What I’ve Learned About Non-Hierarchical Organizing

Erika Bleyl, LSRJ Summer Intern, (University of Washington School of Law)

“Strong people don’t need a strong leader.”

  • Ella Baker

At the LSRJ Leadership Institute, I took part in a conversation about non-hierarchical organizing. Like most conversations on the subject, we mostly focused on what non-hierarchical organizing even is. Yet the fact that a group of intelligent, creative people cannot envision what non-hierarchical organizing looks didn’t surprise me. It indicates that we live in a world that is built on hierarchies.

At a conceptual level, non-hierarchical organizing is a strategy that operates on the philosophy that people should “disinvest from the notion of the messianic, charismatic leader who promises political salvation in exchange for deference.” Instead of the messy, unrealistic, and unproductive process that many people envision, collective organizing focuses on actual impact and less on individual prestige, which ultimately ends up being more effective and sustainable.

There is no rigid, agreed-upon conceptualization of non-hierarchical organizing, since the whole purpose is that the organization structure is consensus-driven and collective-based. However, here are some of the basic tenets of the way I think about it:

  1. We must unlearn our conventional notions of leadership. A better way to approach non-hierarchical organizing is instead of thinking of it as leader-less, thinking of it as leader-full. Leadership is not necessarily the problem – but leadership that disempowers the masses is.
  2. Rotate/decentralize leadership. This can be delegated using community agreement (e.g. designate two people for each meeting to co-facilitate and take notes).
  3. Every member should have a meaningful role. Instead of assigning people arbitrary titles such as “Secretary” as resume-builders, think about each member’s skill set, how those skills can contribute to the larger movement, and what skills can be learned in order a build a stronger, more robust group.
  4. Rethink what success means. The focus should never be on individual prestige.
  5. Operate on consensus-decision making.
    1. Many people hesitate to implement this because they are afraid it will be too time-consuming. However, consensus-decision making doesn’t have to mean that every decision must be thoroughly hashed out for hours. You can collectively set a deadline for people to submit their responses and resolve issues.
    2. Requiring consensus does feel time-consuming in the moment because it requires everyone to really listen to each other and hear everyone’s voice. But in spending that time, you get a large group of people who feel dedicated to contributing to the movement because their voices are heard, rather than 1-2 people who do all the work and later get burnt out.
  6. Remove the thinking that the people that do the work are of lower status than those that decide what work to do. In fact, ideally everyone in the group is doing some of both.
  7. Keep in mind that professionalism is a form of respectability politics. It is important to challenge what kind of appearances, organizing relationships and strategies gets deemed appropriate, effective, or “part of procedure.” Collective organizing should be creative, not reliant on normative scripts.
  8. Emphasize skill-sharing. One of the more frequent barriers to people stepping into roles of leadership is the lack of skills around even basic things such as how to reserve a room. The more you focus on training (particularly early on), the more you build group capacity.
  9. Take the time to get to know each other and build relationships. People communicate better when they have a relationship with the group, and feel more invested if they like the people they are working with.

Resources for non-hierarchical organizing

Addressing Race in White Spaces

Jacque Patton, LSRJ Summer Intern, (University of Kansas School of Law)

In the last year or so, I’ve become increasingly aware of my white privilege. As I’ve begun to come out of the largely white, Midwestern bubble I’ve lived my whole life in where I didn’t have to take accountability for my actions or thoughts, I’ve been struggling with how to come to terms with the fact that I have directly benefited from other people not having access to the same opportunities that I’ve had. I’ve also had to change the way I think about things. Unlearning subtle racism is hard. It’s a continual process of dismantling stereotypes and trying to get to the root of institutional racism in our society, rather than only looking at symptoms of problems. It means being conscious of my words, and analyzing why I would think something in the first place. Taking accountability also means admitting mistakes, but knowing that mistakes are part of the process.

I recently read a sermon that helped me parse out some of the difficulties in talking about race with white people. I read this article to some family members a few weeks ago after debating institutional racism in the criminal justice system. I was hoping this article would be a good way to demonstrate how discussions about race in the United States usually end up with having to tiptoe around the feelings of white people, making sure white people don’t feel as if they’re being accused of being racist. After I was done reading it, one of the reactions was “can’t we ever talk about nice things?” This reaction was a stark reminder of white privilege.

