The Intersection of Reproductive Justice and Climate Change

By Sierra R. & Musa S. 


It’s easy to hear “climate change is a Reproductive Justice issue”, and be confused. Reproductive Justice (​RJ) and ​climate change probably seem like distinct topics, but they are actually very interconnected on several levels! 

RJ advocates for personal bodily autonomy and self-determination over health decisions, the directing of resources to support vulnerable communities, and the ability to nurture our families in safe communities. However, climate change threatens these rights by increasing the scarcity of resources, enhancing health risks, threatening working class, Black, Indigenous, and other colonized communities, and increasing exposure to dangerous or difficult living conditions. 

Let’s explore the relationship between RJ and climate change and the urgent need for comprehensive, decisive action.

Climate Change Undermines Reproductive Justice


“Climate change” refers to the long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns that we are experiencing, which can be naturally occurring, but are also largely due to human activity. Greenhouse gas emissions from things like cars, factories, military activity, and corporate farming blanket the Earth, and trap the sun’s heat. This in turn warms the global temperature at an accelerated rate (“global warming”), causes extremely volatile weather, and the Earth is now warming faster than at any point in recorded history!

Climate change is not just superstorms, blazing heat, and rising sea levels alone. It exacerbates societal inequalities, disproportionately impacting vulnerable, marginalized, and colonized communities across multiple aspects of life. Financial instability, limited access to critical services, and growing barriers to essential healthcare, including reproductive services, become increasingly prevalent as climate impacts mount.

To fully grasp these severe ramifications that climate change poses for reproductive justice, let’s closely consider the disruption it causes in healthcare provision specifically. Extreme weather events like flooding, droughts, heatwaves and other climate shocks physically damage healthcare facilities. 

Remember Hurricane Katrina, during which Black mamas were shown live on TV, criminalized for wading in waist-deep water to find diapers for their babies? While the storm itself was the center of news, less attention was given to the fact that the already-underdeveloped health systems of Louisiana and Mississippi were absolutely gutted by the storm. Many healthcare facilities, like clinics and hospitals, remained closed for months and years following the storm — and many have yet to reopen.

In addition, essential utilities like electricity and water services, transportation networks, supply chains, and workforce availability were all deeply disrupted, limiting the ability of folks to receive care.

This means that vital reproductive health services like prenatal visits, contraceptive access, STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and safe abortion facilities, which are all already severely lacking in the U.S., are all greatly compromised when climate disasters occur. Abortion clinics in the direct path of hurricanes have been forced to close; people have been unable to reach family planning appointments when floods destroy roads; contraceptive supplies are cut off by disasters. All of this occurs and is exacerbated in the absence of national climate disaster planning and response from our government.

These enormous climate impacts dramatically alter the landscape for achieving reproductive justice, as critical services suddenly become even more difficult or impossible to access. This threatens the fundamental rights to dignity, autonomy, safety, and freedom from coercion over reproductive healthcare choices that the RJ movement fights to protect. And most importantly, due to the increased nature of climate change, catastrophic incidents like we saw with Hurricane Katrina are becoming more and more frequent. 

When people affected by the climate crisis cannot access abortion, for example, this directly endangers their bodily autonomy and ability to determine their own futures. Being denied wanted contraceptives and reproductive care due to a climate disaster is a failing of the state, who failed to proactively develop climate mitigation plans, and we suffer the consequences. Losing access to STI treatment due to a hurricane empowers neither collective nor individual sexual health.

In all these examples, we can see how the consequences of climate change acutely undermine reproductive justice through disrupting healthcare systems. Recognizing the multifaceted impacts is a crucial first step to fully understanding how deeply climate change threatens reproductive justice on systemic and individual levels alike.

When Climate Disasters Strike, Reproductive Health Suffers

Imagine the aftermath of a climate-fueled disaster. When these disasters strike, the consequences for healthcare access in general are often severe, including for reproductive healthcare. Imagine the scene after a hurricane, flood, or wildfires tear through a community; vital healthcare facilities lie damaged, without power or water. Roads are washed out, cutting off transport. Supply chains are disrupted, leaving pharmacies with shortages. The impact of these disasters are primarily felt by poor and working class individuals, who represent a majority of the population.

Amid the struggle to find temporary housing and restore lost livelihoods, pregnant individuals are often left with no way to access wanted prenatal or abortion care. Appointments for long-acting contraceptives, STI treatment, and gender-affirming care are usually canceled or missed, and health needs remain unmet due to the disaster. Appointments that someone may have waited weeks or even months for are wiped from the calendar, and care quality often declines. 

This collision between environmental shocks and healthcare systems reveals how climate change can directly undermine reproductive justice. Disasters block access to essential services, information, and supplies precisely to the populations that need them most, and the consequences are also largely due to policy that does not prioritize people’s safety over profits in the midst of a disaster.

And the suffering doesn’t end after the initial crisis. Loss of reproductive healthcare access during disasters leads to unintended pregnancies, untreated infections, complications from unattended births, mental health impacts from trauma, and other long-term effects. The consequences ripple outward, prolonging harm to community health. It becomes clear that climate change threatens far more than just the physical planet – it endangers the exercise of basic human and reproductive rights!

Climate Impacts on Health Outcomes and Reproductive Justice

Exposure to extreme heat provides one salient example of how climate change jeopardizes our health outcomes. As one recent study describes, elevated temperatures can increase risks of preterm birth, stillbirth, maternal mental health declines, gestational diabetes, cardiovascular events, and other complications during pregnancy. Pregnant individuals are already prone to difficulty regulating body temperature, and the extreme heats we’ve experienced the past summers only compound these issues. When heat waves hit, lack of access to cooling and AC, clean water and hydration, and medical monitoring leaves pregnant people especially vulnerable to trauma and health impacts. Not to mention, for many working class and poor pregnant people, they still have to travel to work every day, sitting at bus stops, walking to and from buildings, and other situations which leave them under the hot sun for long enough to experience a medical emergency.

