Updated: Jul 21, 2022
Friday's Supreme Court ruling allowing states to decide on abortion rights calls into question women's healthcare options, rights to privacy — and targets the poorest minorities in the U.S.
Despite majority support among Americans for upholding Roe v. Wade, the 50-year-old Supreme Court decision that ensured a woman's right to choose an abortion, the law was overturned Friday. For African American women, the ruling has heavy consequences.
As states enact new laws and reinstate pre-Roe v. Wade laws restricting or banning abortion, the women who face the greatest challenge are those most in need —women of color — especially African American women — who live in poverty.
Black women are those most likely to live in adverse conditions — they’re the people who lack fundamental education and opportunity, who are likeliest to experience abuse in relationships; who are too young and lack the support and financial ability to provide for a child; who have medical problems that put their lives at risk, and who lack access to quality healthcare — these are, in every sense, the women targeted and deeply impacted by Friday's decision.
Black women, particularly those living in poverty, make up the largest ethnic group to need abortion services at some point in their lives. One in five Black women in the U.S. lives below the federal poverty line. And, though they make up only 13% of the overall population, nearly 40% of abortions are performed on African American women.
Some of the most restrictive laws are being enacted in southern states, where large portions of the population are African American, poverty is widespread, and to reach a state where abortion is legal means traveling hundreds of miles, taking time off from work, and covering heavy childcare expenses. For Black women in the U.S., 70% are the primary financial provider to their families, compared with 36% of white women. These factors will make it impossible to even access abortion healthcare, thus forcing them into deeper poverty and causing children to be born to mothers who cannot provide for them.
In addition to the many barriers Black women face due to the racial inequity that remains ingrained in American culture, African American women now face a new healthcare crisis, the scope of which could be devastating. The maternal mortality rate for Black women is at least three times higher than that of white women. The cause of this disparity — widespread structural racism in the U.S. healthcare industry.
Health Inequity and Structural Racism
Under-prioritization of Black people in emergency rooms and hospitals is a systemic, discriminatory practice that is largely ignored, and is the primary reason for much of the disparity between Black women's likelihood of facing life-threatening conditions due to pregnancy and childbirth compared to that of white women. Friday's decision will serve to exacerbate that disparity, further deepening the healthcare crisis for the population group —Duke University found, a total nationwide abortion ban would increase pregnancy-related deaths for women overall by an estimated 21% — but, among Black women, by 33%.
This is not due to a difference in health or wellness practices between Black women and white women; it is an illustration of the healthcare system's racially inequitable prioritization of one group over another. Case in point: the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota has released a study showing that black newborns’ in-hospital death rate was one-third lower when black newborns were cared for by Black physicians rather than white physicians. These life-and-death inequalities are ingrained in our healthcare systems, the same systems that are responsible for taking actions that determine whether or not a patient receives the care they require to save their life.
The Biden Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice have vowed to do everything in their power to protect the right for women to travel to another state to obtain an abortion and ensured the prescription mail availability of Mifepristone, the drug that terminates early-stage pregnancies before an office visit is necessary, but several state governors, including South Dakota's Kristi Noem, are already vowing to outlaw delivery of the drug.
A damaging and dangerous precedent
Friday's decision lays the groundwork for throwing into question dozens of laws created using the Roe methodology — rooted in Americans' fundamental right to privacy — to protect minorities in the U.S. The Court has already begun hinting that the precedent set in overturning Roe could now be used to take away more minority rights, like that of gay marriage, and even access to contraceptives.
The only way to change this policy is to use your vote. This year's midterm elections will decide the fate of many rights, especially those specific to women and minorities, and state- and local-level elections have never been more influential. When voting in the Minnesota primaries on August 9, 2022, and the general election November 8, 2022, it is extremely important to understand where your electors stand on the issue of abortion and vote accordingly.