The 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s constitutional right to access abortion, is a significant moment in the ongoing fight for reproductive rights. While the case is often discussed in terms of women’s rights, justice and full autonomy, it is important to recognize the vital role that Black women played in the reproductive rights movement.
Roe v. Wade was decided on January 22, 1973. The fight for reproductive rights is nothing new for Black women who have been at the forefront for decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, Black feminist groups like the National Black Feminist Organization and the Black Women’s Health Imperative were active in advocating for contraception and abortion access. These groups recognized that the fight for reproductive rights was intimately connected to the fight for racial and economic justice.
Black women were also heavily involved in the underground “abortion referral” movement, which helped women and birthing people access safe and legal abortions before Roe v. Wade. Activists like Fannie Lou Hamer and Frances Beal worked tirelessly to connect women with doctors who would perform abortions, often at great personal risk.
Additionally, Black women’s voices played a critical role in the legal battle that led to Roe v. Wade. One of the key figures in the case was Sarah Weddington, a young, white lawyer who took on Roe’s case pro bono. Weddington was mentored and supported by Black feminist activists like Florynce Kennedy, who helped her understand the intersectional nature of the fight for reproductive rights.
Despite the progress made by Roe v. Wade, Black women continue to face significant barriers in accessing reproductive healthcare, including abortion. Black women are more likely to live in poverty and lack health insurance, which can make it difficult to afford the cost of an abortion. Additionally, laws and regulations that restrict access to abortion disproportionately affect Black communities.
Access to the full spectrum of reproductive and sexual health care, including abortion is critical to our community as Black birthing people. Not only should we be able to decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy, but we should also have access to the care and resources that support us in doing so.
We believe that all women regardless of income or location should be able to access the pregnancy care she chooses free from coercion or shame in her own community.
The 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a moment to celebrate the progress made in the fight for reproductive rights, but it is also a reminder of the work that remains to be done. Black women and birthing people have been and continue to be at the forefront of this fight, and their contributions must be acknowledged and honored. And we must continue to advocate for policies that ensure all women, particularly Black women and birthing people, have access to the full range of reproductive healthcare services.
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Janette Robinson-Flint is the executive director for Black Women for Wellness (BWW), a reproductive justice community-based organization committed to the health and well-being of Black women and girls and works to achieve its mission through health education, advocacy, and empowerment.