Having white privilege means that after taking some of my day to think about racial issues, I can go back to not having to worry about them. I can focus on “nice” things. Folks living within a system that discriminates against them don’t have this same luxury. And while conversations about race may feel uncomfortable to have, perhaps even impossibly hard, they do not pale in comparison to facing systematic and everyday discrimination.

When speaking with family and friends about race, I’ve seen a similar range of responses: there are sentiments of feeling attacked, dismissive responses, and, the least helpful, having white guilt. White guilt, which has debilitated so many people I know, never actually helps a situation. It makes people feel bad about the uncontrollable parts of the past while leaving them incapable of doing anything to move forward. These feelings leave people silent and therefore complacent to a system that will continue to be unequal until enough of us stand up in solidarity and speak out against it. Feelings of white guilt may not completely go away, and we may never know how to perfectly navigate topics of race. It is also important to point out that white folks shouldn’t expect non-white folks to educate us on what is the right thing to say. But we should still be conscious of what we’re saying, and if mistakes are made—and they have been and will be made—we must acknowledge them, own them, and continue forward. As I’ve grown and begun applying a Reproductive Justice framework to my life, I’ve realized that as hard as it is to call myself and the things and people I love out on a daily basis, I would be living falsely by not doing so.

Prison Abolition as an RJ Framework

Erika Bleyl, LSRJ Summer Intern, (University of Washington School of Law)

Most RJ advocates realize the harms of mass incarceration and the intersections of RJ and the prison system. However, I have heard many of my peers make reform-focused decisions regarding criminal justice. While I think certain harm reduction strategies are necessary for the survival of marginalized people on the inside, such as restrictions on shackling, I am proposing a prison abolition model for justice.

  1. What is prison abolition?

As acclaimed author Eric A. Stanely says, abolition does not merely believe that prison is so terrible that reform is not enough, but also asks for a complete re-imagination of a society that has truly eradicated systemic inequities. Prison Abolition, like RJ, not only recognizes the existence of systemic oppression, but calls for a restaging of the ways of living and understanding as to undo the cultural logics of racialized and gendered oppression.

  1. What about rapists, serial killers, and people who commit hate crimes?

When I mention prison abolition, I have gleaned from most people’s facial expressions that they believe I am fighting to repopulate the world with serial killers and rapists. Even with my firm conviction in prison abolition, I understand why there is hesitance.

However, there are studies that suggest that laws that increase police involvement and prison power just further contribute to the oppression of the very people those laws were intended to protect. For example, there is nothing to suggest that the Prison Rape Elimination Act has actually reduced sexual violence; however, it is clear that PREA has allowed increased punishment against prisoners for consensual sexual activity. Furthermore, the Cato Institute and the International Association of Chiefs of Police lists sexual harassment as the 2nd most reported form of police violence. One of the major locations of this form of police violence is during raids and policing of sex work or sex trafficking. A report by the Philadelphia Inquirer shows that another common location for police sexual violence is in response to a domestic violence call. Andrea Ritchie, co-author of the book Queer (In)Justice and founder of Streetwise and Safe, states that police admit that sexual assault was “easy” because “she had just been sexually assaulted, so I come in and I’m her knight in shining armor.” This means that police are not only using generic laws to create situations where they can sexually assault people, but they are also responding to calls regarding violence by inflicting more violence.

Furthermore, while I certainly believe that people who inflict violence should be held accountable, the prison system is not actually holding anyone accountable. Prison rarely teaches a rapist how to not sexually assault people. Prison doesn’t teach compassion and love to people who commit hate crimes, in fact it frequently feeds into that bias. So while I’m all for victims of violence getting justice, we should be shifting our focus elsewhere if we are actually looking to produce safety.

For more information on gender & prison abolition:

Flipping the Page: Reproductive Justice and Comic Books

Travis Noddings, LSRJ Summer Intern, (’15, University of Florida)

Last month, I attended my first ever San Diego International Comic-Con — a longstanding childhood dream of mine. From the moment I could (decently) read, comic books have been an important source of identification, excitement, and learning. The central metaphor of the X-Men — outsiders feared and hated for their genetic difference — has its limitations, but growing up it spoke to something deep and indescribable that my queer, adolescent self could only parse through the frame of superheroics and mutant melodrama.

