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When the news came down about the overturning of Roe v. Wade, I wasn't shocked—a leaked draft of a Supreme Court ruling confirmed that this 1973 landmark case was at risk–but a wave of anxiety I'd dammed off with semi-wishful thinking was loosed. What I fear the most in the wake of this news isn’t the regression of our country’s social liberties or that other rights such as interracial marriage or same-sex marriages are at risk—which, let's be clear, they are based on Clarence Thomas's concurring opinion. I'm most alarmed by the thought of what will happen to Black women.
Black women are already three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and suffer from the highest maternal mortality rate. Being forced to go through with a pregnancy can feel like a death sentence.
This point has been echoed by many in response to the news, including by Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who shared on Twitter that "Overturning Roe v. Wade would be a direct assault on Black lives," and Representative Shontel Brown of Ohio, who noted "Today's Supreme Court decision will only worsen the maternal health crisis facing Black women."
Black women are already 3x more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as white women.
Today's Supreme Court decision will only worsen the maternal health crisis facing Black women.
Proud to stand with you on this @RepPressley. https://t.co/FDJbELKYwZ
— Rep. Shontel Brown (@RepShontelBrown) June 24, 2022
But truthfully, even after Roe passed nearly 50 years ago, Black women's struggle to obtain abortion care persisted, and nobody protected us. Though we are three times more likely to seek an abortion, we’re systematically denied access to abortion care through medical racism and economic disadvantages, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
One of these barriers is the Hyde Amendment, a 1976 legislation forbidding public healthcare such as Medicaid from funding abortion procedures. Black people make up 34 percent of all Medicaid enrollees and another 11 percent of African Americans are uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, thanks to discriminatory enrolling eligibilities. Abortions are not cheap: Planned Parenthood reports that the procedure can cost anywhere between $750 to $1,500. For many low-income Black women who are uninsured or have Medicaid which won't cover it, this price point is almost always unattainable.
“Abortion is an issue that affects Black women and the Black community as a whole more so than other communities,” says MK Anderson, the director of development and communications at the Feminist Women’s Center in Atlanta. “As an abortion provider in Georgia, we know that folks here are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured, or more likely to skip out on getting preventative care, like birth control, because they can't afford it.”
Insurance is only one of the hindrances, Anderson says. Other barriers include mandatory waiting periods—state laws that require abortion seekers to wait 24 hours after making an appointment to have their procedure. “This waiting period is just another way to cut off access for folks who are either are too far along, potentially can't afford the childcare on another day or were expecting to have a same-day appointment and now cannot,” Anderson says. No other reproductive surgery, such as a vasectomy, requires this waiting period.
Aside from state laws and economic discriminatory policies, abortion clinics, especially in Southeastern states, are few and far between. Anderson says that their abortion clinic had been receiving patients from Texas because of the rapid closing of clinics in that state. In Georgia specifically, over 80 percent of counties do not have an ob-gyn, which puts more pressure on community clinics like the Feminist Women’s Center to provide abortions along with contraceptive care, Anderson adds. It also halts those in rural areas from accessing reproductive care.
The outcry and protests against this Supreme Court decision have already begun and they will only get louder and bigger. But who should be at the forefront of these conversations and actions? I believe those advocating for abortion access need to represent those seeking abortions. Oftentimes, there’s this perception that most abortion seekers are “young white college-aged women [and] that nobody else really gets that kind of care,” Anderson says. But statistically, that’s not true. Abortion seekers are most likely low-income mothers of color, most often Black, according to The New York Times. Without inclusive advocacy, Black women will continue to bear the most impact of inaccessible reproductive care, risking their vulnerable lives.
“It's the time to lean on leadership and activists who have been in this work, and I've been doing it for a really long time,” Anderson says. “For example, in Georgia, we have Sister Song, which coined the term reproductive justice. Make sure that folks like Sister Song or The Feminist Center, who’ve been here since the ’70s, are able to take the lead on these issues, given that we're led by the most impacted group, Black folks.”
Roe is gone. Now it is time for us to protect existing access and fight for new legislation safeguarding reproductive rights for all communities. Because, truthfully, no one is safe until we all are.
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