Commentary: What the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Means to Black Women

Abortion rights are about controlling your body and your future. 

Posted: 01/25/2013 11:59 AM EST

This week marks the 40th anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in this country: Roe v. Wade. And while most of the news coverage about this issue has included voices of white activists who we may not be able to identify with, I want to be very clear: The right to a safe and legal abortion is most definitely a Black woman’s issue, too.

African-American women and teens are more likely to have unplanned pregnancies and have higher abortion rates than whites. And obviously this speaks to a greater need for better access to birth control and safer sex options so that we don’t find ourselves having to make such a hard decision.

And what’s even scarier, this war waged on women isn’t just about making it more difficult for us to have access to an abortion by passing strict laws on a state level, it’s making it harder for us to prevent pregnancies by limiting access to birth control and Plan B.

Don’t we have real issues in this country to address, such as a struggling economy, unemployment, a gun control issue, crippling poverty and an obesity crisis that is killing us? Yet, the GOP would rather fixate on my uterus. 

It’s scary just how slick and manipulative the Pro-Life Movement is when it comes to their approach on Black folks and abortion. They pull on our heartstrings with images of innocent babies, telling us that our wombs are not safe at Planned Parenthood and trying to convince us that abortion is genocide in our community. And while we should never forget that, for generations, Black women were sterilized against their will and therefore the right to have a baby on our own terms was a struggle, we cannot allow ourselves to be bamboozled.

This same conservative movement of politicians and anti-abortion activists would quickly turn around and blame us for having children we couldn’t afford, deem us “welfare queens” and slash funding on entitlement programs such as food stamps, subsidized housing or programs such as Head Start and Medicaid — all of which would strengthen our growing families.

This is precisely why abortion rights aren’t just about the right to terminate a fetus, as Kierra Johnson so eloquently reminds us in her Huffington Post article:

It is about power, quality of life, and the role of government. The right to own property, the right to vote, the right to contraception as married and then as single people, the right not to be sterilized, the right not to be enslaved and treated as baby-making machines were all legal battles that women fought and won.

Regardless of whether or not you believe abortion is wrong for you, we cannot lose sight that something is wrong when we care more about fetuses than we do about the quality of life of the Black women who have to give to birth to them. In the end, women of color, who essentially have the least amount of power in this country, should at least have the power to decide to become mothers when they are ready and on their own terms.

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


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  (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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