One of the Comic-Con panels I attended, “Queer Imagery in Animation,” reminded me that I shouldn’t be settling for metaphors. It underscored the importance of actual, nuanced representation by tracing the recent spark of canonically queer characters finally finding their identities being spoken and affirmed in comics and animated programs. These were products directed at and consumed by youth, finally acknowledging the identities my younger self could only find in subtext. That representation has power.

travis blog

Years of Future Past #2; Written by Marguerite Bennett, Art by Mike Norton

A couple weeks ago, I came across an incredible page in Marguerite Bennett’s Secret Wars tie-in (it’s complicated) Years of Future Past #2. It involves a band of mutants, on the run from racist government officials who had been holding them in death camps, stopping for a moment to teach one of their members about the slippery slope of reproductive oppression and the notion that without liberty for all of us, there is liberty for none us. I was floored. They were talking about reproductive justice.

It got me thinking about further depictions of RJ in comics, and how the medium offers a unique platform for distilling politics and speaking to injustice for readers of all-ages, especially youth.

One of the earliest and most exciting finds in my comic search was the 1973 independent comic Abortion Eve, written by Joyce Farmer and Lynn Chevely (the creative minds behind another feminist underground comic, Tits and Clits Comix). Published after the decision in Roe v. Wade, Abortion Eve follows a group of diverse women as they all come to the decision to have an abortion for varying personal, economic, and social reasons and they all go together to have their abortions in solidarity. For people considering having an abortion at the time this comic came out, it would have been an invaluable resource for information explained in simple, relatable terms and a source of affirmation and support.

travis blog 2In more contemporary times we’ve seen Wonder Woman fantastically address the U.N. in defense of international reproductive freedom, Marvel reveal their first series following a pregnant superhero, and the independent comic, Priya’s Shakti, flip the script on misogyny and gender-based violence in South Asia. And even my comic book mainstay, the X-men, fought Proposition X, a bill that would have denied mutants marriage rights and forced them to submit to birth control procedures. These stories might be fiction, but we know all too well that they have analogues in our reality – so here’s to hoping we see more RJ and more nuance in the comics to come.

Decolonizing Medicine: Honoring Non-clinical Medicine in RJ

Erika Bleyl, LSRJ Summer Intern, (University of Washington School of Law)

My mother was raised in a rural town in Japan, and my father works for an international pharmaceuticals company. Growing up as a child who was frequently ill, I have always been acutely aware of the dichotomy of Western and alternative medicine. So when the current media sparked a dialogue around Purvi Patel and home abortions, I conceptualized this first as an example of how immigrant communities and Western medicine have always clashed.

In the struggle for access to abortions, much of the language has been centered around the goal that abortions in the medical context should be widespread and economically feasible. And I agree – we should be concerned that legal reproductive healthcare continues to become less and less accessible. I am not advocating for the destruction of conventional medicine. However, I am calling for the acknowledgement that a history of racism, sexism, and colonization has shaped Western medicine. I believe that we as RJ advocates need to fight not only to eradicate the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes, but also allow for the availability of a wide range of reproductive healthcare – clinical or not.

First, it is important to realize that it is easy for people with access to great medical professionals to believe that medical clinics are the gold standard for abortion access. While access to clinics is essential, Western medicine has a history of condoning coercive, non-consensual medical procedures that have left people with marginalized identities skeptical of conventional medicine. Western medicine frequently relies on a dichotomy of “normal” versus “pathological” – and as we know, a very narrow subset of people get to be considered “normal” in a world where systemic oppression is alive and well. Medical racism was used to legitimize colonial expansion via Manifest Destiny, and supported slavery through the “science” of phrenology. Medical sexism pathologized women’s sexuality and bodies through diagnoses such as female hysteria. There is scholarship that suggests that the European witch-hunts not only criminalized women’s bodies, but also did so specifically to target folk healers and midwives. So when Western medicine has a history of conducting oppressive medical procedures on primarily the bodies of women of color, poor women, disabled people, and gender variant people, is it surprising when people with these identities are skeptical of conventional medicine?

Furthermore, the Western world’s questioning of the legitimacy of alternative medicine is itself a product of colonization. We see over and over in history that colonizers ridicule and demonize indigenous medicine, only to turn around and capitalize on it (also see: columbusing).

It is not only crucial to anti-racist organizing, but also healthy for the field of science, to resist dialogue where Western medicine is immune to criticism and alternative medicine is, well, alternative.

The Case for Queering Sex Education

Travis Noddings, LSRJ Summer Intern, (’15, University of Florida)

June 26th has been a decent day for marriage equality—the Obergefell v. Hodges decision striking down state bans on same-sex marriage came exactly two years after DOMA’s definition of marriage was held unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor, and twelve years after Lawrence v. Texas negated state bans on consensual sex acts (read: sodomy). The victories are small, yet momentous.

