Linda Goler Blount was just a child in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Roe v. Wade, legalizing access to abortion for women nationwide.
“Women know how to take care of themselves,” said her mother, a kindergarten teacher and member of the National Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club.
On Friday, these memories came flooding back to Blount as she read the news: the conservative Supreme Court overturned the right for women to “take care of themselves”.
Blount was, ironically, at the gynecologist when the news broke. As she looked around the doctor’s office, all she could think was, “What’s going to happen to the women in this room with me?”
“There has been a generation of young women and children who are being given the very clear message that their lives are worthless, that they cannot be trusted to make the best decisions for their health,” Blount said.
Women of color across the country have found themselves awash in disbelief, anger and fear since the announcement of the 6-3 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and twice as likely to lose a child to premature death. In 2019, Hispanic mothers were 80% more likely to receive late or no prenatal care than white mothers, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
As the Biden administration on Friday released a new plan to tackle the maternal health crisisa study released by Duke University in December showed that a complete ban on abortion could increase black maternal deaths by 33% and 21% nationally.
So Blount, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Initiative, said she cares not just about women who look like her, but everyone who might get pregnant.
“We’re going to lose a lot of women,” Blount said. “A lot of black women and brown women, but also a lot of white women. Women will die in childbirth, and they will die because some may try to induce their own abortion. Some will die from underlying health conditions that cannot be treated, so they will have to carry a baby to term, increasing their risk of maternal death.
But, she argued, people pushing for an end to abortion rights aren’t interested in hearing the statistics. Instead, conversations take place in an “echo chamber”.
“We talk to each other, but the people who need to hear this and understand the repercussions of their decisions aren’t interested and they aren’t listening,” she said.
The nearly 50-year-old reversal of abortion rights has drawn backlash from leaders and organizations across the country.
The NAACP castigated the court’s decision as a “flagrant violation of fundamental human rights” while the Congressional Black Caucus asked Biden to declare a national emergency. And Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, issued an “outraged” statement condemning the decision.
“Black women, marginalized women, low-income women and rural women will bear the brunt of this,” Kelly said. “However, this is an attack on the personal freedom and bodily autonomy of every person living in the United States.”
Lupe Rodriguez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, said Friday was a “dark day” that left millions of women feeling great grief and pain.
“We have lived with structural inequalities in access to health care forever,” she said. “Many of our communities, even before this court case, did not have meaningful access to reproductive health care.”
Present in states across the country, including Texas, New York, Virginia and DC, Rodriguez said she and her team have been rallying and preparing for the court ruling since Texas passed a trigger law l ‘last year.
But it’s laws like those in Texas that left so many women unsurprised by Friday’s ruling.
Alicia Garza, director of the Black to the Future Action Fund, was in the middle of a training session when her trainer suddenly gasped and relayed the news.
“When I heard the news that the decision had finally been announced, [I] I wasn’t shocked, but it felt like I was in the pit of my stomach,” Garza said.
She said her team had been preparing for this moment since the Supreme Court’s draft opinion leaked a few weeks ago.
The end of abortion rights, Garza said, affects black families in multiple ways — and vigilance clauses in some state laws are one of the most concerning.
Vigilance clauses encourage individuals to bring civil suits against people they believe have violated the abortion ban.
“Just as black communities are disproportionately impacted by a lack of access to quality, affordable health care, black communities are also disproportionately impacted by criminalization and targeted for this kind of vigilance and surveillance” , explained Garza.
This criminalization, Rodriguez said, could lead to black and brown families having their children taken away, losing their livelihoods and being imprisoned.
Yet for some women, the reversal of abortion rights has opened the door to providing pro-life options for black and brown women.
Cherilyn Holloway, founder of Pro-Black Pro-Life, said her heart cried out for women who felt attacked and their rights deprived. However, she also said she now feels a sense of responsibility to her community.
“I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility and opportunity to do more work in these communities to uplift the black woman in a way that she feels liberated through the community around her and not through the loss of future generations,” Holloway said.
Holloway said her organization is community-focused and lets women, especially black women, know that abortion isn’t their only option.
“The idea that more black women are going to die because our maternal mortality rate is so high…we’re not saving more black women by allowing them to have abortions,” Holloway said. “No black woman should die in childbirth.”
That’s why she focuses on addressing systemic inequities, like implicit biases in the medical community and economic inequities.
But for Blount, these issues could be resolved without limiting a person’s right to choose.
Blount said the strategy should be “state by state.” Providing women in states that have banned abortion with resources to travel to those where the procedure is still legal is critical, she said.
The Black Women’s Health Imperative will also seek to provide resources directly to women in need – in particular, it seeks to stockpile up to 700,000 doses of Plan B and medical abortions.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez and her team at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice share relevant information about the rights that women still have. She said they would also continue to push for legislation that promises reproductive freedom.
“We are going to change the power structures that have brought us to this moment and our communities are going to take control of that power and give us all the rights we deserve,” she said.
The Black to the Future Action Fund is also mobilizing its volunteers and supporters. But Garza added that they’re also trying to create space for people to express how they feel and what they want to see happen.
All of this, she concluded, is to help determine who to vote for — and who to vote for — in November.
“We’re going to decide who signs the bills in our states,” Garza said. “We can audit all the people who represent us and make decisions on our behalf and we can watch and see which of these people are going to fight like hell to protect. [our] Health care. Anyone not on this list will have to find another job after November. »