From Mobile to Montgomery, throngs of Alabamians gathered Sunday to express discontent with the state’s new abortion law — widely considered to be the most restrictive in the U.S.
Evidence of increased outrage and frustration dominated the scene two days later, May 21, as #StopTheBans demonstrations kicked off around noon at over 500 statehouses and courthouses in all 50 states — even on the steps of the Supreme Court where thousands more raised signs and voices, adamant in their refusal to allow state legislators to turn back the clock on women’s reproductive rights.
Tuesday’s national day of protest featured more than 50 organizations including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union who took the lead in developing the rallies.
President Donald Trump, rarely at a loss for words, has attempted to distance himself from the controversial, similarly-restrictive legislation recently signed into law in states that include Alabama, Georgia and Missouri. But if the trend continues, it’s clear that an inevitable showdown will take place in the U.S. Supreme Court with Roe v. Wade and women’s right to choose hanging in the balance.
“This size [of the protest] shows that people are mad. We are the majority and abortion rights are human rights and that’s what we want for the state of Alabama,” said Megan Skipper, one of the organizers for last weekend’s Montgomery rally.
The law, signed by Gov. Kay Ivey last week, does not allow exceptions for cases of rape or incest, outlawing all abortions except when necessary to prevent serious health problems for the woman. Women remain exempt from criminal or civil liability but physicians who perform abortions face being charged with a Class A felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison. The law goes into effect in six months but both supporters and opponents predict it will be blocked by federal courts.
But while the D.C. rally even drew several Democratic 2020 presidential candidates, including Senators Amy Klobuchar, Corey Booker and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Black and Hispanic women, whose abortion rates significantly eclipse those of white women, remained visibly absent.
Black Women Absent from Protests, Could Suffer Most with New Laws
As President Trump promised during the 2016 campaign, he would make overturning Roe v. Wade part of his mission. And as more and more states pass or are trying to pass draconian laws banning abortions, these bans — bad for all women — serve as a potential crisis for Black women, says Black Enterprise columnist Samara Lynn in a May 16 opinion piece, citing long-established inequities in healthcare, from slavery through the post-Civil Rights era as documented in the report, “Racism, African American Women, and Their Sexual and Reproductive Health: A Review of Historical and Contemporary Evidence and Implications for Health Equity.”
Black women, many with limited resources, often have unequal access to quality healthcare, Lynn observes, adding that infant mortality, pregnancy complications and access to vital prenatal care are all issues affecting Black women’s reproductive health.
“What the anti-choice advocates conveniently leave out of their hateful, misogynistic narrative is that the same facilities that provide abortions are also safe havens for women to receive prenatal care, sexual education and pregnancy care. These facilities are particularly crucial to low-income Black women and those in rural areas.”
“Yet, the states with high populations of Black women — some with the worst records on Black women’s healthcare — are the ones pushing hardest for abortion bans: Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia.”
She concludes that abortion bans do not stop women from having abortions but only make it more dangerous and expensive for women to terminate pregnancies. So, while the bans promise to be detrimental to all women, they would be devastating to the well-being of Black women “as we still struggle to gain equal footing in a world that is so quick to hate us.”
Toni Bond, the first Black woman to serve as executive director for the Chicago Abortion Fund [CAF], points to similarities between CAF and the majority of other reproductive rights organizations in the U.S., which service mostly low-income women of color but rarely include them in their board rooms or when making plans for participation in local or national protests on women’s reproductive rights.
“White feminists say they want to be inclusive of diverse constituencies. But Black women have been and still are treated as ‘invited guests’ in the reproductive rights movement. We are the invitees on the guest list to their meeting or event, despite the fact that issues of access to abortion services, forced and coercive sterilization, reproductive tract infections and infant and maternal mortality and morbidity impact women of color, especially Black women, most severely.”
“The majority of Black women support the right to choose but have difficulty with abortion always front and center. Immediate and extended family is highly valued in the Black community. Oftentimes, family is the only place one can turn. Low wages, unemployment, childcare, etc., make abortion for many women, particularly women of color, the decision they are forced to make, not necessarily the choice they always want to make,” Bond said.
