Patrisse Cullors Wants Reproductive Justice Activists to Show Up for Black Women

“People don’t show up for Black women. People don’t show up in large numbers for Black women,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrica Cullors declared. “I’m constantly distressed about the ways in which our rights to have autonomy over our own bodies are eroding over and over and over again specifically under this administration.”

On June 18, Cullors joined feminist filmmaker Civia Tamarkin and advocates Nadia Hussain of MomsRising and Indra Lusero of Elephant Circle for a conversation about the fight for reproductive justice in the U.S.—and called on activists to mind the women living at its intersections.

(Susan Melkisethian / Creative Commons)

Tamarkin’s Birthright: A War Story chronicles the horrors that women and mothers go through in order to obtain reproductive healthcare, showcasing through personal testimony from women around the world how laws and policies that negate women’s agency over their own bodies impacted their pregnancies and their families and even put their lives at risk.

“If we’re looking at Black women and our maternal health outcomes, they are more likely to be grave or very very serious,” said Cullors. “We can look at Serena Williams and in some ways we see her as royalty and she had to fight for her life postpartum. I think we really need to have a conversation about the lack of policies in the U.S. that keep people from dying postpartum. And we need to talk about the healthcare professionals and implicit bias.”

The U.S. is ranked 46th in terms of maternal mortality around the world. Black women in the U.S. are 243 percent more likely to die from child-bearing related causes than white women. That number is not a typo.

Cullors opened up during the online panel discussion about her own experiences at the intersections of racism, sexism and the war on women. She developed a blood clot and contracted pneumonia after undergoing a C-Section, with no warning from doctors in advance that both were frequent complications of the procedure. 

“Although I survived my experience with pregnancy,” Cullors noted in the online conversation, “many Black women haven’t and won’t.”

Throughout the conversation, Cullors spoke to the personal struggle that so many mothers around the country face when trying to have a healthy, comfortable pregnancy—and highlighted that it is impossible to separate racial justice from reproductive health justice. “We have to be on the offense,” she declared. “There’s deep intersections on the criminal justice systems and people who end up pregnant and we have to see the inlines. We have to see the intersections.”


Rosalind Jones is a writer and global feminist thinker with a focus on international women's liberation. Her goal is to use her writing and language skills to elevate the voices of gender equality advocates in all corners of the world. She is an Occidental College graduate with a degree Diplomacy and World Affairs and a contributor to Ms.