Black women would be among those hit hardest if Roe v. Wade is overturned

·Senior Producer/Reporter
·7 min read

Abortion rights advocates are gearing up for a fight to protect the reproductive freedoms of some of America’s most vulnerable women after a draft opinion by the Supreme Court, obtained by Politico and leaked Monday night, suggested that the high court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade — the 1973 landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

About 1 in 4 American women obtain an abortion before age 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion-rights research group. But a decision by the high court to block women’s access to safe and legal abortions would disproportionately affect historically oppressed communities, specifically Black women, who receive abortions at a higher rate than their white counterparts.

“The reality is that abortion bans at their core are racist,” Lauren Frazier, the director of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood Southeast, told Yahoo News. “Obviously, Black and brown women specifically would be some of the communities that are most impacted, because they access abortion care more frequently. When those resources are not available, it really puts women at risk who are already at risk, because of the lack of access to comprehensive health care, even more so in a position where they’re in danger.”

Frazier represents the Planned Parenthood network that provides family planning services for women in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi — three out of the 26 states that are likely to ban or restrict abortions if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.

“That’s 36 million women and others who can get pregnant across large swaths of the South and the Midwest, who would no longer have access,” Frazier said. “That includes LGBTQ folks, Black and brown folks, folks in rural communities who already face large health disparities and barriers when it comes to accessing care. So this is a huge deal.”

A patient at the Trust Women clinic in Oklahoma City.
A patient at the Trust Women clinic in Oklahoma City in 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

According to the 2011 Abortion Surveillance Report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women make up 14% of the childbearing population but have received 36.2% of reported abortions.

The numbers are even higher in conservative-leaning states like Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama, according to the states’ departments of public health. In Mississippi, 79% of abortions are obtained by Black women; in Georgia, 59.4%; and in Alabama, 58.4%.

In addition, health care advocates say they fear a restriction on abortion rights would create even more risks for Black mothers who would be forced to carry their pregnancies to term, even while facing potential health risks and limited options for abortion care if they lack the means to travel out of state for the procedure or to raise a child.

“If you have the resources to get care, you’re going to get care, but the point is that you even have to use your resources at all to make these long trips out of state, take time off from work and use all of your other resources just to access what has been, for the last 50 years, constitutionally protected health care,” Frazier said. “That’s just for the people who have the resources. What about the women and families and other folks who don’t have those same resources?”

According to a 2021 study published in the research journal Demography focused on the effect of a total abortion ban on pregnancy-related mortality, banning abortion across the nation would lead to a 21% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths for all women and a 33% increase among Black women.

“We’re going to find ourselves in the position we were in before 1973 when Roe was in place, where people were literally dying for the right to choose,” Frazier said. “So it is just really disheartening that we are back in this same fight that our grandmothers fought so long ago.

The study also revealed that banning all voluntary induced abortions would increase the lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes from 1 in 1,300 to 1 in 1,000 among Black women.

A nurse at Houston Women’s Reproductive Services speaks with a patient.
Catalina Leano, a licensed vocational nurse at Houston Women’s Reproductive Services, speaks with a patient in 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

“Our patients of color already face deep systemic barriers to accessing health care, and now would bear the most harmful impacts of this ban, including potential deadly consequences of forced birth,” said Jean Ross, president of National Nurses United, in a statement. “Banning reproductive care would also accelerate a national scandal of shockingly high maternal and infant mortality rates, again especially for women of color, that are among the worst in the developed world.”

Guttmacher Institute research shows that so-called trigger laws, which would ban abortions almost immediately if Roe v. Wade were overturned, are already in place in 13 states: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. But in a statement to Yahoo News, Dr. Herminia Palacio, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, said that even if the landmark ruling were to stay in place, Black women still face an uphill climb.

“Even with Roe in place, affordable and accessible abortion care is a right that exists only on paper for many people who are marginalized and oppressed by structural inequities, including people with low incomes, Black and Brown communities and other people of color, and young people.”

Still, Frazier emphasizes that politicians have “no business” intruding in personal medical decisions when it comes to abortion care.

“When we talk about supporting women, when we talk about supporting families, it has to happen in a holistic way, because decisions about our personal health care, about our families, about our futures, those are very personal decisions, and we should be allowed to make those decisions in consultation with our faith, our family and our physicians. But nowhere as it relates to any of that, should politicians interfere between the doctor-patient relationship.”

Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama echoed Frazier in a statement of their own on Tuesday, pointing to the “freedom enshrined” in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which “requires all of us to enjoy a sphere of our lives” not subject to the “whims of politicians and ideologues.”

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., shared her personal story of having an abortion after she was raped as a teen.

In a statement to Yahoo News, Bush said: “Abortion is a constitutional right that must be protected by any means necessary. The right to choose has always been vulnerable to a Supreme Court stacked with Trump-appointed judges.

“We cannot throw up our hands like there isn’t anything we can do to protect the reproductive freedom of millions of people in this country — especially when Black, brown, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+ and low-income people are the communities that will be harmed the most,” she continued. “While abortion is still legal this morning in America, people are going to die because of the decision of a far right Supreme Court. Unless Congress acts.”

Democratic-leaning states like New York and California have already moved to bolster the protection of reproductive rights.

After pro-abortion-rights protesters decried the draft opinion outside the Supreme Court Monday night, the high court released a statement of its own on Tuesday, saying the draft opinion does not represent a decision by the court or the “final position of any member.”

“Justices circulate draft opinions internally as a routine and essential part of the Court's confidential deliberative work.”

President Biden on Tuesday called the draft opinion “a radical decision,” after releasing a statement calling on Congress to codify abortion rights, and he urged voters to elect lawmakers who would support those rights.

But for now, Planned Parenthood stressed the fact that abortion is still legal and that their centers remain open. Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s oldest and largest provider of family planning services, tweeted that the nonprofit organization will be “fighting like hell” to protect the right for women to access safe and legal abortions.

Frazier also said Planned Parenthood is prepared to handle the needs of their patients if the landmark ruling is overturned, including working closely with their partners on the ground to make sure local abortion resources are well-funded, and implementing a patient navigator.

“In the case that Roe is overturned and folks can no longer get care here, what we’ll be doing is supporting patients by making sure that they get support with travel, with hotels and meals, or whatever it is that they need to travel to where care is still available,” she said.

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