Sunday marked the 44th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case decision that legalized abortion in the United States. This ruling was meant to be the end of unsafe, illegal abortions and the beginning of women feeling empowered because decisions over our futures and bodies was now a Constitutional right. However, for many, this right gave way to a choice, but never a true option.
You see, abortion is only an option if you can afford the at least $500 out-of-pocket, or if you’re one of the lucky few who have health insurance that will cover it. I know this because I struggled to afford my abortion nine years ago, and today, as the executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, I spend my days helping others do the same. This is not what healthcare is supposed to look like in our country.
Three years after the Roe v. Wade decision, the Hyde Amendment took effect. Anti-abortion Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL) fought to deny low-income people access to safe and affordable abortion services through his proposed budgetary amendment, which prohibited the federal government from covering abortion services.
At the time, he said he wanted to deny anyone the right to an abortion, but the only people he had power over were Medicaid health insurance recipients, particularly women of color. While I honor the anniversary of the historic decision that made abortion legal, I cannot forget that for 40 years, Roe has never truly been reality for those on Medicaid. Rights should not be doled out based on whether or not you can afford them. That’s the way abortion access was before the Roe decision, and we cannot afford to turn back. I won’t let us.
I lead the Chicago Abortion Fund as someone who became pregnant while on Medicaid and chose to have an abortion, but was denied the ability to use my health insurance due to the Hyde Amendment. At the time, I was already a mother of three daughters. I had my hands full. Thankfully, there was an abortion fund in Chicago that was able to help me afford my care.
This isn’t the only reason that fuels me to fight for abortion access. I know what it’s like to have insurance, but be unable to use it, and have to pay for healthcare out-of-pocket. It’s a common story I hear from our 1,500 Chicago Abortion Fund callers every year.
For most, I can only pledge $300 for their abortions, which can cost around $1,000. Nearly 85 percent of our callers are parents and people of color residing in some of the most under resourced communities in Chicago. They’re facing barriers to healthcare, quality schools, and employment opportunities. I will continue to do this work for as long as these barriers exist and interfere with the reproductive autonomy of Black women and girls everywhere.
As a mother of Black daughters, I know they will face many barriers––because of their race and their gender––when accessing reproductive health services. I don’t want them to experience the challenges I did if they ever need healthcare, including abortion care. As a mother, I want to protect them and make sure they have all the resources they need in life. I am making space for them to be seen and heard as full human beings, deserving of love, empathy, a quality education, and opportunity. I cannot stand by and watch policies deny myself and my daughters healthcare, or the freedom to make our own decisions about our pregnancies. Reproductive justice, a human rights framework coined by women of color activists over 20 years ago, is not only our struggle to ensure everyone has the rights and resources to decide if, when, and how to become a parent, but to also parent their children free from harm and with dignity. The ability to raise children in a safe environment free of toxins and violence. This is why the reproductive justice and Black Lives Matter movements go hand in hand.
Under this new administration, it’s not just our healthcare that is under attack––it’s every value I teach my children, and their very livelihood at stake. Being a mother has always been rewarding––it’s my greatest joy.
But in recent years, more light has been shed on the fear that parents of color feel every time we send our children out into this world. I tell my children to be kind, have respect for others, and to treat others as they would like to be treated. Although we know that there are people in this world who will not treat our Black children with the dignity and respect they deserve, we teach them to be the change they want to see in the world.
Not only am I fighting to ensure they have access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, but also that they are safe when trying to access it. Safe from the anti-choice protesters who hurl obscenities as they walk into a clinic, and from the police officers who may pull them over for driving while Black.
Freedom from violence and harm is reproductive justice. Raising our children in a safe community is reproductive justice. When I advocate for reproductive justice, not only am I fighting to protect my children, I’m fighting to protect communities that have been pushed so close to the margins, it’s hard to determine where the center is. My life, the lives of my South Side of Chicago community, and the lives of my four daughters, matter.
Despite last year’s Supreme Court win striking down restrictions designed to shutter Texas abortion clinics, we are seeing politicians go for the jugular when it comes to enacting medically inaccurate abortion regulations. They are trying to regulate abortion out of existence.
The new president has promised a volatile, anti-choice administration that aims to overturn the few protections Roe v. Wade provides, rather than support and trust that individuals know what is best for them and their families. The next four years will undoubtedly be a constant attack on everything Black women and girls depend on for survival. This administration has been very vocal about its plans to ensure no one has access to the reproductive healthcare they need.
But as they do that, I vow to continue to fight for reproductive justice as if my life depends on it––because it truly does.