Climate Change and Women’s Health Are More Connected Than You Think

Marley Flueger

In June 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision affirming the constitutional right to abortion. The ruling sparked fights for abortion access in courtrooms around the country, with numerous states swiftly resurrecting abortion bans.

Access to reproductive healthcare - including safe and legal abortion - is a human right. Everyone deserves to live in a safe environment and make decisions about their own bodies. But while many think of climate change and women’s health as separate issues, they’re deeply interconnected. 

Climate change affects women and girls disproportionately

All around the world, a growing body of research indicates that women and girls face greater health risks from climate change. A Global Gender and Climate Alliance analysis of over 130 studies found:

  • Women have lower survival rates following natural disasters, and have less access to relief and assistance.
  • Women and girls are more exposed to gender-based violence during and after climate-related events. 
  • Women are more likely to experience climate change-driven food insecurity.
  • Women are at greater risk for malaria due to their household role in collecting water supplies, and climate change exacerbates mosquito-borne illnesses.

The climate crisis has created a reproductive justice crisis

No one escapes the consequences of climate change. But it poses unique threats to women and birth-giving people. 

  1. Pregnancy is becoming more dangerous

Climate change worsens environmental hazards like extreme heat, poor air quality, and mosquito-borne illness – and it’s making pregnancy more dangerous. These hazards are linked to a myriad of prenatal health risks including gestational diabetes, maternal cardiac arrest, stillbirth, low birth weight, and premature birth. 

  1. Reproductive healthcare is vulnerable to weather disasters

Climate change is making extreme weather and natural disasters more frequent and severe. These crises can compromise critical reproductive healthcare infrastructure and displace people in need of these services. 

Health services, including birth, reproductive, and abortion services, may shutter after weather disasters like floods or hurricanes. Contaminated water supplies can impact the administration of certain types of contraceptives. And if pregnant people must evacuate to safety, it can disrupt their ability to access in-network prenatal care. 

  1. Climate change complicates family planning

Climate change also reduces autonomy in family planning. For instance, some would-be parents are reluctant to bring a child into an increasingly unstable world. Others fear how escalating droughts, wildfires, or heatwaves may impact their child’s wellbeing. Those living near environmental hazards may ask – is pregnancy worth the risk?

At the crossroads of climate change and women’s health, marginalized communities suffer most.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are more vulnerable to climate change and its impacts on reproductive health. In the US, due to generations of systemic discrimination and environmental injustice: 

  • BIPOC individuals are 61% more likely than white individuals to live in areas with poor air quality. 
  • BIPOC communities experience higher temperatures in nearly every city in the United States (largely a result of urban “heat islands”).
  • Black Americans are more likely to live in areas with the greatest projected increase in childhood asthma and extreme heat death due to climate change.  

These environmental hazards endanger BIPOC folks from all walks of life – but young, elderly, and pregnant individuals are particularly at risk. 

 

Restricting reproductive rights exacerbates existing injustices.

Overturning Roe vs. Wade violates the constitutional rights of all people who can become pregnant. But it also exacerbates existing systemic injustices. Sadly, poor and marginalized communities may become more vulnerable to climate change as result. 

Black and Indigenous women in the US are already two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Restricting abortion rights disproportionately endangers communities with inequitable access to healthcare.

In anti-choice states, poor, pregnant people will suffer most. That’s because people living in poverty have fewer resources to travel out of state if they want an abortion. In turn, more children will be born to parents who will struggle to afford them. These families, burdened by systemic poverty, will remain among the most vulnerable to climate change. 

Preserving and enhancing reproductive rights is key to slowing and adapting to climate change.

Robust access to sexual and reproductive healthcare doesn’t just close gaps in gender equality. It helps all humans become more equipped to deal with climate change. 

  1. Reproductive rights enhance climate adaptation 

Women and girls with access to reproductive healthcare achieve higher levels of education and greater financial security. As women’s socioeconomic status improves, so does their climate resiliency. For example: while women die at higher rates than men in natural disasters, this gender gap shrinks the higher their socioeconomic status.

  1. Empowered women are climate leaders

Higher education rates make leadership roles more accessible to women – and countries with more female leaders adopt more stringent climate policies. In contrast, societies with high levels of gender inequality experience greater rates of deforestation, air pollution, and resource loss. 

Explore: this Mother’s of Invention podcast highlights global climate solutions pioneered by women. 

  1. Family planning eases resource demand 

According to Project Drawdown, “as fertility levels change due in part to increased uptake in voluntary family planning and rising education levels, population growth slows, with cascading benefits for the health and wellbeing of people and the planet.” 

Conversations about climate change and women’s health often center around reducing birth rates. In reality,  women in lower-income countries suffer the most from - and contribute the least to - climate change. 

Consider this: the average person in India will produce less than 130 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e, throughout their lifetime. In contrast, the average American produces 1,185 tons of CO2e over their lifetime – over nine times as much. 

It’s important to consider global carbon inequality when approaching family planning as a climate solution. Fundamentally, reproductive justice and tackling climate change are both about the same thing: giving all people the right to choose their own future. 

In a post-Roe America, supporting reproductive rights is a form of climate action. 

Climate justice and reproductive justice go hand in hand. As Americans, we can help uphold the right to reproductive freedom by supporting vulnerable individuals and pro-choice organizations and pressuring our elected officials to take action.

  • Individuals in need of abortion access: donating to your local abortion fund - wherever you live - helps ensure people seeking abortion can access the care they need. You can also link up with practical support groups to provide transportation or lodging for out-of-state patients. 
  • Pro-choice organizations: donate to Repro Legal Defense fund to provide direct support to anyone arrested for self-managing their abortion. Abortion Care Network donations support independent abortion providers throughout the US. 
  • Apply political pressure: Visit Vote411 to see where local and state candidates stand on important issues like abortion and reproductive rights. Join a We Won’t Go Back march to demand legislative action.

Joro stands firmly in support of reproductive justice

Joro firmly supports all women and birth-giving people’s rights to bodily autonomy and determining their own future. In fact, we prioritize equity and justice in all of our choices as a business. It’s why we rigorously vet our carbon offset partners and prioritize projects that support local ecosystems, communities, and minority and vulnerable groups. 

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