Despite greater legal blind spots towards gender and non-marital relationships in general, one would hope that our nation’s education system might reflect such progress. Unfortunately, Sex education in schools is still often mute—or worse, malicious—when it comes to discussing sexual orientation, gender, and HIV.

From 1996 to 2014, we’ve spent over $1.75 billion state and federal dollars funding abstinence-only education programs that teach that the only normal, safe, and acceptable sexual activity is between two, heterosexual, married people. Worse, eight states currently have laws that expressly prohibit teachers from discussing gay sex (including topics of sexual health and HIV awareness) positively, if at all. Some explicitly require that gay sex only be discussed in the context of sexually transmitted diseases or presented as illegal under outdated state sodomy laws. Other non-heteronormative sexual configurations are completely ignored.

This alienation of queer students undermines their safety, obfuscates safe sex practices outside of a heteronormative context, and leaves them at heightened risk for STIs (especially for trans* folks) and unintended pregnancies.

The way our education system approaches queer sex—or doesn’t— is failing to provide care for the sexual health and agency of queer students. The choice to parent is a fundamental right, but when we see such disparities in education and health outcomes we have to ask if the same tools and knowledge are being made accessible to everyone.

Organizations like Gender Spectrum work to bring nuanced discussions of gender identity and expression to schools, preparing students and educators for more encompassing and accurate curriculum. A 2015 study of over two decades worth of sex education curriculum found that programs that addressed gender norms or power in relationships were five times as likely to be effective as those that did not. They were also 63% more likely to yield a significantly lower rate of STIs or unintended pregnancy. Researchers also found that sexually active LGB students who received highly inclusive HIV education reported significantly lower rates of pregnancy than those whose education was not inclusive (8.8% vs. 38.6%). They were also more likely to be instructed on condom usage and to have used one the last time they had sex.

Comprehensive and inclusive sex education benefits all students—it won’t solve circumstances of homelessness, violence, or other compounding factors that put LGBTQ students at risk, but it will hopefully bring them into the lesson plan so they can begin to exercise equal and informed judgement in their reproductive decisions.

Maintaining momentum: Applying an Intersectional Lens to Recent SCOTUS Decisions

Jacque Patton, LSRJ Summer Intern, (University of Kansas School of Law)

The Supreme Court of the United States had some landmark decisions in June: the ACA was upheld once again in King v. Burwell, SCOTUS also upheld an important provision of the Fair Housing Act in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, and SCOTUS announced its decision that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right protected under the 14th amendment in Obergefell v. Hodges. Although the excitement from these important decisions is undeniable, it does not mean that the fights for the causes SCOTUS addressed are over. In fact, many states have already responded to the ruling by putting obstacles in front of same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses. The governor of my home state in Kansas issued an executive order to prohibit the state from taking action against religious organizations or clergy that continue to discriminate against same-sex couples.

I recently moved to the Bay Area for the summer for my internship here at Law Students for Reproductive Justice. I had the opportunity to attend one of the oldest pride festivals in the world in San Francisco that started on the day the decision from Obergefell came out. I attended all three days, from the Trans March to the party and parade on Sunday. I was told by many people that the parade and party on Sunday had become commercialized and was being capitalized on, and in contrast to the Trans March on Friday night, I agree. The Trans March was inspiring to be around; people had signs in support of other movements, including Black Lives Matter. It made me see clearly something I’ve been thinking for a long time: through solidarity, through these different movements coming together, this is how change will happen. This is the power of intersectional movements.

The power of intersectionality may be obvious to some, but coming from a conservative state like Kansas where I felt like a radical thinker, to a place where people are freely saying thoughts I had only began to conceptualize in my head, has transformed me. The exposure I’ve had to intersectional theory reminds me that, while the decision in Obergefell is important, it is not a win for all people in LGBTQ communities. Basic human rights violations other communities face daily in this country—like the rate at which transgender people of color experience police brutality—continue to be ignored by our government. Decisions made by SCOTUS in June should not be analyzed separately from each other, but analyzed together to see whether they are moving us towards a more inclusive and equal society. These decisions should be heavily criticized because some of the language and levels of scrutiny applied are problematic for the advancement of civil rights issues. To not address all forms of oppression damages any movement that is fighting for equality—none of us are equal until all of us are equal.

