ActivismSex & Gender

op-ed: “abortion is the new scarlet letter”

July 2, 2019
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Southern states have been passing heartbeat bills that strip women of their right to choose, and women across the country are resisting. But why is it that reproductive justice is labeled a “white woman’s issue”? Following graduating from Spelman College in May, a few of my Spelman sisters and I came together to fight new abortion restrictions in our country through National Action Network. During our journey we would hear things like, “That issue isn’t a Black issue,” and “You’ll ruin your career fighting for abortion this soon after graduating.” To our surprise, it was women of color urging us to remain silent on reproductive health, that not only impacted us but them as well. It is no secret that Black women have been loyal to “Black” issues that are heterosexual and male-centered; but it is time for Black women to choose themselves. Amongst the abundance of white women fighting for their right to choose, we must join the fight and support the few Black women working to challenge the patriarchal system for our innate rights.

Reproductive justice is a Black women’s issue because maternal mortality in this country is real. According to the Center for Disease Control, the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for Black women is 3 to 4 times higher than those of white women. Black women deserve a right to choose because having a baby in 2019 is a risky decision. In the United States of America, Black women are more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than women in any other race group. The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe vs. Wade declared that access to safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right.

Reproductive justice is a Black women’s issue because no man should determine what we do with our bodies. According to the National Abortion Federation, criminalization of abortion did not reduce the numbers of women who sought abortions in the years before Roe v. Wade. The estimates of illegal abortions ranged as high as 1.2 million per year. Although accurate records could not be kept, it is known that between the 1880s and 1973, thousands of women were harmed as a result of illegal abortion. Many women died or suffered serious medical problems after attempting to self-induce their abortions or going to untrained practitioners who performed abortions with primitive methods or in unsanitary conditions. The bloody truth is, criminalizing abortions will not stop women from getting them. Instead, we will be endangering girls and young women by restricting their access to the procedure.

Black feminist theorist Kimberlè Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality. This term was created to explain the oppression of African-American women. Today it is at the forefront of national conversations about racial justice and the identity politics that Black women face. Due to intersectionality, we can no longer choose our Blackness over our womanhood and vice versa. The truth is abortion is not just a white women’s issue but a women’s issue. We must continue to raise our voices against recent laws restricting abortions and our access to our own bodies, and we must not allow anyone to determine the future of our reproductive rights. The bloody truth is, abortion is the new scarlet letter, but as Black women, we must begin to erase the shame and fight back.

Through our efforts at National Action Network, we have committed our summer to work with state legislators to combat abortion restrictions. We will continue to advocate that states passing such restrictions be prepared to take financial responsibility for both mother and child. Providing mothers with medical care that covers both prenatal care and psychology health visits, because PTSD and postpartum are real. We will advocate that women who are forced to birth children in the case of rape or incest are paid compensation for carrying children against their will.