Many argue that the central issue is one of privacy. Some feel comfortable making reproductive decisions for others. But ultimately, the ability to control what happens to your body, feel safe in your body and feel trusted to know your own body are all matters of freedom.
There is hardly any more fundamental human right than the ability to control what happens to our bodies. This is why we say: reproductive justice is central to Black liberation.
Today, the United States Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent in its decision to eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion. The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned the decision in its 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade which granted the right to an abortion, as well as the ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe in 1992.
Now is the time to start every conversation about reproductive justice and freedom by naming those who will face the hardest circumstances as basic reproductive healthcare, such as abortion, becomes more difficult and complicated to access in the United States.
Everything we know about crime and punishment in the U.S.; everything we know about the longstanding disregard for the well-being of our people; everything we know about how our systems “work”—or don’t work— tell us one thing: Black women, girls, transgender and gender non-conforming people should be at the heart our strategies going forward.
Why? Some of you might ask. Doesn’t the recent Supreme Court ruling impact everyone who could get pregnant?
Decided by the Court’s six conservative members, this decision will impact anyone who can become pregnant, their families and their communities. But, it will not affect us all in the same way. And for those who it impacts worst, it can be devastating.
The goal of the anti-choice and far-right movement made clear in the decision by Alito is twofold. First, they aim to make abortion as inaccessible as possible to as many people as possible. Second, they aim to make getting an abortion, helping someone get an abortion, or providing an abortion a crime.
History has shown us that when things become a crime, poor Black people are likely to be criminalized first and worst. That is because, throughout the history of the United States, hegemonic narratives have been used to classify Black people as inherently deviant and shiftless.
One particularly effective narrative that pathologizes Black people, published in the 1965 Moynihan Report, argued that single-parented households and the “breakdown of the nuclear family” led to a “culture of poverty” in Black communities rather than systemic unemployment and wage discrimination. The narrative of Black pathology— singling out Black people as the source of our and the country’s social problems—has old roots and persists today.
Criminalization— which is the action of turning an activity into a criminal offense by making it illegal—has long been weaponized against Black and poor communities. Any ban on accessing abortion will undoubtedly create more opportunities for criminalization and surveillance of our communities. All the data has shown us a glimpse into the future, in which wealthy white women are far less likely to be surveilled or criminalized for getting an abortion in a state where it is made illegal, but poor Black women will be.
What could this look like? The past several decades of anti-choice legislation have made it so that we don’t have to imagine that future or rely on fictional accounts to help us understand it. It is already here.
In 2017, State Representative Tony Tinderholt introduced a bill into the Texas legislature that would have made it a capital offense to have an abortion. This bill called the “Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act” granted full rights of personhood to an embryo “from the moment of fertilization.”
In it, Tinderholt removed the legal protections that the state of Texas granted pregnant people. This kind of law erases any distinction between a fetus and a child outside the womb and would allow for miscarriage or even injury to be treated as a crime. Though it did not pass through the state legislature in Texas, this bill is important – not because it’s an outlier, but because it’s a harbinger.
Legislators in Louisiana recently introduced House Bill 813. This bill would classify abortion as homicide, containing language that criminalizes fertility treatments, miscarriages, and some forms of birth control. It uses the same language as Tinderholt’s Texas bill, calling for the “abolition” of abortion and rendering it among the most heavily punished kinds of criminal offenses. The carceral roadmap is clear, and some states are already on the path.
Thirteen states (Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming) have the terrifying but aptly named “trigger laws” that will ban abortion in the first and second trimesters when the Roe v. Wade is overturned.
These laws are part of a long and violent history in which our ability to control our bodies, our fertility, and the ability to create safe and healthy families is constantly under attack. Black women, girls, transgender and gender non-conforming people have been subjected to a long history of reproductive control rooted in the brutal legacy of enslavement. Limiting and denying access to safe, legal abortion and gender-affirming health services continues that violent and dehumanizing history.
There have been more than 1,200 women arrested across the United States based on their pregnancy outcomes—including miscarriages, stillbirths, abortions, or neonatal losses—since Roe was decided. A study that looked at hundreds of criminalizations and detentions from 1973 to 2005 showed that Black women were significantly more likely to be arrested, reported to state authorities by hospital staff, and subjected to felony charges. This is the roadmap, and more Black women, girls, transgender, and gender non-conforming people are likely to be under threat of criminalization in the wake of this Supreme Court decision.
These laws expand an already violent and racist carceral system and will be devastating for Black people. When an activity is criminalized, by necessity, the state must increase enforcement, which means more militarized police and an increased likelihood of police violence.
Black people are 2.9 times more likely to be seriously injured or die when interacting with police. We have learned time and again that to keep Black people safe in the U.S. and globally, we must reduce the size, scope, and role of police, not expand it.
Reproductive justice is fundamental to the self-determination and dignity of Black people. We deserve to decide when, where, and with whom to have a child without interference from the states.
We must also have the self-determination to take our healthcare into our own hands. We know what’s best for ourselves and our bodies, and despite what the courts may say, we know that our right to feel safe in our bodies, homes, and communities is one that we will not give up.
Any and all discriminatory barriers to our ability to get comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care must go. Removing barriers is vital but not enough. We call for full access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care for all people.
We are unequivocal: full access to abortion care is non-negotiable. This is a matter of Black sovereignty. This is a matter of freedom.
Paris Hatcher is the executive director of Black Feminist Future.
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