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We Won’t Have True Reproductive Justice Until Palestine Is Free

A basic tenet of reproductive justice is the right to choose the circumstances in which to have and raise children.

A mother in northern Gaza covers her child's face for protection against smoke as Palestinians flee from Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip on November 10, 2023.

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The reproductive justice movement’s call for bodily autonomy extends beyond walls and borders. As a framework that was coined by Black and Indigenous women and other women of color, the inherent need to place the most marginalized at the epicenter of reproductive freedom speaks to the many intersections of this cause. One cannot recognize the right to reproductive safety without acknowledging the ongoing reproductive violence in Palestine. The unconscionable atrocities against the Palestinian people, not only since October 7 but for the last 75 years, are staunchly antithetical to the reproductive justice movement.

Reproductive justice is both a theoretical objective and a structure for activists advocating around three human rights values: the right to safely choose not to have children; the right to have children under chosen circumstances; and the right to parent children in safe and healthy environments. The horror we are witnessing in Gaza is a clear violation of the Palestinian people’s ability to parent their children in an environment free from state violence and settler colonialism.

Positioning reproductive justice as a humanitarian framework allows it to aim at dismantling all intersecting oppressions that stand in the way of full bodily autonomy. In other words, reproductive justice connects the local to the global and links the individual to the community. Standing in solidarity with people in the U.S. who face a post-Roe political landscape is to also stand in solidarity with Palestinians who lack access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care under apartheid.

Systematic Denial of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Gaza

In Palestine, women have suffered the consequences of Israel’s systematic denial of sexual and reproductive health care long before October 7. Over 94,000 Palestinian women lack access to such services, as reported by the United Nations Population Fund.

Gaza is home to over 2 million people, 50 percent of whom are children, and is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. For decades, Palestinian children have grown up in what many refer to as an “open-air prison” and have witnessed a life characterized by psychological trauma and a lack of food, medical services and freedom of movement. Since the severe escalation of Israeli violence, thousands of children have been killed while hundreds more are reported missing or trapped under mounds of rubble from near-constant Israeli airstrikes.

The reproductive violence experienced by Palestinian women, newborn babies and children has been deemed a human rights violation by several international humanitarian groups.

The reproductive violence experienced by Palestinian women, newborn babies and children has been deemed a human rights violation by several international humanitarian groups. Still, we have yet to see an end to the indiscriminate bombing and forced displacement of Gaza’s Indigenous population. Israel will not stop at ordering a mass exodus of Gaza’s population to the south under the guise of “safety” only to launch an even fiercer land and air invasion.

There are over 50,000 pregnant people in Gaza who are forced to give birth in inhumane conditions. Mobility restrictions and Israeli checkpoints impede the accessibility of prenatal and postnatal care. As we watch livestream footage of buildings being reduced to dust, children reaping the grief of learning of their parents’ killings, and mass graveyards full of civilians wrapped in white cloths, mothers in Palestine are miscarrying from stress. There is a shortage of blood to treat postpartum injuries and surgeons have performed C-sections with no anesthetic. Perhaps one of the most bone-chilling statistics to date: It is estimated that while 180 people give birth a day, one child is killed or injured every 10 minutes in the Gaza Strip. Most mothers are not guaranteed the fundamental reproductive right of a hospital delivery, privacy, or even enough food or water to be able to breastfeed their newborns. Malnutrition and dehydration have exacerbated the risk of maternal deaths, forcing pregnant people into survival mode as they make unthinkable decisions for themselves and their unborn children.

While thousands of displaced Palestinians have sought refuge within crammed hospital rooms and corridors, there are no safe havens. On October 17, the bombing of Ahli Arab Hospital resulted in the death of 500 people. Videos of the incomprehensible carnage are of a scope which language cannot communicate. That same day, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza held a press conference amid a pile of dead bodies from the strike, imploring those complicit to demand an end to the occupation. Among the closure of 64 percent of Gaza’s health care centers is the only local affiliate of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. The Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association (PFPPA) has worked to ensure the accessibility of sexual and reproductive health care services for Palestinians. It was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike.

Wafa Abu Hasheish, a health care provider with PFPPA, said, As a health worker and a Palestinian woman … I have been living in constant fear for the safety and livelihood of my family. At the same time, I am not able to leave behind my commitment to providing women with health services and information. I have received calls from women having a miscarriage due to the bombings and gas, another going into labor, neighbors reaching out for help … all of which I am trying to assist but with such limited options and resources available and accessible.”