Revolution Over Rights: On Jennicet Gutiérrez, the legal system, and the fight for the liberation of all queer people

Erika Bleyl, LSRJ Summer Intern, (University of Washington School of Law)

On Wednesday June 24, 2015, Jennicet Gutiérrez, an undocumented trans Latina leader at Familia: TQLM and GetEqual, was removed from the White House after she interrupted Obama’s speech during a reception commemorating Pride Month. Gutiérrez, pled for the release of LGBTQ people in detention centers and called for an end to state violence against queer and trans people of color (“QTPOC”). Obama responded by saying, “this is my house, you’re eating my h’ors d’oeuvres,” and shamed her for interrupting him. Many in the room cheered for Obama, and booed at Gutiérrez until she was escorted out.

While there are some who would argue that President Obama probably could not hear what Gutiérrez was saying, the President – either by purposefully dismissing Gutiérrez’s mission or by not apologizing for misunderstanding the situation – has sent the message that he would rather give a speech about trans women than actually listen to a trans woman.

Every time something like this happens where a mainstream entity silences QTPOC resistance, I harken back to the first law school event I ever attended during my last quarter of undergrad. I was disappointed to see that despite significant resistance from audience members and other panelists, one panelist claimed that all forms of LGBTQ equality had been obtained with the passing of gay marriage. Sadly, he was not the only person I had heard this sentiment from, and this event now represents for me the ways that law school perpetuates the harmful notion that laws are the best (or only) tool for obtaining equality and that lawyers are leaders in movements that have always been truly transformed by community organizers.

Like many law students, I came to law school hoping to acquire tools that I could use to uplift my community. Yet as a law student, I have only been provided tools that reinforce the legal system. I am taught to celebrate laws that maintain systems I don’t believe in, and when I am critical of things such as the SCOTUS opinion and problems with the pursuit of marriage equality, I am told that I am ungrateful or unrealistic.

Yet Dean Spade writes in his book Normal Life how recognition-and-inclusion focused law reforms do not actually produce changes that enhance safety for queer and trans people. Even during a time when Laverne Cox and Caitlin Jenner have gained massive public attention, I agree with the sentiment that visibility is not enough. Laws themselves have produced systems that make being trans administratively impossible. Laws that simply “add” to current laws, such as the criminal justice system, are actually contributing to the most significant source of violence against QTPOC.

It is past the time that the voices of trans women of color should be heard rather than shushed. Isn’t Gutiérrez justified in being concerned that trans immigrants make up one out of every 500 people in detention, but account for one of five confirmed sexual abuse cases in ICE custody? Why did the City of Seattle spend $100,000 on painting their sidewalks rainbow, when King County is estimated to have 4,000 homeless queer youth? What are mainstream LGBT organizations doing to support the activists from #BlackOutPride, 6 of whom were detained in Chicago for protesting ongoing state violence against QTPOC? Will you rise up for the liberation of all queer and trans people?

Texas makes it harder for young people to access abortion care

Abbey Marr is a Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow at Advocates for Youth

(Andrea Grimes/ RH Reality Check)

(Andrea Grimes/ RH Reality Check)

You may remember that last fall Alabama enacted a new parental involvement law that puts some young people on trial simply for seeking abortion care. Texas has decided — on top of the many harmful restrictions it has put in place for all people who seek abortion care in its state — that it would like to join Alabama in making it a degrading, next to impossible task for young people under 18 to obtain abortion care if they cannot get a parent’s consent.

State parental involvement laws are nothing new, but they are getting worse. Even at their least harmful, the laws – which generally require that when people under eighteen seek abortion care, they notify or get consent from one or both parents first, or get a special waiver, called a “bypass” from a judge – delay access to abortion, endanger health and safety, and fundamentally disrespect young people’s ability to make their own decisions. This harm disproportionately falls on young people in foster care, young people who face abuse or assault from their parents, and other young people that already face significant barriers to obtaining care. And some states are making it worse: this week Texas is poised to pass HB 3994, which would make it virtually impossible for some young people to obtain abortions. Like many states, for the past 15 years Texas has forced people under 18 seeking abortion care to get the signed consent of a parent or legal guardian, or seek a judicial bypass.

