Women of color react to SCOTUS decision overturning abortion rights

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Linda Goler Blount was just a child in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Roe v. Wade, legalizing access to abortion for women nationwide. 

“Women know how to take care of themselves,” said her mother, a kindergarten teacher and member of the National Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club.

On Friday, these memories came rushing back to Blount as she read the news: the conservative-majority Supreme Court had overruled the right for women to “take care of themselves.” 

Blount was, ironically, at the gynecologist when the news broke. As she looked around the doctor’s office, all she could think was, “What’s going to happen to the women in this room with me?”

“There’s been a generation of young women and children who are being given the very clear message that their lives aren’t worth anything, that they can be trusted to make the best decisions for their health,” Blount said. 

Women of color across the country have found themselves flooded with disbelief, anger and fear since news of the 6-3 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and twice as likely to lose an infant to premature death. In 2019, Hispanic mothers were 80 percent more likely to receive late or no prenatal care compared to white mothers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While the Biden administration on Friday released a new plan to fight the maternal health crisis, a study released by Duke University in December showed that a complete abortion ban could increase Black maternal deaths by 33 percent and nationwide by 21 percent.

So Blount, the executive director of the Black Women’s Health Initiative, said she’s concerned not only for women who look like her, but for all people who can get pregnant. 

“We’re going to lose a lot of women,” said Blount. “A lot of Black women and Brown women, but a lot of white women, too. Women are going to die in childbirth, and they’re going to die because some may try to induce their own abortions. Some will die because of underlying health conditions that will not be able to be addressed so they’ll have to carry a baby to term which will raise their risk for maternal mortality.”

But, she argued, the people who are pushing for the end to abortion rights aren’t interested in heaing the statistics. Instead, the conversations are happening in an “echo chamber.”

“We’re talking to each other, but the people who need to hear this and understand the repercussions of their decisions aren’t interested and they’re not listening,” she said.

The overturning of the nearly 50 year right to an abortion has been met with backlash from leaders and organizations across the country. 

The NAACP blasted the court’s decision as an “egregious assault on basic human rights” while the Congressional Black Caucus demanded Biden declare a national emergency. And Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.),  Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, released an “outraged” statement condemning the decision.

“Black women, marginalized women, low-income women and rural women will bear the brunt of this,” Kelly said. “However, this is an attack on the personal freedom and bodily autonomy of every single person living in the United States.”

Lupe Rodriguez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said Friday was a “dark day” that left millions of women feeling a lot of grief and pain.

“We have existed with structural inequities in health care access for forever,” she said. “So many of our communities, even before this court case, did not have true access to reproductive health care.”

With a presence in states around the country, including Texas, New York, Virginia and D.C., Rodriguez said she and her team have been mobilizing and preparing for the court’s decision since Texas passed a trigger law last year. 

But it was laws like Texas’s that left so many women unsurprised by Friday’s ruling. 

Alicia Garza, principal of the Black to the Future Action Fund, was in the middle of a workout when her trainer suddenly gasped and relayed the news. 

“When I heard the news that the decision had finally been announced, [I] wasn’t shocked but it was like the pit of my stomach dropped,” Garza said.

She said her team had been preparing for this moment since the leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion a few weeks ago. 

The end to abortion rights, Garza said, impacts Black families in a myriad of ways — and the vigilante clauses in some states’ laws is one of the most concerning.  

Vigilante clauses encourage private citizens to file civil lawsuits against people they believe to have violated the abortion ban. 

“Just like Black communities are disproportionately impacted by a lack of access to quality and affordable health care, Black communities are also disproportionately impacted by criminalization and targeted for this kind of vigilantism and surveillance,” Garza argued. 

That criminalization, Rodriguez said, could lead to Black and Brown families having their children taken away, losing their livelihoods and being imprisoned. 

Still, for some women, the overturning of abortion rights has opened the door for offering pro-life options to Black and Brown women. 

Cherilyn Holloway, founder of Pro-Black Pro-Life, said her heart grieves for the women who feel they are being attacked and their rights stripped away. However, she also said she feels a sense of responsibility to her community now.

“I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility and opportunity to do more work in these communities to uplift the Black woman in a way that she feels liberated through the community that’s around her and not through the shedding of future generations,” Holloway said.

Holloway said her organization focuses on community and letting women, especially Black women, know that abortion is not their only option.

“The idea that more Black women are going to die because our maternal mortality rate is so high … we’re not saving more Black women by allowing them to have abortions,” said Holloway. “No Black women should be dying in childbirth.”

That’s why she’s focused on combating systemic inequities, like implicit bias in the medical community and economic inequity.

But for Blount, these issues could be addressed without limiting a person’s right to choose. 

Blount said the strategy has to be “state-by-state.” Providing resources for women in states that have outlawed abortions to travel to ones where the procedure is still legal is critical, she said.

The Black Women’s Health Imperative will also look to directly supply resources to women in need — specifically it’s looking to stockpile up to 700,000 doses of Plan B and medical abortions. 

Meanwhile, Rodriguez and her team at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice are sharing pertinent information about what rights women still have. She said they’ll also continue pushing for legislation that promises reproductive freedom. 

“We will change the power structures that have brought us to this moment and our communities are going to take over this power and will give us all the rights we deserve,” she said.

The Black to the Future Action Fund is also mobilizing its volunteers and supporters. But Garza added they’re also just trying to create space for people to express how they’re feeling and what they want to see happen. 

All of this, she concluded, is to help determine who to vote in – and out – come November. 

“We’re gonna get to decide who signs the bills in our states,” said Garza. “We get to do an audit of all the people who represent us and make decisions on our behalf and we get to look and see which one of these people is going to fight like hell to protect [our] healthcare. Anybody who doesn’t make that list is going to have to find another job after November.”

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