We celebrate this Mother’s Day in the shadow of the impending demise of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that guarantees the right to terminate a pregnancy, the right to abortion. As a Black woman who has spent countless years fighting for reproductive health and rights and dedicating my life to advocating on behalf of Black women and their families, I can’t help but feel that we need more than brunch and flowers to honor mothers. Given the cruel treatment of women and birthing people — especially Black women — we need to take a stand against forced motherhood and in support of Black mothers.
In this moment of reproductive health, socio-economic and human rights crisis, Black women are doubling down and demanding the affirmation of our human rights. Yes, we demand that abortion remain legal. But we are not simply demanding that the high court uphold Roe. The status quo doesn’t work for us because Black women and pregnant people face barriers to accessing basic health care services — even under Roe, abortion is a right that too many cannot access. That’s partly because of racist, classist funding restrictions on abortion care. Black women are more likely to lack economic resources, be unemployed and/or uninsured, and be insured by programs that restrict coverage for abortion care.
Even if Black women have the funds to pay for abortion care, they most likely can’t access that care close to home. Most counties do not have a known abortion provider or clinic. For people living in rural areas or states like Texas with abortion bans, that can mean traveling hours or days to access care.
For Black women, Roe is the floor, not the ceiling. As we move into a post-Roe era, we must not content ourselves to settle for keeping or making legal a right that too many of us cannot access. We must take this opportunity to redefine the fight for legal abortion as the demand for our bodily autonomy. Black women and women of color have been making this demand for decades in our call for Reproductive Justice.
As evidenced by Justice Alito’s arguments against Roe, opponents of reproductive rights have manipulated the narrative to focus on babies rather than the real issue, which is the most basic human right to control one’s own body. They have steadily chipped away at Roe by elevating zygotes to personhood while diminishing the humanity of women and pregnant people, relegating us to second-class citizenship. The mainstream — white — abortion rights movement played a willing supporting role by talking about theoretical choices instead of human rights. After all, what does it mean to be “pro-choice” when Black women and pregnant people face systemic racism that limits our options?
It is time to embrace Reproductive Justice, the fundamental human right that supports all women, femmes, girls and gender-expansive individuals and allows them to make and direct their own sexual and reproductive health decisions. Reproductive Justice demands that all people have the resources and freedom to choose when and if we have children — and to be able to raise our families with dignity.
That means that Justice Samuel Alito and anti-abortion politicians do not get to point to the higher abortion rate among Black women and pretend that love of Black babies fuels their efforts to strip us of our rights. There is no way these white supremacists get to hide behind Black babies. At the same time, they work against voting rights, carp about “welfare queens” and cut social services, litigate to end affirmative action, unjustly incarcerate Black and Brown people, give cops who murder Black people a pass and deny Black mothers and birthing people the medical care they need. get to hide behind Black babies while they attack the rights of Black women.
To the Alitos out there, we say put up or shut up. If you care about the welfare of Black families, support, pass and implement policies and laws that support us. If you’re concerned about Black babies, don’t worry about abortion; focus on dismantling racism and white supremacy.
No matter what Justice Alito’s majority opinion finally says, our vision for the future is clear. We will not stop fighting for our human and civil rights. No matter how any court rules, Black women will fight until Reproductive Justice is the law of the land.
Marcela Howell is president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. You can follow her work on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.
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