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Why Every Black Woman in America Should Stand Up to the Abortion Bans
by Lauren McLendon
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May 22, 2019

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Why Every Black Woman in America Should Stand Up to the Abortion Bans

Credit: @tutto_per_il_bello

The recent abortion bans, specifically Alabama’s near-total ban, are undeniable declarations of war on women’s rights, particularly Black women’s.

Alabama signed into law last week a bill banning nearly all abortions in the state with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Under the law, which is expected to take effect in six months, an abortion is only legal if a pregnant woman’s life is at risk. A doctor who performs an abortion for any other reason could face up to 99 years in prison, which is more time than rapists in the state face.

Earlier this month, Georgia’s governor signed the state’s “fetal heartbeat bill” into law, similar to Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio’s recent restrictions that prohibit abortion after a heartbeat is detected in an embryo — which usually occurs around week five or six, before many women know they’re pregnant.

These bans – or as I call them, assassination attempts on your reproductive rights – are just the tip of the iceberg. Pro-life advocates have been vocal about hopes of the new law ultimately making its way to the Supreme Court through a court challenge, with aims of overturning Roe v. Wade. However, what they have repeatedly failed to openly address is how these bans will affect women who will still attempt to have abortions under these new bans. Or how these restrictions will impact women who should have the basic human right to autonomously make one of the most gut-wrenching decisions of their lives. Or how, once again, the rights of women, specifically Black women, are being infringed upon.

Credit: @michaelamccoyphotography

In my eyes, these bans are nothing short of a power play. Men are fed up. Us women have gotten too comfortable with our grasps at equality, too comfortable with our desire to be treated like human beings, too comfortable with demanding a seat at the table. The government doesn’t give a damn about forcing women to birth a baby they either can’t provide for, aren’t ready for, don’t want because of rape or incest, or any of the other countless reasons we may choose to have an abortion. These bans are effectively time machines. The calendar may say 2019, but we are living in the early 1900s when the idea of women having rights was still laughable.

But you see, us women aren’t cowering in fear, we’re not just complying, weren’t not grabbing some popcorn and watching this horror movie play out. Thousands of women have sounded off on social media following last week’s bans, sharing their stories using #YouKnowMe to highlight the message of actress Busy Philipps, who birthed the hashtag: “1 in 4 women have had an abortion. Many people think they don’t know someone who has, but #youknowme.”

Several women, including actress and women’s rights advocate Amber Tamblyn, shared their abortion stories on Twitter. 

The right to choose, to do what’s best for you, is what’s at stake here. And the courage these women have to make that decision and then share such intimate an aspect of their lives deserves nothing but respect. Actress Kerry Washington and singer Rihanna both used their social media platforms to send a clear message to government officials.

But besides the fact that men — like the white Republican men Rihanna mentioned who dominate the 35-seat Alabama senate and voted the ban into law — shouldn’t be making laws about women’s reproductive rights, here’s why these bans have far-reaching implications for Black women and why Black women around the country should be mobilizing.

We Are Under Attack, Black Women

“Black women know that whenever you criminalize abortion, then it’s Black women who are going to be locked up,” Georgia state Rep. Renitta Shannon said earlier this month. “Whenever you don’t cover abortions through insurance, it’s young Black women who are going to suffer — we’re the majority of the minimum-wage earners. All this stuff is connected.”

Say it louder for the people in the back, Rep. Shannon.

Credit: @ajplus

Black women — whether you want to admit it or not — we will arguably be the first and largest group to suffer. The state governments passing these abortion bills into law are some of the same states where a majority of Black people in the country live. Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio have some of the largest Black populations nationwide according to the 2010 Census, and now they have some of the most restrictive abortion bans nationwide.

Some may see this as a coincidence, but a little research shows the full scope of these bans.

There were nearly 7,000 total abortions in Alabama in 2016, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Of those, about 65 percent were by Black women. The Census reports 68 percent of women in the state are white.

