On May 2, 2022, POLITICO leaked a draft from the U.S. Supreme Court revealing an upcoming majority vote to repeal the landmark case of Roe vs Wade, which enshrined women’s reproductive and abortion rights at the federal level. The Supreme Court’s recent decision was unexpected and has left many Americans rightfully concerned. The right-leaning justices on the Supreme Court spearheading the reversal have given various explanations for the controversial move, with Justice Samuel Alito arguing that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start… It is time to heed the constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”
To understand the gravity of the proposed repeal, it is necessary to first break down the specifics of Roe v Wade. In 1970, Norma McCorvey, named “Jane Roe” to protect her privacy, filed a federal action against Dallas County District Attorney, Henry Wade, to contest a series of Texas state laws criminalizing abortion. In her case, Roe claimed that the State statutes were blatantly unconstitutional and infringed on her right to privacy and liberty.
In a 7-2 ruling, the Court ultimately sided with Roe on January 22, 1973, citing the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution as one informant of its decision. Article 1 of this Amendment states that “[no] State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” A woman’s right to make choices about her own body was concluded to be an important part of her liberty, and thus depriving her of that liberty would be unconstitutional. This decision made history, as it gave women – and anyone with a uterus – the freedom to select their own paths regarding their pregnancies at a federal level.
While all women were and continue to be impacted by the success of Roe vs Wade, women of color were disproportionately affected by anti-abortion laws at the state level, as well as misogyny and racism in healthcare. With the case now being overturned, women of color are in an even more difficult position.
What Overturning Roe V Wade Would Mean
Despite the contentiousness of abortion rights in some spaces, Roe v Wade has enjoyed majority support over the years, showing that most Americans do believe bodily autonomy should be protected. Polls indicated that 69% of voters in the 2020 presidential election believed Roe v Wade should be maintained and upheld, thus many Americans were shocked by the leaked document.
With the leaked document confirming the repeal of Roe vs Wade, the power to introduce, pass, and enforce legislation on abortion is in the hands of each state. While this won’t mean that abortion will be automatically criminalized or banned throughout the United States, it will mean an end to oversight and protection at the federal level. Almost half of the states are expected to immediately adopt comprehensive abortion prohibitions.
The discussion, however, does not end there. In an interview with USA Today, Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, hinted that even a federal abortion ban is on the table if Republicans reclaim the Senate in this year’s midterm elections.
Why Abortion Restrictions Impact Mostly Women of Color
Since the drafts’ leak, thousands of Americans have taken to the streets in protest of the Supreme Court’s decision. Mainstream conversations around reproductive rights, however, seem to neglect how women of color confront a unique set of challenges regarding abortion. Cathy Torres, a pro-choice activist and organizing manager at Frontera Fund, an organization that helps community members in the Southwest U.S. safely access abortions, stated that “Abortion restrictions are racist, they directly impact people of color, Black, brown, Indigenous people … people who are trying to make ends meet.”
To understand the connection between anti-abortion legislation and racism, we first have to understand how and why women of color are disproportionately represented in abortion cases. Black women in the United States have a higher rate of abortions per capita, accounting for 38% of all abortions. Hispanic women have a lower rate, at 21%, but Hispanics (both men and women) only make up 18.7% of the U.S. population, thus making their abortion rate per capita considerably high. But why do women of color experience higher rates of abortion?
The Field of Sexual Health as a Venue for Racism
Several factors contribute to this high rate, one of which is insufficient sex education in schools for youth of color. In the United States, sex education, like so many other subjects, is mostly taught with a White audience in mind, thus sexual health issues that are specific to people of color or that arise from specific cultural differences are usually not addressed. For other students of color, like those in states like Mississippi where only the abstinence model of sex education is permitted, talk of STIs, contraceptives, or abortion, albeit from a White perspective, isn’t even raised.
Not to mention, the field of sexual health is itself built on a history of racism, which has understandably led many people of color to be skeptical of sexual health and medical practices. This lack of proper sex education leads to unintended pregnancies, and with the ban on abortions forcing women to become mothers, it often leaves them unprepared and unable to adequately provide for their children.
The Impacts of Medical Racism
Another contributing factor to high abortion rates for women of color is the overall racism and sexism ingrained in the American healthcare system. The system fails people of color, as health care for racial and ethnic minorities is of inferior quality than for White individuals, which is ultimately linked to medical racism. The U.S. has a history – and present – of White healthcare providers dismissing individuals of color when they require aid. Because medical standards are widely founded on false assumptions that Black and White individuals have distinct physiologies, healthcare providers are essentially trained to dismiss the needs of people of color. As stated by Health Affairs, “early funding and policy decisions shaped by racism helped embed inequity in Medicare and Medicaid”, which are federal programs in the U.S. that provide health coverage for Americans who are low-income, or have disabilities.
In effect, America’s weak health systems make abortions a necessary element of health care for people of color, as medical racism has led to Black and Hispanic women being more likely to have health issues during pregnancy and childbirth. As a matter of fact, in 2020, Black women died at nearly three times the rate of White women, due to maternal causes. On that premise, due to medical racism, obliging women of color to carry out a pregnancy puts them at high risk of complications.
The high rate also stems from the financial consequences of childbirth. Black and Hispanic people are 1.8 and 1.5 times respectively more likely than white people to be experiencing poverty, with women of color earning significantly less than White men and women. Hispanic women earn 57 cents, and Black women earn 65 cents, for every dollar earned by a white man. A reason for such disparities is the long-term repercussions of slavery that have created structural rather than individual hurdles to economic equality.
With that in mind, childbirth alone in the U.S. can cost up to $11,000 USD, with C-sections costing up to $14,500 USD. Additionally, the average cost of raising a single child in the U.S. is approximately $272,000 US, not including any additional costs such as college, or medical bills for children with disabilities. Under those circumstances, banning abortions and consequently forcing women to carry a pregnancy to term, significantly affects their financial security.
The lack of adequate sex education, the persisting medical racism, and financial insecurity are some of the many leading causes of why abortion should always be accessible for women of color. With the overturning of Roe v Wade, the oppression of women of color and the denial of their rights to choose has been further normalized.
Throughout American history, women of color have been and continue to be marginalized in discussions and advocacy over reproductive rights.
Americans must continue to mobilize and demand that the Supreme Court’s ruling be reversed, for the hope that women, particularly women of color, be afforded their rights. If not, women all throughout the country, and especially women of color who are already the most vulnerable, will face an even more hostile future.
Edited by Majeed Malhas