On the other extreme, the Black anti-abortion movement, as indicated in a recently-released documentary, tends to view “abortion as Black genocide.”
With the backing of PBS Frontline and the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, award-winning filmmaker Yoruba Richen set out to better understand how the Black anti-abortion movement operates, speaking to a number of people on both sides of the issue and releasing a short film on the topic, “Anti-Abortion Crusaders: Inside The African-American Abortion Battle” in December 2018.
“I think the anti-abortion movement did earlier work of looking at racial aspects in ways that the mainstream white abortion movement hadn’t done,” she said. “Planned Parenthood only recently acknowledged that Margaret Sanger [its founder] has a checkered history and I think the anti-abortion folks are able to use nuggets of this and exaggerate it and twist it to make it a whole genocidal approach that Sanger had and that Planned Parenthood has.”
Roe v. Wade: The Facts, Fury and its Future
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Roe v. Wade affirming access to safe and legal abortion as a constitutional right. But upon Trump’s nominations and the subsequent recent confirmation by U.S. senators of extreme conservative to lifetime positions on federal courts, most notably the Supreme Court, the future of Roe v. Wade now stands at risk in ways unseen since the Court first approved the legalization of abortion in America more than four decades ago.
Recent polls indicate that 73 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
However, if the courts overturn or further allow the dismantling of Roe v. Wade, an estimated one-third of women of reproductive age in the U.S. could lose the ability to access abortion in their respective states. It should be noted that the 1973 decision of Roe did not serve as the inauguration of abortion in America. Instead, it allowed women to access abortion legally, preventing scores of pregnant women from suffering death due to unsafe, illegal abortions.
In 1965, illegal abortions comprised one-sixth of all pregnancy-related deaths according to official reports even though physicians say the true number remained significantly higher. The illegality of abortion most profoundly impacted women of low incomes including self-induced and highly-dangerous abortions attempted by women lacking the financial means to undergone safer procedures.
Since abortion became a legal right due to Roe v. Wade, it has become one of the safest medical procedures in the U.S. with a record of safety over 99 percent. In addition, those who chose abortion can now receive the support and advice of medical professionals.
Kavanaugh Confirmation: Turning Point in Abortion Battle
Abortion has been ensconced within the American legal system for more than 45 years — an integral part of the fabric of American society. Yet, it continues to be an issue fueling unprecedented debate with opponents recently hampering its access — ramping up attacks whenever possible.
For an example, the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court signaled a huge setback to women’s right to safe, legal abortions. Prior to his nomination, Trump asserted his plan to nominate judges who would automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade. The Kavanaugh nomination, celebrated by abortion opponents, reflected such an instance. Kavanaugh’s record, before his confirmation to the Supreme Court, reflected a long record of ruling to limit access to safe, legal abortion — a perspective that he has since maintained. Meanwhile, 16 abortion cases stand just one step away from the Supreme Court.
Twenty states now seek to ban access to abortion, putting in excess of 25 million women at risk including: 4.3 million Hispanic or Latino women; nearly 3.5 million Black women; over 800,000 Asian women; and nearly 300,000 American Indian or Alaska Native women. States attempting to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, besides Alabama and Missouri, include: Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
From 2011 through 2018, states have approved 424 restrictions that either pressure or punish women who chose to have an abortion. Some stand in direct opposition to the Supreme Court precedent, like Louisiana where legislators have promoted restrictions reflecting Texas laws found to be unconstitutional.
Nonetheless, the GOP-controlled state Missouri Senate recently passed a bill which banned nearly all abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, becoming the latest state to pass restrictive abortion legislation.
Missouri Senate Republicans Dave Schatz and Caleb Rosden say the state “passed one of the most pro-life bills” in the U.S.
“This comprehensive, life-affirming legislation prohibits abortions once a heartbeat has been detected, prohibits abortions when a baby is capable of feeling pain and would outlaw abortion in Missouri upon the reversal of Roe v. Wade,” they concluded.