Reproductive Rights: A Library Guide

What Are Reproductive Rights?

Pro-Choice Rally and Press Conference Chicago Illinois
by Charles Edward Miller

Reproductive rights refer to the rights of couples and individuals to determine when and whether to have children as well as their rights to access information and services related to reproductive health. Though reproductive rights are often discussed in relation to access to safe, legal abortions, these rights also relate to the availability of birth control, sex education and outreach, access to fertility resources, maternal and prenatal health care, and freedom from forced or coerced pregnancy, abortion, and sterilization.

The US Constitution does not explicitly protect reproductive rights. However, state and federal laws restricting access to reproductive services have been successfully challenged on constitutional grounds. Notably, the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade (1973) that the Fourteenth Amendment protected a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. Still, state and local governments determine most policies related to reproductive rights. Advocates have sought to affirm reproductive rights through legislation, litigation, and public outreach. Such advocacy has faced significant pushback from organizations that oppose family planning, particularly pregnancy termination and contraceptive use, largely due to religious objections. Like reproductive rights advocates, these organizations have used both the law and public opinion to promote their perspectives.

Despite repeated Supreme Court decisions affirming the right to abortion services, the issue remains contentious. A 2020 Gallup poll found that 50 percent of US adults believe abortion should be legal only under certain conditions, 29 percent believe it should be legal in all circumstances, and 20 percent believe it should not be permitted under any circumstances. [Continue]

Reproductive Reproductive Rights. (2021). In Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Gale. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from

Opposing Viewpoints: Access to Abortion

Opponents of legal abortion, commonly identified as pro-life, contend that the government has a responsibility to protect all human life including unborn fetuses. Abortion supporters, commonly identified as pro-choice, argue that the government does not have the right to interfere with a woman’s medical decisions. Since the US Supreme Court affirmed access to abortion as a constitutional right in its 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, antiabortion activists and lawmakers have sought to pass laws and implement policies that create obstacles to obtaining the procedure. Protesting outside of reproductive health clinics served as a popular form of antiabortion activism until Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994. The law prohibits people from using physical force or obstruction to intimidate others from entering a clinic or a house of worship. Additionally, the law authorizes the US Department of Justice to seek additional penalties for intentional property damage to clinics or houses of worship. [Continue]

Reproductive Rights. (2021). In Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Gale. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from

What Is Reproductive Justice?

Reproductive justice was coined by a group of Black women in 1994 in recognition that the Women’s Rights Movement, led by and representing white women, lacked a lens that could more equitably fight for the needs of Black, Indigenous, and women of color, and other marginalized people. Reproductive Justice looks at reproductive health and rights through a human rights and social justice framework. [Continue]

Duran, S. (2021, January 28). Choice vs. access: Defining reproductive justice. Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, Inc. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from

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Reproductive Justice Briefing Book: A Primer on Reproductive Justice and Social Change

History of Reproductive Rights

In the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion striking down Roe v. Wade, Justice Samuel Alito writes that the nation has had an “unbroken tradition” of criminalizing abortion. But as John Yang reports, the history is much more complicated.

Although humans have attempted to control their reproductive destinies for many thousands of years, the notion of “reproductive rights” is a relatively recent phenomenon. The term was first articulated on a global level in 1984 at the International Meeting on Women and Health in Amsterdam. However, in individual societies and countries around the world, movements to gain rights related to reproduction had emerged prior to this time. Nonetheless, these movements were discrete and in many cases, such as with the struggles to legalize contraception and abortion in the United States, the focus was primarily on rights as they related to an individual’s right to privacy. It was not until the meeting in Amsterdam that the emerging concept of human rights was applied to reproductive concerns, marking the beginning of what would become a global “reproductive rights” movement. [Continue]

Reproductive Rights. (2008). In W. A. Darity, Jr. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (2nd ed., Vol. 7, pp. 182-184). Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from

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Doctors and politicians have been forcing contraception on low-income women of color for over a century–and it’s still happening today. When will the fight for reproductive rights include all women?

Background Information

Guttmacher Institute: Who Has Abortions?
  • At 2014 abortion rates, about one in four (24%) women will have an abortion by age 45.
  • More than half of all U.S. abortion patients in 2014 were in their 20s: Patients aged 20–24 obtained 34% of all abortions, and patients aged 25–29 obtained 27%.
  • Adolescents made up 12% of abortion patients in 2014: Those aged 18–19 accounted for 8% of all abortions, 15–17-year-olds for 3% and those younger than 15 for 0.2%.
  • White patients accounted for 39% of abortion procedures in 2014, black patients for 28%, Hispanic patients for 25%, and patients of other races and ethnicities for 9%.
  • Seventeen percent of abortion patients in 2014 identified themselves as mainline Protestant, 13% as evangelical Protestant and 24% as Catholic, while 38% reported no religious affiliation and the remaining 8% reported some other affiliation.
  • The vast majority (94%) of abortion patients in 2014 identified as heterosexual or straight. Four percent of patients said they were bisexual; 0.3% identified as homosexual, gay or lesbian; and 1% identified as “something else.”
  • Fifty-nine percent of abortions in 2014 were obtained by patients who had had at least one birth.
  • Some 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor (having an income below the federal poverty level of $15,730 for a family of two in 2014) or low-income (having an income of 100–199% of the federal poverty level).
  • In 2014, 16% of patients who obtained abortions in the United States were born outside the United States, a proportion comparable to their representation in the U.S. population (17% of women aged 15­–44).
  • In 2014, 51% of abortion patients were using a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant, most commonly condoms (24%) or a short-acting hormonal method (13%).

