African-American women played a prominent role in the Women’s March 2021, which featured a rally for reproductive choice and ended on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in the District on Saturday.
One participant lamented how the activism of Black women often receives little or no attention.
“I am here from Atlanta because I, as a Black woman, know how important it is for women to have their reproductive rights protected,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SistersSong, a pro-choice organization.
“It should be our decision as women what we do with our bodies. I also see this fight to keep abortion as a battle against white supremacy. Black women have always been involved in the struggle for reproductive rights but we have not always gotten the attention. We are absolutely in this fight to help women of all colors get what they need as far as reproductive rights are concerned,” she said.
Simpson joined tens of thousands of people, mostly white, at a rally at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza in Northwest along with thousands more across the country in hundreds of cities and towns protesting the enactment by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) of a bill, SB8, passed by the GOP dominated legislature, outlawing abortions in the state after six weeks.
This year’s crowds rivaled those at the 2017 Women’s March held shortly after the Trump inauguration.
The demonstrators want the U.S. Senate to pass “The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021” which would protect a woman’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a healthcare provider’s ability to provide abortion services.
Additionally, the protestors sought to put the Supreme Court on notice that they will be watching their decision in the upcoming Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which bans a woman’s right to an abortion 15 weeks after pregnancy in the state of Mississippi.
Legal experts have said if the high court approves the Dobbs decision, the potential impact will be the reversal of the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized abortion in the U.S. in 1973.
Black Women Speakers
Despite the audience at the rally being predominantly female and white, a number of speakers consisted of Black women.
Dr. Jamila Perritt, an African-American obstetrician-gynecologist and president of the Physicians for Reproductive Health, expressed pride in being an abortion provider in the District and praised the purpose of the rally and the march.
“We are at a critical moment regarding access to abortion in this country,” Dr. Perritt said. “This moment is truly frightening. Texas bill SB8 essentially nullifies protections that are already in place. It is a shame that women have to travel to surrounding states to have abortions. Here in D.C., women basically have a right to an abortion. But in many states, there is copycat legislation modeled after SB8. Everybody should be able to get the care they need in their community.”
The Rev. Erika Forbes, a Black, San Antonio-based abortion activist, told rally participants she has had two abortions “and damn glad I did it.”
“SB8 is illegal, point-blank,” she said. “We are fighting for our rights and that is why we are here in Washington. We are going to fight until Hell freezes over and then we will fight on the ice.”
Houston-based activist Kenya Martin said she, too, has had multiple abortions and doesn’t regret the decision.
“Every single one of my abortions was necessary to save my life,” she said. “Abortion isn’t new. It goes back to ancient history, like sex work. This is my body and if I don’t want to be pregnant, I have a right not to be.”
Marsha Jones, the executive director of The Afiya Center based in Dallas, said talk of abortion rights often involves conversations about race.
“I am a full-grown, fat, Black woman who always talks about race,” Jones said. “Black women need to be standing here because we are the ones who will be mainly affected if abortion is outlawed. But it is the same story for us.
“It is the same story that Texas refuses comprehensive sex education to be taught in our schools. The same story that Texas will not expand Medicaid for those who need it. The same story that Texas has mismanaged COVID-19 and has sent students into schools without the proper protections. The same story that Texas sees Blacks getting killed by the police and meantime passes legislation giving the police more money to kill more Blacks,” Jones said.
When the marchers lined up along 13th and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Sirraya Gant, a Ward 7 political activist, made it a point to get near the front of the line. Gant expressed gratitude that her right for reproductive choice remains secure in the District but added, “we have to fight for other women.”
“Women who live in other states should have the right to choose what to do with their bodies,” Gant said. “We stand in solidarity with women in other places who are fighting for that right.”