What Do Abortion Bans Mean for Black Folks?

Today marks 50 years since Roe v Wade was decided by the Supreme Court. That decision on January 22, 1973, gave people the right to decide whether or not they would have an abortion. 

My entire life, abortion care has been one of my reproductive choices. But that changed in June of 2022, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe and took away our federal abortion rights, allowing states to decide whether or not they would ban abortion care.

Since Roe was overturned last summer, 18 states are now enforcing abortion bans: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. Twelve of those are Southern states. And 14 states currently have no abortion clinics operating, leaving entire regions without access to abortion care.

We all deserve access to abortion clinics that are rooted in our communities, with expert medical providers who we trust. That is how we receive the compassionate care that we need and deserve. That is how we are able to live our lives with dignity.

Many of the states passing these abortion restrictions are the same states that are facing maternal health crises, which disproportionately impact Black women and birthing people (who are three times more likely to die during pregnancy or postpartum than white women AND who have the highest maternal mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group). 

  • About 56.7% of reproductive-aged Black women and birthing folks live in one of the 18 states with abortion bans and restrictions, affecting nearly 5.8 million folks (source). 
  • Texas, Georgia and Florida have the largest number of Black women and birthing people living under abortion bans (source). 
  • And Georgia has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country, making it the most dangerous place to be pregnant in our nation (source).

But that’s not all. When states make health care services like abortion illegal, they turn the legal system against people who are making decisions about their pregnancies. Simple acts like legislation that redefines personhood to include an unborn fetus can result in significant charges for abortion or pregnancy loss, including first-degree homicide (source). 

Black people are already disproportionately criminalized and arrested and suffer more miscarriages and stillbirths than other ethnic groups. These two factors increase our risk of being criminalized by state abortion bans and restrictions.

This is a vile environment for us to live in. It strips us of our God-given dignity, our ability to make decisions about our bodies and our freedom to self-determine and create the lives we want to live. But we don’t have to settle for what we have now. We can create a society where we don’t have these dehumanizing barriers that make our lives more difficult.

The truth is, Roe was never enough. It was always the floor and never the ceiling, or the ultimate goal. You see, even when Roe was in place, many people were unable to access abortion services. Laws like the Hyde Amendment, which restricts government funding for abortions, make it difficult for women with low incomes and women of color to access abortion care because the services aren’t covered by their insurance providers. 

In the decades since Roe, targeted restrictions on abortion providers, known as TRAP laws, put in place unnecessary waiting periods, fake women’s health clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers and other barriers that dramatically decreased access to abortion, disproportionately impacting Black communities. 

This is a public health crisis…but this is also an opportunity to re-imagine our solutions.

Restoring Roe is not enough. We must think bigger and bolder. We need access to abortion care that is free from all hurdles, that is not continuously challenged in court or punished criminally, that is fully available regardless of where we live, how much money we make or whether or not we have health insurance. And we need abortion access that is free from social, political and religious shame and stigma.

Thinking of abortion as free being free from religious shame and stigma may have thrown some of you for a loop. But we’ll talk more about that soon.

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