It has been well documented that there are huge imbalances among races and genders when it comes to access to healthcare.

In the study “Racism, African American Women, and Their Sexual and Reproductive Health: A Review of Historical and Contemporary Evidence and Implications for Health Equity,” researchers wrote, “The sexual and reproductive health of African American women has been compromised due to multiple experiences of racism, including discriminatory healthcare practices from slavery through the post-Civil Rights era.”

Black women are usually faced with limited healthcare resources. As the study mentions, these limited resources are a leading factor in why Black women experience higher infant mortality, pregnancy complications, and sexually transmitted diseases. Facilities that provide sexual health resources and pregnancy care are crucial for areas with high abortion rates and low-income women. And these bans are threatening doctors who perform abortions in those states with lengthy prison sentences, restricting safe and effective healthcare even more.

Roe v. Wade Could Be Overturned

Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP

In 1973, Roe v. Wade affirmed that access to safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right. Up to 1.2 million illegal abortions per year were estimated in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1965 alone, more than one-sixth of all pregnancy-related deaths were caused by illegal abortion, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a leading research organization on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The prohibition of legal abortions significantly impacted low-income women. A study conducted in the 1960s found that among women with low incomes in New York City who had obtained an abortion, eight in 10 had attempted a self-induced procedure.

Sponsors of the Alabama bill claim the lack of exceptions for rape and incest are necessary to push the ban along to the Supreme Court, where it could overturn Roe v. Wade. Rape and incest exceptions are vastly unpopular. Nearly 70 percent of American voters say abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” cases, according to non-partisan public opinion research firm PerryUndem. A 2018 Gallup poll found 77 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in the first trimester in the case of rape or incest. The strategy is simple: Use the country’s general aversion to a lack of abortion exceptions to move the Alabama bill along to the highest court in the nation in an effort to then present a bill that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Since Donald Trump took office, anti-abortion supporters have been pushing stricter bills with the hopes of doing just that, all while capitalizing on a pro-life friendly administration. But exploiting that strategy of overly restrictive bans, thankfully, seemed to backfire when Trump sent a series of tweets over the weekend.

“I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions — Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother — the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” he wrote. “We must stick together and Win for Life in 2020. If we are foolish and do not stay UNITED as one, all of our hard fought gains for Life can, and will, rapidly disappear!”

Credit: @ajplus

Trump’s stance may pose a challenge for the Alabama law if Supreme Court justices — including Trump’s newly appointed judge, Brett Kavanaugh — fall in line with the President’s views. But with Trump backing other harsh abortion restrictions, these are concerning times for women’s reproductive rights. Overturning Roe v. Wade would open up the floodgates for an overhaul on reproductive legislation. These government officials are playing the long game, they’re playing chess with these bans, and the Black community needs to respond accordingly.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Only time will tell how these bans will play out in the courts. But sitting idly by and waiting for shit to hit the fan would be the wrong and most complacent thing to do. I’m a huge proponent of civic engagement, and now is just another time in history when we – as Black women, as the backbone of our communities, and the leaders for future generations – should act. This is my call to action: Stand up, Black women. Make your voices heard. We’ve had to fight for every right, and now is no different.

Over the weekend, Georgia politician Stacey Abrams posted a call to action on Twitter.

But donating to organizations that support your interests is just the start. Let your local and state politicians, the people with arguably the most effect on your lives, know how you feel. The 2020 election is just around the corner, and as we’re seeing with these state bans, the politicians nearest to you can pass laws that will have significant effects on your everyday life. So call or write your representatives, march, rally, and hold fundraisers. Educate your community on current events and how they can arm themselves with knowledge. There’s no quick fix or single solution, but merely being frustrated and not using your emotions to make constructive change will leave you with nothing but repressed anger and resentment. Use that fuel to drive you to make an impact on your community. This affects all of us, and we should conduct ourselves as such.

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