For African Americans, the pending Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade conjures up memories of the Plessy v. Ferguson case and the fight over segregation and other previously denied equal rights. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
For African Americans, the pending Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade conjures up memories of the Plessy v. Ferguson case and the fight over segregation and other previously denied equal rights. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s forthcoming opinion on Roe v. Wade might stand as the proverbial tip of the iceberg for the conservative court, as many observers believe Republicans have their sights set on more than just abortion rights.

“Recent developments regarding the anticipated Supreme Court decision that would essentially reverse Roe v. Wade are evidence of how tenuous equal rights are in a country that never intended for certain groups – namely people of color and women – to be respected as full citizens,” Altheria Caldera, assistant professor in the school of education and director of the D.C. Area Writing Project at Howard University, wrote in an email. 

“We see this today, not only in terms of the threat to women’s bodily autonomy but also in education, as the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, recently questioned the right to a public education for all children regardless of their citizenship status – a right that the Supreme Court confirmed in Plyer v. Doe in 1982. Freedom is indeed fragile,” Caldera stated.

Many have shared Caldera’s assessment of freedom’s fragility. In fact, some have concluded that the U.S. Supreme Court itself is broken and that any air of legitimacy has vanished.

For 50 years, Roe v. Wade has remained the law of the land, with support from most Americans. But Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked opinion indicates that current rights appear to be in peril.

“The Constitution makes no reference to abortion and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Alito wrote in the recently-leaked draft opinion on the possibility of the Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

“They are coming for other rights, including interracial marriage,” Texas Democratic Congressman Al Green said. “People will have to come out in November and vote in record numbers.”

Dr. Robin Brooks, an assistant professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of a book on inequalities, noted the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision and how segregation counts among the rights that the Supreme Court could eventually tackle.

Brooks said she routinely emphasizes to students the length of time between these two cases, stressing the impact of the 1896 decision on the entirety of American society. 

“If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the ramifications will be explosive. It will be the beginning of many rights being destroyed,” Brooks said. “The impact of the Plessy v. Ferguson case obviously negatively impacted Black people. I fear, too, that overturning Roe v. Wade will disproportionately impact both Black and low-income groups of people.”

Brooks continued:

“The fact that Black people already suffer disproportionately under the criminal justice system and healthcare system is certainly alarming as the issue of abortion present a double whammy in that abortion presents a collision of the two,” Brooks said. 

Howard University’s Caldera added that she hopes there’s a challenge to any opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Clearly, there are times when decisions should be challenged,” she said. “Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld legal segregation, is one of those cases in which the high court’s ruling needed to be opposed. In 2022, generations of Black people are grateful that Brown v. Board in 1954 reversed the Plessy decision.”

“While some policies should certainly be responsive to societal changes, there are some rights that should be inalienable, that is, they should be unable to be taken away,” Caldera said. “Coretta Scott King reminded us in her autobiography that ‘Struggle is a never-ending process. Freedom is never really won; you earn it and win it in every generation.’ So that is our charge: to keeping demanding liberty for all who call the United States home.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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