For decades, anti-abortionists have marketed their now-successful campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade as pro-life. But when the Supreme Court decision came down on Friday (June 24) giving them their victory, I couldn’t help but wonder how, in the wake of this catastrophic reality, they are going to justify denying women agency over their own bodies.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, undoes nearly 50 years of precedent and is a devastating blow to reproductive rights in this country. And it's even more devastating for Black women.
After a draft of the opinion was leaked last month, we knew this moment could come, but that doesn’t make the news any easier to digest. Black women disproportionately suffer when abortions are restricted or banned, and the states that are poised to do just that are among those with the largest Black populations in the country.
For a host of reasons—from timing to resources to physical and mental health—not every pregnancy is a viable one. The decision will hurt low-income women, a large number of whom are Black and brown. Thirteen states have trigger laws that will immediately or shortly end access to abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, and a host of others will soon sign on to this death and destruction mandate. Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana, which all have these laws, are among those with the highest percentage of Black residents in the country. They are also among the states with the highest rates of poverty and worst access to healthcare, according to U.S. Census figures.
When abortion access is restricted, it doesn’t mean that abortions stop. For poor and working-class women, a large number of whom are Black and Brown, it means that accessible abortions in safe healthcare facilities move out of reach. Today’s decision will have a catastrophic effect on Black women, especially those who have low incomes, live in rural areas, and do not have access to health care because of systemic racism and discrimination.
The courts codified a women’s right to abortion 50 years ago in large part because our society recognized that when abortion access is restricted, it doesn’t mean abortion will stop. Instead, women and families whose lives would be turned upside down or put at risk by a full-term pregnancy will be forced to choose between a devastating birth or seeking out potentially unsafe ways to end their pregnancies.
The SCOTUS decision will have disastrous consequences for millions of women and their families, and in particular Black women. Now more than ever Black women’s leadership is essential and acutely critical. The defeat of Roe is also a wake-up call about the power of a slow, steady and determined movement to make change – whether it be positive or, in this case, dangerous.
It will take concerted, ongoing efforts to right the wrong that has just been heaped upon millions of women, but make no mistake, this denial of physical and spiritual agency will not stand.
We must show up this election cycle like never before and do what Black women have always done: defend democracy. In the meantime, there are actions we can take in the short and long run to speed a return to justice. We can support organizations that help low-income women in states that have banned abortion travel for care or access to abortion pills. We can write letters to our state legislators, who are now on the frontline of the battle to maintain access to abortion care. Most importantly, in this and every election year, we can vote and support candidates who are pledged to protect and advance reproductive justice.
Glynda Carr is president and CEO of Higher Heights for America, the only national organization providing Black women with a political home exclusively dedicated to harnessing their power to expand Black women's elected representation and voting participation, and advance progressive policies.