Commentary: What Paul Ryan Means for Black Women’s Health

The Republican vice presidential nominee’s stance on reproductive health issues could have disastrous consequences for us. 

Posted: 08/31/2012 01:21 PM EDT

Like almost everyone in the U.S., our eyes are glued on the upcoming election: Will we see another four years of an Obama presidency, or is a Romney-Ryan White House in our near future?

We’ll have to wait until November for those results, I can say now that a Romney-Paul White House could have disastrous results when it comes to the state of Black women’s reproductive health.

Ryan wants the federal government to de-fund Planned Parenthood and has voted four times in the past to do such. Without that money, more than 400,000 Black women, who look to Planned Parenthood for abortions, cervical cancer screenings, STD tests and treatment, and breast cancer and diabetes screenings, could find that these programs are cut or the doors to their local clinic are closed.

And it’s important to stress that Planned Parenthood is important to Black women, especially given the breakdown in health and economic disparities in the U.S. BET.com reported:

While African-Americans represent 14 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 69 percent of gonorrhea cases and about half of all cases of chlamydia, HIV/AIDS and syphilis. Yet we are also uninsured or under-insured and must often delay care because we don’t have the resources to pay for it. In 2010, 20.5 percent of African-Americans lacked health insurance, compared to 11.7 percent of whites. In addition to that, 76 percent of Planned Parenthood health center patients live on incomes of 150 percent of the federal poverty level or less, the equivalent of about $33,000 a year for a family of four.

And while Ryan’s beliefs on Planned Parenthood are problematic enough, it’s his extreme beliefs against abortion and birth control that scare me the most.

Ryan says he believes that life begins at conception and that he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, according to the Daily Beast. He has even gone so far that he co-sponsored a personhood bill:

Ryan was a co-sponsor of the federal Sanctity of Human Life Act, a bill that declared that life begins with fertilization, a concept that conservative voters in Mississippi rejected. The bill states that a fertilized egg should “have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” If it had passed, the bill also would have outlawed certain types of birth control and in-vitro fertilization. Romney, on the other hand, has waffled a bit on the subject. In 2007, he said he supported a “Human Life Amendment” that would afford unborn children the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment. But he’s backed off that claim this election cycle, saying personhood is a state issue.

Despite the debate around abortion and reproductive justice being framed as a white woman’s issue, let me be clear: Abortion, birth control and access to it is a Black woman’s issue. Whether we like it or not, not only are African-American women more likely to have unplanned pregnancies, but we also have the highest abortion rates among other women in America. In a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32.1 abortions occur among 1,000 African-American women aged 15-44 years old. When it comes to all U.S. abortions, white women make up 37.2 percent, and Black women come in second with 35.5 percent.

And while some conservatives and religious folks claim that these stats show a “sinister racial genocide plan” against Black babies, I don’t believe the hype. These stats show that too many Black women don’t have access to stable and affordable birth control; may have been irresponsible (along with their male partners); or perhaps are in relationships where they do not control condom use. And then they find themselves having to make a very hard decision.

Nevertheless, Black women shouldn’t be forced to have children that they are not ready for, cannot afford or do not want based on some “uber moral” government. And for those who cannot afford children, this same Republican administration has very little intention of helping working-class and lower-income African-Americans provide for these growing families. As I recently wrote, a Romney-Ryan White House means drastic cuts to the food-stamp program and Medicaid, where currently 6 million Black children receive health care.

In the end, Black women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies. Whether we want to be on birth control or whether we want terminate a pregnancy, we should have those rights. And we must have access to make those decisions, too. My biggest fear is that in a Romney-Ryan White House those critical and life-changing choices will be made for us, and, sadly, not in our favor.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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