These healthcare access issues ultimately exacerbate health disparities. Discrimination creates disproportionate climate-related burdens based on race, income, immigration status, disability status, and other factors, as examined in the mentioned study. For example, redlining causes higher urban heat levels in marginalized neighborhoods, making it literally hotter in lower income neighborhoods!

Extreme heats also take away walking, one of the most important and accessible exercises, from vulnerable populations like pregnant people, the elderly, children, and disabled folks. 

Bridging climate change and reproductive justice is essential to address the overarching challenges oppressed groups face. The climate emergency intersects with reproductive health through disrupted services and unequal disaster burdens. Comprehensive social justice-centered action is needed to secure climate and reproductive justice.


Climate Change is a Political Issue AND an RJ issue

Climate change and climate justice are intrinsically tied to geopolitics and Indigenous communities globally, who remain at the forefront of the struggle for global reproductive  and climate justice. As we continue to watch the genocide of Palestinian and Congolese people, we know that they are deeply tied to climate and reproductive struggles. We also know that RJ isn’t just about access to abortion and reproductive healthcare; it also means giving all people the right to live in safe and healthy communities, where they can raise their children. 

Let’s break down some of the ways geopolitical conflicts directly impact the conditions and environments that mainly poor, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities live in, all while contributing to the massive climate crisis our world faces today. 

According to a recent study released by The Guardian, the emissions generated during the first few months of Israel’s military attacks on Gaza are “more than the annual carbon footprint of over 20 of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations.” This means that in the months since Israel’s campaign against Gaza began, the CO2 emissions created by aircraft missions, tanks, vehicles, and bomb explosions in Gaza are about the same as burning 150,000 tonnes of coal– and this is likely an underestimate of the actual climate impact Israel’s military has created. It is also important to note here that about half of these emissions are credited to the United States’ use of cargo planes to supply military weapons to Israel continuously. 

As climate change prompts rising sea levels and extreme weather, access to food and water in Gaza is becoming increasingly scarce. Much of the farmland, water and infrastructure in Palestine has been destroyed, damaged, or polluted, and will surely create devastating and long-lasting health impacts for generations to come. Moreover, this war impacts all of us for many reasons, including the global climate burden produced by the mass bombardments. In an article for Nation, journalists state that:

“…the single most important thing President Biden could do for the climate today is to enforce an immediate and permanent cease-fire in Gaza and end the war against the Palestinian people.”

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to the largest cobalt reserve in the world, as well as most other precious minerals. The Global North has commodified cobalt due to its use in batteries and other electronics, including electric vehicles. Because of the demand for cobalt, the price has risen dramatically, and over the last half century, millions of Congolese have been forced to work in extremely dangerous conditions to harvest this metal. Exposure to high levels of cobalt is toxic, and continuous and constant exposure to these levels poses serious health risks to the people forced to mine for these resources. 

Despite the DRC being among the most mineral rich countries on Earth, with some of the most valuable natural resources (like cobalt, gold, coltan, copper, and diamonds), it remains one of the poorest (most exploited) nations in the world. Nearly 1 in 4 Congolese people cannot meet their basic survival needs, like access to food or health services. Cobalt mining in the DRC has been called “modern-day slavery,” and it is estimated that about 40,000 of the people being forced to work in cobalt mines are children as young as 4 years old. This labor particularly impacts children’s health in a multitude of ways, and can permanently damage their muscles, bones, and organs. According to an interview by World Vision with children in the DRC, 19% of those interviewed said they have seen a child die in a mining site, and several girls even reported genital infections after working for hours on end in acidic water. Many miners also face sexual assault and violence while laboring, contributing to the reproductive oppression faced by the women and girls of the DRC. 

Cobalt mining in the DRC undoubtedly creates negative environmental impacts, commonly seen with the extraction of natural resources. It devastates the land and pollutes the water and air. Fish living in bodies of water in the Congo have become contaminated due to high levels of cobalt, harming the health of people who consume the fish or water. Studies have also shown that the risk of birth defects is alarmingly high when a parent works in a mining site. 

When we look at issues separately, it is difficult to connect the dots and understand how all these struggles and fights for justice are related. But when we zoom out and look at the bigger picture through a critical lens, it becomes much more apparent that reproductive justice isn’t possible without climate justice, an end to wars, and rethinking our exploitative global system. 

Connecting Climate Justice and Reproductive Justice

Advocacy for Reproductive Justice, abortion, reproductive care, and bodily autonomy cannot be separated from our rapidly transforming world. We confront more than political or societal constraints – we face environmental factors that are getting worse, and severely disproportionately impacting marginalized groups. When we think of issues like reproductive justice and abortion access separately from the material conditions and movements surrounding us, we do ourselves a disservice, because we miss how closely intertwined all of our liberation is with others. 

Recognizing climate change as a determinant of reproductive justice is now mandatory, as climate change is one of the defining issues of our moment — globally. Climate justice and RJ are intrinsically linked; fighting for one requires fighting for the other. Symbolic gestures are not enough – we need comprehensive climate action, an end to imperialist wars that continue to drive global temperatures, and structural healthcare changes that address environmental and reproductive health injustices together.

This Earth Day, we invite you to join this vital struggle for climate and reproductive justice! Here’s a few ways how:

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