Learning about Reproductive Justice one case at a time

During week 2 of Moxie we discussed Reproductive Justice and had a seminar at Choices in Jamaica, Queens. Leading up to the visit I only thought of reproductive justice in terms of pro-choice and pro-life. My idea of what reproductive justice is changed, however, while in a weekly meeting with my Legal Momentum supervisors:

In 2013, a NYPD officer named Akema Thompson was denied the opportunity to change the date of her Civil Service Test, which is an exam a police officer can take to earn a promotion, because the date of the exam was the due date of her first child. Her request for a makeup exam was denied because her reason did not meet the guidelines for accommodation. She appealed again to city officials and she finally heard back as she was in labor, three days before the exam. They said they would give her extra time to finish or a cushion to sit on.

I was so confused that the excuse of having a child and recovering from this monumental event were not enough to allow Officer Thompson to take a makeup exam. This was an obvious example of discrimination against her as woman. But how does this case fit into the realm of reproductive justice? With a few quick internet searches I found some helpful explanations.

Reproductive justice is defined as “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” It is helpful to look at this definition through different approaches that include reproductive health and rights. The refusal of the NYPD to adequately accommodate Ms. Thompson discriminated against her and her pregnancy and violated her reproductive rights as outlined in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This federal law states that, “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” be treated the same as other employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” In other words, Officer Thompson was denied the opportunity to take a career changing exam because she was pregnant. She was therefore discriminated against based on sex. This is because a man would never face this problem: women are the only ones who can get pregnant, and thus women are the only ones with this challenge.

My organization, Legal Momentum, took on this case and filed a pregnancy discrimination charge against New York City with the Equal Opportunity Commission. The city agreed to pay Officer Thompson $50,000 and allowed her to take the exam on a different date. They also agreed to change the policy and included pregnancy-related problems as cause for rescheduling an exam.

The fight is far from over–polices now must be enforced, but learning about Officer Thompson’s case opened my eyes to the vast and complicated topic of reproductive justice.

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2 thoughts on “Learning about Reproductive Justice one case at a time

  1. That case is really interesting and I’m glad the law sided with the woman. Reproductive justice encompasses so many forms of oppression, this was a great example.

  2. This reminded me a lot of Home Truth, the movie we watched last Sunday. Although both discuss different types of tensions with the law, they both conveyed how it takes brave people to bring issues to light and collaborate with organizations that fight for individuals’ justice. It takes a lot to change public policy. But both Home Truth and the case you discuss here portray how in order to make an impact, personal narrative is important. By putting a face to the issue, those who make and enforce the law can then see the importance of working towards a more equitable justice system.

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