We have all heard the statistics on the reproductive health disparities among women: The rates of unintended pregnancy for African American women and Latinas are nearly 2.5 and 2 times, respectively, the rate of White women. African American women are the mostly likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth.
Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely than heterosexual women to get routine health screenings, such as Pap tests, mammograms and clinical breast exams, which lowers the chance of detecting cancer early. African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latinas all have higher rates of sexually transmitted infections than White women.
However, it is not enough to simply talk about the differences in health outcomes among different groups of women (or even men for that matter)—whether due to race/ethnicity, socioeconomic class, sexual identity, and/or physical ability.
We need to shift the conversation to the concept of health equity, which is the attainment of the highest level of health and well-being for everyone as defined by the leading health and medical associations.
This means not only addressing health disparities, like the ones mentioned above, but also addressing the interrelated social, economic and environmental conditions that produce health inequities—discrimination, unemployment, poverty, and the lack of access to resources such as healthcare, adequate housing, reliable transportation (including public transit), and neighborhood grocery stores that sell a wide variety fresh fruit and vegetables.
We cannot expect women and their families to even achieve a moderate level of health if they, for instance, do not have reliable transportation to make healthcare appointments, may avoid health appointments altogether due to fear of discriminatory treatment from providers, can’t afford to cook healthier meals, or live in neighborhoods where it may not be safe to walk or bike.
Health equity is a key component of reproductive justice, which links sexuality and reproductive health to other social justice issues, and places abortion and reproductive health issues within a larger context of health and general well-being.
We cannot reduce the disparities in reproductive and sexual health without simultaneously fully understanding and eradicating the conditions that contribute to these differences in unintended pregnancies, maternal mortality, incidence of sexually transmitted infections, and use of health screenings.
Ultimately, we need to envision and create a world that makes it possible for all of us to achieve the maximum level of health and well-being.
– Kimala Price
Kimala is an Associate Professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, who holds a PhD in political science and a graduate certificate in women’s studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Prior to her position at SDSU, she was a post-doctoral research fellow at Ibis Reproductive Health, an independent research center based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to her research and scholarship on reproductive health policy and politics, she has a strong commitment to feminist activism and policy advocacy.
For almost two decades, Dr. Price has been active in the reproductive rights and reproductive justice movements, including working for a number of national women’s rights organizations in Washington, DC and Atlanta, GA; she has also worked as a legislative fellow on the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. She is currently an active member of SisterSong Women of Color for Reproductive Justice Collective, and serves on the board of directors of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest and on the advisory board of Women, Action and the Media (WAM!).
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This content is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or an endorsement by Planned Parenthood. Check with your health care provider to discuss what is best for you.