (reproductive) realities. Even if human rights do not become institutionalized in the US legal system, we can expect increased deployment of human rights by marginalized communities that are increasingly demanding systemic justice not only limited legal reform
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