The Intersectionality of Climate Change and Reproductive Rights

By: Friday Faraday

For the better part of 40-plus years, America has been in a growing environmental justice movement. Although there is no concrete date on when this movement started, in the early 1980s, this movement became a larger protest that melded itself with the fight for racial justice. How this change went about started with a small, mostly black community in North Carolina that was set to host a hazardous waste landfill. There were a number of potential sites to be the site, but that small black community in Warren County was chosen. Of course, this set off massive protests and led to a national start for this movement. Jump to the present, the fight is still going on, has many different subsets and focuses, and it has melded with many other fights, including reproductive rights. However, it is not talked about enough for many reasons, but its effects are felt even in the silence.

Elements at Play

The lens of intersectionality can be applied to nearly everything in our society. Our fights for basic rights will always be connected because of the effects that one has on the other. One of the many focuses of environmental justice centers on climate change, which has held a steady place in the news and in the discussion of what’s real or just political speak when it’s election time. No matter what side you are on, those extreme weather events like heatwaves, hurricanes, storms, and floods are increasing, and the data is pointing to human-induced climate change as the cause.

Extreme weather boosted by climate change forces pregnant people to have more than a standard birth plan. For those pregnant people living in parts of the world that experience extreme heat, they are more at risk for heat-related illnesses than others because of the extra work to cool down both their body and that of the baby. There is also a growing concern between those higher temperatures and complications like pre-eclampsia that can pose a fatal risk.

Pregnant people face an elevated risk of heat-related illnesses because their bodies are working overtime to keep themselves and the growing fetus cool. They are also more likely to be dehydrated and thus produce less sweat, which is dangerous because sweating is a key way the body cools itself. Additionally, people exposed to extreme heat during pregnancy are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia, a potentially fatal pregnancy complication. And heat exposure during pregnancy increases the risk of heart problems during labor and delivery. (Harrington)

Extreme heat is not the only risk factor that a pregnant person has to contend with when it comes to climate change. With the increasing strength of storms like hurricanes, those high winds and heavy downpours can cause intense flooding in certain areas and create an increased risk of diseases like malaria. Since it is spread by mosquitoes that breed in that dirty water, pregnant people in those flooded areas are in even more potential danger from complications and even death.

Unfortunately, that is not the only effect that flooding can have on pregnant people. Being an already vulnerable class when it comes to the effects from climate change, they are further put at risk from infrastructure breakdowns. Access to prenatal care, support for birth, checkups for newborns, and vaccines run the risk of being inaccessible when hospitals and other facilities are shut down or stretched to the limit during extreme weather events.

Since we are in the start of summer and people are starting to travel more, we tend to hear more about air quality consistently because of air pollution from a long list of causes, including vehicle emissions. Cities in California, Indiana, Illinois, and Houston are known to have some of the worst air quality. The effects of pregnant people breathing in polluted air are just as disastrous as you may think. From premature births and low birth weight

, it makes it more likely a baby could die within their first year or be riddled with lifelong chronic conditions.

Inequality of Climate Change

In the intro to this post, there was the connectivity of racial justice and environmental justice that really pushed the latter into the national spotlight, and both those social fights have an intersectionality to reproductive justice. From illegal dumping of toxic waste, water pollution, and unkempt infrastructure due to lack of funds, one if not all of these environmental problems center are faced by already vulnerable populations such as communities of color and immigrant communities.

If you add this with that lack of access to fresh and healthy food, we see the possibilities of a pregnant person from an underserved community having an unsafe pregnancy. One of the very cores of reproductive rights is to not only have the autonomy to decide if you want to have a child or not but to also have a healthy pregnancy if you so choose to have one, no matter the medium. However, that part of the message often is neglected by those making the laws, and we find many families suffering from a trifecta of harm.

The Important Bits

Like any social change, you will find it connected to another, and while climate change has the ability to affect everyone, it does not do so equally. Vulnerable populations, including pregnant people and communities of color, are at risk at a higher rate. No matter if you use surrogacy or other assisted reproductive technologies, climate-related events put an increased risk of negative pregnancy outcomes. As we get ready to be engaged more in the political system with the 2024 Presidential Race, looking at the intersectionality of all the social issues we are facing can bring us together to demand more for our needs to survive because the bare minimum is not serving anyone anymore.


Harrington, Samantha. “Extreme heat makes pregnancy more dangerous » Yale Climate Connections.” Yale Climate Connections, 22 July 2022, Accessed 21 June 2023.