What Abortion Access Looks Like for Young Women of Color

7951833026_144bc0c001She was 14 years old and going into the 9th grade. From the moment she learned she was pregnant, she contemplated what to do. Not comprehending how to even deliver a baby (let alone how to take care of a child for the rest of her life) prompted grave fears about her future.

Being the eldest of an immigrant family of seven, she learned early to take on the role of her family’s translator and primary caretaker. She could not fathom how she would tell them about her pregnancy. She pondered the level of disappointment her family might feel and the distress she would put on them with the possibility of a baby. Not knowing the options available to her, she withheld her pregnancy from her family and friends. She had never felt so alone, confused and afraid. The days passed and her belly grew. Knowing what she had to do, she finally found the courage and sought help from her grandmother and aunt. At 21 weeks, my cousin found the proper care and support to have an abortion.

January 22nd marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the monumental U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. There is much to celebrate in the advancement of women’s reproductive rights. However, we cannot ignore the barriers that continue to limit women’s access to viable resources regarding their reproductive health. A number of issues such as restrictive laws and lack of federal funding continue to make it difficult for women to seek help. If my cousin had been aware of the resources available to her and had felt comfortable enough to discuss her teenage pregnancy, she could have sought help sooner. But beyond my cousin’s experience, the choice to have an abortion is a fundamental right that should be readily accessible to every woman. Yet the layers of societal stigma, governmental interference and other hardships make it increasingly difficult for women to access this right.

It is no surprise that the women who are hit hardest are young, low-income women of color. The National Abortion Federation found that “87 percent of all U.S. counties have no identifiable abortion provider. In non-metropolitan areas, the figure rises to 97 percent.” Consequently, women have to travel long distances to find the nearest abortion provider. Furthermore, “a shortage of trained abortion providers; state laws that make getting an abortion more complicated than is medically necessary; continued threats of violence and harassment at abortion clinics; state and federal Medicaid restrictions; and fewer hospitals providing abortion services” all become inescapable deterrents for a woman wanting to terminate her pregnancy.

It is a basic right for families and individuals to make responsible decisions, without hindrance, about the number, timing and spacing of their children, and to have the correct, accessible information to do so. A woman’s decision about her health and her family’s health is personal and should be respected. Yet public and governmental interference continues to impact women’s access to such necessary resources.

With the persisting obstacles and restrictions regarding abortion, some questions to ponder are: Which populations have access to sexual and reproductive health? Which populations are being affected by these restrictions? Whose bodies are we governing? And, of course, why? The disproportionate access and ongoing conflict over regulating sexual and reproductive health send the message that women’s bodies need to be controlled. Ultimately, every woman has the absolute right to the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health care without discrimination, coercion or violence.

This post is part of “Still Wading: Forty Years of Resistance, Resilience and Reclamation in Communities of Color,” a series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Photo courtesy of scythril via Creative Commons 2.0


  1. It is obvious that safe abortion for every woman is an absolute necessity however I think that we need to recognize the need of abortion as a failure by older women to educate our girls and to provide them with sound counsel and support about their sexuality so that they don’t find themselves in the awful situation of having to undergo such a violent operation. It is no mere matter to be drugged unconscious and to have strangers most likely talk about you, open your legs and put them in stirrups and invade the most intimate part your body with metal instruments and scrape out the lining of your uterus. I have been there.
    During my experience of 35 years working with women in sacred women’s space I have seen consistently that this event lives on in our bodies and minds. I see it as an influence in the horrific situation of 35% and in some places much higher, as high as 90%, of women having their bodies sliced open as they are unable to give birth. Later in life difficulties encountered during menopause are often related to early sexual events. I have seen the resolution of abortion trauma result in sudden weight loss where ever other attempt had failed.
    I am concerned when I hear young women’s attitudes of ‘Oh ,I’ll just have an abortion’ as a reason not to take care of themselves. It shows a lack of self respect. Men also carry the attitude ‘Oh well she can have an abortion’ and they fail to take responsibility for contraception. I have heard many stories of women who had the awful operation because the man insisted that she do so.
    I want to see the passion and effort that is justifiably being put into the provision of safe abortion also going into programs that provide young women and men with information and support that leads to increased mutual respect and makes the need for abortion a thing of the past. Prevention is much better that cure.

  2. Susan Thorpe says:

    I and every other woman who has ever had an abortion would not wish them on anyone but most of us would fight to keep the right available. In the 60s condoms were not popular among men (their precious “sensitivity” issues, doncha know??!) but, nevertheless, there ARE no sure-fire methods for prevention. My sisters and I got pregnant with plastic loops inserted, while meticulously taking birth control pills, while imbedded with those nasty little copper jagged teeth things, and even condoms, when used, can break or fail. The need for an abortion will NEVER be a thing of the past unfortunately, but a little education and social peer pressure would certainly have been more than helpful back in the 60s in Kansas and I’m sure a lot of places right now! Educate young women and help them demand accountability from their young men.

  3. It is so important that women no matter their race or socioeconomic background have access to quality health care and that includes reproductive health care as well. Great post. http://www.venusblogs.com.

  4. I feel we need to look beyond the need for abortion and get to the heart of the issue. She was pregnant but there are more underlining issues in her life and this article fails to address this. We cannot say her best choice is abortion and fail to look at the whole problem. As stated in this article this young 14 year old was, the eldest of an immigrant family of seven, she learned early to take on the role of her family’s translator and primary caretaker. A 14 year old girl should not be taking on this role and that is the heart of the issue. That is an issue that is not being addressed in this society. Perhaps we could spend more time helping this young girl and her family. We would not need to suggest she needs an abortion to solve her unplanned pregnancy. Please do not even mention condoms or birth control those things will not help the issue for her being the primary caretaker.

    • Very good response! Abortion is not the answer. We need to get to the root of the problem and it first begins with parenting! Teaching your children the reason for sex and that its not to be abused – this goes for girls and boys! Thank you Anna for posting a a suggestion to prevent the problem instead of how we should ‘clean it up’ after the matter.

  5. Anna and Molly I agree that we are not getting to the root of the problem. My question is “how did a 14 yr old become pregnant?” Was she raped? How old is the boy/man that she was having sex with? Where are the parents? Where are the Aunties, cousins, Grandparents? Clearly this young woman needs a friend/mentor, a caregiver who will take notice that she is being asked to do so much for her family and is not being cared for, parented, or encouraged to be a happy, healthy teenager who has so much to look forward to in life. Now she bares the pain and sorrow of a late term pregnancy termination. This is a tragic story, it does not call one to action in supporting a women’s right to abortion. It should call us on to being better women of love and encouragement to all the young ladies we know.

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