Induced Abortion in the United States. Guttmacher Institute. (2022). Retrieved 12 May 2022, from

Status of Women in the States: Trends in Women’s Reproductive Rights

What Has Improved

  • In October 2014, 12 states required insurance companies to provide coverage of infertility treatments, compared with just nine states in 2004. The number of states that required insurance companies to offer policyholders at least one package with coverage of infertility treatments, however, declined from five states in 2004 to two in 2014.
  • Between 2004 and 2015, the percentage of women living in counties with at least one abortion provider declined in 22 states, increased in 24 states, and stayed the same in four states and the District of Columbia.

What Has Worsened or Stayed the Same

  • In 2015, 30 states had statutes requiring waiting periods for abortions—which mandate that a physician cannot perform an abortion until a certain number of hours after the patient is notified of her options in dealing with a pregnancy—compared with 26 states in 2004.
  • Between 2004 and 2015, the share of public officials—including the Governor (or mayor for the District of Columbia) and state legislators (or city council members for the District of Columbia)—who were pro-choice increased in 14 states and decreased in 22 states. The share of pro-choice officials stayed the same in the other 14 states and the District of Columbia.
  • The number of jurisdictions with laws on the books preventing minors from accessing abortion without parental consent or notification (43) stayed the same between 2004 and 2015.
  • The number of states (17) that provide public funding for all or most medically necessary abortions—typically defined to protect the woman’s physical or mental health—for Medicaid enrollees stayed the same between 2004 and 2015.
  • Between 2004 and 2015, the number of jurisdictions that required schools to provide mandatory sex education (23) remained the same.

Reproductive Rights Full Section – Women in the States. Status of Women in the States. (2022). Retrieved 12 May 2022, from

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Laws Affecting Reproductive Rights

Howard University School of Law (Law Library): Notable Supreme Court Cases

Capatosto, V. (2018). A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States. Law Library Howard University. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from




Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade, legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, ruled (7–2) that unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional. In a majority opinion written by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the Court held that a set of Texas statutes criminalizing abortion in most instances violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy, which it found to be implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”). [Continue]

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2022, May 3). Roe v. WadeEncyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from

Do women have a right to privacy when deciding whether to have an abortion? In 1969, a woman under the alias “Jane Roe” challenged a Texas law that outlawed abortions. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, where Roe argued that a woman’s right to privacy in having an abortion is protected by the Constitution. In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled the right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. To this day, the ruling in Roe v. Wade remains one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions.
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Current News: Abortion

Abortion, the expulsion of a fetus from the uterus before it has reached the stage of viability (in human beings, usually about the 20th week of gestation). An abortion may occur spontaneously, in which case it is also called a miscarriage, or it may be brought on purposefully, in which case it is often called an induced abortion.

Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Abortion. Britannica Library. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from

A leaked early draft of a coming Supreme Court decision suggests Roe v. Wade could be struck down. The landmark decision established the constitutional right to abortion and the last major challenge to it came in a 1992 case called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Kathryn Kolbert, an attorney who argued that case for Planned Parenthood, joins John Yang to discuss.

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Why You Should Care

A day after a Supreme Court document on abortion became public we look at the legal and political implications. Marcia Coyle, chief Washington correspondent for the National Law Journal, and Mary Ziegler, a Florida State University law professor and author of “Abortion and the Law in America,” join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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What exactly does the Supreme Court of the United States do?

  • The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The Justices of the Supreme Court are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate.
  • Nine members make up the Supreme Court—a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. There must be a minimum or quorum of six Justices to decide a case.
  • If there is an even number of Justices and a case results in a tie, the lower court’s decision stands.
  • There is no fixed term for Justices. They serve until their death, retirement, or removal in exceptional circumstances.

Infographic: How the Supreme Court Works (2018). Branches of the U.S. Government. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from

“EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW” – These words, written above the main entrance to the Supreme Court Building, express the ultimate responsibility of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court is the highest tribunal in the Nation for all cases and controversies arising under the Constitution or the laws of the United States. As the final arbiter of the law, the Court is charged with ensuring the American people the promise of equal justice under law and, thereby, also functions as guardian and interpreter of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. The number of Associate Justices is currently fixed at eight (28 U. S. C. §1). Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made with the advice and consent of the Senate.

About the Court – Supreme Court of the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2022, from

Abortion Law in Massachusetts

Abortion access would continue to be protected in Massachusetts. In December 2020, the state legislature overrode a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker and passed the ROE Act in anticipation of challenges to Roe v. Wade. The act strengthened access by allowing abortions after 24 weeks in certain cases to protect the health of the patient or if there is a fetal anomaly. The act also lowered the age that a person can obtain an abortion without parental consent to 16, from 18.

Smith, M. (2021, December 3). Abortion laws in Massachusetts: What you need to know. GBH News. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from

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Further Reading

For a list of Reproductive Freedom Sites, visit ACLU’s page.
For free online access to the New York Times, visit our eNewspapers page.
The Boston Public Library offers access to Wall Street Journal. Get your ecard here!
Search our catalog here.
Borrow our Reproductive Rights Book Pack!