This week marks the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the historic U.S Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed women the constitutional right to legally access safe and legal abortion. But since that decision was handed down nearly a half century ago, too many states across the country have done their best to undermine it by making the safe procedure harder and harder for women to access.
From shutting down clinics, enforcing longer wait times, introducing bizarre legislation and even going so far as to try to defund Planned Parenthood, more and more women are feeling the heat. And sadly, this interference doesn’t stop at women who seek to end their pregnancies, but for those who want to prevent them by making it tougher to access birth control and Plan B.
Why is it that in 2016, handguns are being fought for harder and treated better than a woman’s own body?
And I hear some of you now: Well, what does this have to do with Black women?
My answer is simple: Everything.
Yes, the faces of the women in the media advocating for women’s reproductive health are mostly white, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a stake in the game.
For starters, for almost twenty plus years, Black women have had highest abortion rates in the U.S.
According to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010, there were 47.7 abortions per 1,000 Black women compared to 9.8 abortions per 1,000 pregnancies among white women and 20.3 among Latinas. In 1990, our numbers were much higher, with a whopping 67 abortions to 1,000 Black women.
Yes, I’m fully aware that is a lot. But, before some of you even try it, I do recognize that back in the day, while white women were fighting for birth control, we were fighting for the right to not be sterilized against our knowledge and our will.
But these recent CDC numbers do not speak to a conspiracy to eradicate Black babies from being born. Nor are our wombs being preyed on by Planned Parenthood clinics that intentionally saturate our communities (a 2014 study actually debunked that myth finding that only six percent of abortion clinics are in Black neighborhoods).
These numbers are simply a direct result of too many Black women and teens having unplanned pregnancies they couldn’t prevent. And whether they aren’t ready, or cannot afford a child or want to achieve more in the lives before they become mothers, they cannot and do not want to bring a life into this world. Nor should they be forced to.
And as I’ve said before, while abstinence may be one way to prevent unplanned pregnancy, these numbers also speak to the lack of prolonged and consistent access to birth control, spotty health care, men not using condoms and untrustworthy sex education in our nations schools, which, by the way also put us at risk for HIV infections and STDs.
And yes these issues must be addressed if we want to fix this public health crisis impacting Black women, but it’s also important to stress that if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned in the future, this would be disastrous for Black women. This would result in too many Black women putting their own lives in danger seeking out harmful and illegal forms of abortions or we would be forced to have more children than we cannot afford, further pushing us into poverty.
And who, then, will help us?
The only Black lives that matter to the conservative Right are our fetuses. And once Black women are forced to have these babies, will the GOP be there with bells on to support us with increased funding for entitlement programs such as food stamps, subsidized housing or programs such as Head Start and Medicaid — all of which would strengthen our growing Black families?
You already know the answer to that.
This is why Roe v. Wade and our right to choose is so critical to Black women’s lives. And no, you don’t have to agree with me or believe that abortion is OK—and that’s your business. But your personal opinions shouldn’t interfere with when and how our sistas decide to enter motherhood. Because that should always be on our terms.