Mothers in Palestine are miscarrying from stress. There is a shortage of blood to treat postpartum injuries and surgeons have performed C-sections with no anesthetic.

Last month, an image of newborns wrapped in green blankets lying side-by-side on a hospital stretcher grabbed the world’s attention. Their diapers were bigger than their torsos and some weighed less than three pounds. This image was a result of al-Shifa Hospital’s collapse, when Palestinian health care workers raced to save 39 premature babies after the hospital’s incubators ran out of power. Within a week, eight of them had died. Thirty-one babies, wrapped in aluminum foil, were evacuated and driven through bombed-out neighborhoods until they were placed in the care of doctors in Rafah.

These stories and thousands like them are a reminder that pregnancy, childbirth, menstruation, contraceptive access, motherhood and abortion do not cease under apartheid.

Reproductive Advocates Call for the End of the Occupation

Since October 7, many reproductive health, rights and justice groups have joined the call for a permanent ceasefire, an end to the U.S. bankrolling of the genocide, and an end to Israeli occupation. As the days, weeks and months of innumerable atrocities continue, advocates within the sexual and reproductive health care landscape, like ARC-Southeast and Yellowhammer Fund, have pointed out that reproductive justice cannot be achieved until Palestine is free. This call comes in conjunction with leading health care institutions like Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization, which have urged Israel to lift the siege on Gaza and allow for the continuous flow of humanitarian supplies. Over 50 reproductive health and rights organizations, sexual health clinics and abortion fund groups have signed onto ARC-Southeast’s letter.

The interconnectedness of feminist struggles across borders should continue to propel those fighting for reproductive autonomy at home to also speak against reproductive control in occupied Palestine. Equitable access to sexual and reproductive health care stands as a significant part of Palestinian women’s pursuit of self-determination. One must not forget that intentionally controlling women’s reproductive livelihoods is part of Israel’s goal of eradicating the Palestinian population. The racist ideology behind Zionism contradicts reproductive justice at every level.

ARC-Southeast’s letter to reproductive justice allies reminds us that “just like the movement to expand abortion access, we know that being vocally supportive of our Palestinian siblings is crucial because silence only supports the oppressors.” It is imperative that the rage felt towards draconian abortion bans in the U.S. is also extended to Palestinians who have lost children. Being pro-choice is intrinsically connected to ending the occupation in Palestine, especially when the U.S. government is simultaneously responsible for reproductive oppression at home and in Palestine.

It is imperative that the rage felt towards draconian abortion bans in the U.S. is also extended to Palestinians who have lost children.

As we look to the many reproductive health, rights and justice organizations that have stood firm in their position on collective liberation, others have remained silent or come out with lukewarm statements that speak the language of the oppressor. On December 5, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) released a statement titled “Violence in Israel and Gaza,” which received a tremendous amount of criticism. Days later, a letter condemning PPFA’s refusal to name the genocide or call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire was posted by a group of PPFA union members, former employees, current and former Planned Parenthood affiliate employees, and Planned Parenthood supporters and donors. The letter has garnered more than 400 signatures from former and current Planned Parenthood workers.

The purported goal of fighting for the dignity, safety and rights of all people can be found in the mission statement of nearly every reproductive rights, health and justice organization, but does this solidarity not include condemning the racist reproductive violence targeting the Palestinian people? How does one condemn the federal government’s bans on abortion, but hold their tongue about the deaths the same government cosigns?

It’s no surprise that there’s been a rise in suppression of speech of repro workers, advocates and communications professionals who have spoken about the genocide of Palestinians. In a recent call for a ceasefire from Reprojobs, it’s reported that workers in this field have been reprimanded or fired by their employers for highlighting the occupation as a reproductive justice issue. In the same vein, foundations have retracted their support for repro organizations that condemn the Israeli government’s actions. The plight of Palestinian freedom is and always will be a reproductive justice issue, whether or not these organizations reject the government’s manipulation, criminalization and surveillance.

As someone who works in this landscape, it’s to me clear that the intersectionality of the reproductive justice movement has the potential to liberate us all. Just as it is imperative to analyze systems of racist and violent policing in the U.S., we must extend that framework to the communities abroad who suffer at the hands of our tax dollars. Fighting against sexualized violence in the prison-industrial complex is to also recognize it as a tool of oppression in the ongoing siege of Gaza. As we work to build a future where bodily autonomy is a right and not a battle, I hope we take note of the Palestinian people’s resilience and echo that true reproductive freedom includes the liberation of Palestine.

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