These Are The Women Who Fought for Reproductive Health Issues

Published: March 8, 2021Updated: March 2, 2022

It wasn’t so long ago that birth control was restricted, discriminating against pregnant people was legal, and “reproductive rights” wasn’t a widely recognized phrase. Now, after decades of work, we’re much farther along in the fight for reproductive justice—and that’s in large part thanks to women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ina May Gaskin, and more.

In honor of Women’s History Month, take a look at five women who helped pave the way for reproductive rights activists today.  

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice

Before she was nicknamed “The Notorious R.B.G.”, Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for gender equality and women’s rights as a young lawyer. As a volunteer at the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1970s, Ginsburg became director of the Women’s Rights Project. Later, she won five landmark cases on gender equality in the Supreme Court, and she was instrumental in passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which acknowledges that employers can’t discriminate against pregnant women in hiring and firing. 

Ginsburg also authored the dissent in the 2014 case of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, in which the court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s claim that they could deny employees access to contraception insurance coverage because of their religious beliefs. As she said in a 1993 Senate hearing, “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman's life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself.”

Ina May Gaskin, MA, CPM, PhD (Hon.)  

Known as "the mother of authentic midwifery," Ina May Gaskin is a midwife, writer, and educator who co-founded The Farm, a sustainable commune in Tennessee. Later, she built The Farm Midwifery Center there, one of the first non-hospital birthing centers in the United States. Gaskin has been present for over 1,200 births (nope, not a typo). She developed a technique for reducing shoulder dystocia, a type of obstructed labor, which is now known as the Gaskin Maneuver—and it’s the first obstetrical procedure ever to be named for a midwife. Today, Gaskin continues her work helping mothers choose how to give birth.

Loretta J. Ross, Activist

Currently a Visiting Associate Professor of the Study of Women & Gender at Smith College, Loretta J. Ross is an academic and activist focused on bringing reproductive rights to BIPOC women (and fun fact, she helped coin the term “women of color” in 1977). Ross was the national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective from 2005–2012, and she co-created the theory of Reproductive Justice in 1994. Her holistic approach to reproductive rights makes room for both human rights and social justice; she fights for women to have the right not to have children, the right to have children under the conditions parents choose, and the right to parent the children one has in a safe and healthy environment.

Grace Kodindo, Obstetrician 

Grace Kodindo is an advocate for global improvements to reproductive health care, both in Chad (her home country) and worldwide. After completing secondary school, she received a grant from the Canadian government to attend medical school at the University of Montreal. As a professor at University of N'Djamena, she fought against female genital mutilation and raised awareness of how the practice raises the risk of medical complications; for that, she received the Chad Medal of Honor in 1997. In recent years, she’s been the subject of two BBC documentaries: Dead Mums Don't Cry (2005), which follows her efforts to reduce the mortality rate of pregnant women, and Grace Under Fire (2009), which showcases her efforts to help women access healthcare in a wartorn area of Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Elena Gorolová, Human rights defender

After the birth of her second son, Elena Gorolová woke up to realize her doctors had severed her Fallopian tubes without her informed consent, an irreversible procedure that would make it impossible for Gorolová to have any more children. As a Roma woman, Gorolová had experienced discrimination before—but never to the extent that her medical autonomy was taken away from her. Since then, she’s campaigned against forced sterilization and discrimination against Roma women in Czechia and advocated for redress and awareness of forced sterilizations. In November 2018, the BBC recognized her as one of 100 inspiring and influential women around the world.

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