HB 3994, which has passed the Senate and the House and will likely be signed by the Governor, would make this judicial bypass process much, much harder. First, it would require doctors to presume that anyone seeking an abortion is under 18 and thus subject to judicial bypass requirements, unless she can present proof of identification, or the doctor determines after “due diligence” that she is over 18.  For people under 18, the judicial bypass procedure has requirements so stringent that almost no one will be able to meet them, including requiring most people seeking a bypass to do so only in their counties of residence or the counties where they intend to obtain care, requiring them to meet an extremely high burden of proof that they are “mature” enough to obtain bypasses, that abortion is in their best interest, and that they are in some form of danger if they were to tell parents or guardian they were seeking abortion care, and allowing judges to force applicants to undergo a mental health evaluation. The law would also add significant delays into the process of obtaining a bypass: applications are no longer required to be considered within two business days. Instead, courts may take five business days. If the courts do not rule in five days, the law would no longer presume her application is granted. Instead, the law is silent, possibly putting an applicant in an indefinite purgatory. And finally, the law compromises anonymity: if a person seeking a bypass says she is being abused, the court must report it to the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Even without these additional hurdles, young people are more likely to face barriers to accessing safe abortion care and may be forced to delay an abortion because they need time to assemble the funds, or lack transportation or access to a provider. These new requirements add logistical nightmares that push some young people through the cracks. They are demeaning, onerous, and stand in the way of young people’s access to safe abortion care.

It is best for young people who find themselves pregnant to be able to seek the advice of a trained medical professional rather than face the situation alone and afraid. Further, young people should have the same right to access the full range of reproductive and sexual health services that other people have. That right includes the ability to access reproductive and sexual health services confidentially and with dignity. With the expected passage of HB 3994 this week, the Texas legislature has decided to put politics ahead of the rights of the young people across its state.

This blog is a cross-post from Advocates for Youth’s youth activist site amplifyyourvoice.org

Infertility Treatment for the Rest of Us

Jamille Fields, Resident Blogger (Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Health Law Program)

Reproductive Justice is defined as the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to parent those children in a safe and healthy environment. The Repro community is most often associated with the right to not have children, but I would like to focus today on the first right listed—the right to have children. Recently, Domenico Dolce (the Dolce in Dolce and Gabana) made news with his derogatory comments about in vitro fertilization.  I won’t warrant them with the dignity of repeating them here. But, as celebrities—rightfully–sounded off rebuking his comments, I was reminded that infertility treatment is something that many everyday women and men don’t even consider as an option. As usual, money has a lot to do with it.

Only fifteen states require insurance companies to either cover or offer coverage of infertility diagnosis or treatment. Even among these states the level of coverage varies. Among these states, thirteen have laws that require insurance companies to cover infertility treatment, but three of these states—California, Louisiana, and New York– specifically exclude in vitro fertilization. According to a recent Kaiser study, 22 states Medicaid programs cover infertility testing and only 16 states cover some level of infertility treatment. And, even in those states, the treatment and testing is only covered in limited circumstances.

More attention needs to be paid to the issue of infertility. Around 12% of women of reproductive age had difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term and about 9% of men between the ages of 15 to 44 reported some form of infertility. These estimates are likely underestimated given infertility isn’t often discovered until individuals are attempting to get pregnant. The information available notes that Latino, black, and white women had similar rates of difficulty getting pregnant, and Asian women had a lower rate. Due to lack of documentation on infertility, it is largely unknown if racial and ethnic disparities exists between those able to get pregnant.

What is known, however, is that there are racial and ethnic, as well as income, disparities in the conditions that have a causal relationship with impaired fertility. For instance, environmental and occupational hazards are suspected to decrease sperm quality, and communities of color are more likely to work in strenuous jobs and live in neighborhoods with polluted and unsafe environments. Communities of color, also, often have higher rates of chronic illnesses, such as cancer and HIV, and the treatment for these illnesses can cause infertility. Untreated STI infections, such as chlamydia, can also lead to infertility and there are higher rates of chlamydia among people of color.

There are also racial and ethnic differences in those who are seeking infertility treatment. According to the CDC, 12% of women or their partners have ever used some form of infertility treatment. Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs such as in vitro fertilization or IVF) were used in 1.6% of total births in the U.S., however, one study published in 2008 found that 84.6% of ART cycles involved white women.  This is largely contributed to the economic access to infertility treatment.

As for next steps, more research needs to be done to understand the causes of infertility. And, more states need to require insurance, both public and private, to cover infertility testing and treatment. This will give more women and men who want to have children the tools to do so.