Black Women Will Fight Back Against Abortion Bans at the Ballot Box

As abortion bans are passed in state after state, it feels eerily familiar, like the days of slavery—when basic human rights weren’t inherent, but determined by where you lived and who owned you.

Back in those days, our country was divided over race and privilege. Those same fissures are reemerging, as our right to bodily autonomy is under constant attack. Today, we are experiencing a cataclysmic mashup of racism, sexism and classism that threatens both the rights and lives of Black women and other women of color.

While opponents of abortion talk a lot about babies, their rhetoric is a distraction from the real purpose of these laws, and the ultimate victims. Abortion bans attack the health and rights of women and gender-nonconforming people by denying the most basic human right to have sovereignty over one’s own body.

Politicians aren’t on a crusade to save babies. They’re on a campaign to deny us our humanity.

We know this because the same politicians who profess such reverence for the “unborn” lose interest after birth—especially when the babies are born to people of color and people living in poverty. If legislators are so concerned about babies, then why don’t they address the abysmal rates of maternal mortality and morbidity among Black women?

Indeed, some of the states that recently passed abortion bans also have among the worst rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in the country. Everywhere in the country, the same politicians who oppose abortion are usually the ones who oppose social safety-net programs that support parents and children.

Attacks on legal abortion are really about the white, male patriarchy maintaining control. As women—especially Black women and other women of color—continue to chip away at white, male power structures, the patriarchy is pushing back and working to keep us in our places.

Denying access to legal abortion denies us full citizenship. It’s another way to disempower us. And Black women are disparately impacted by these attacks.

As Black women, we already face greater obstacles to accessing all health care. That fact is well-documented, even by the U.S. government. Black women face higher rates of unemployment than white women and are paid less than men and white women. Making legal abortion less accessible will mean patients will have to travel longer distances to access abortion care. Given all the obstacles that Black women already face to accessing health care, these new bans are rapidly making abortion a Constitutional right that we cannot exercise.

Of course, that’s the whole point.

While politicians talk about protecting women and “babies” out of one side of their mouths, they cut access to health care, public assistance, education, housing and employment opportunities. They attack our voting rights with bogus laws and rig districts to make sure that Black votes count less or not at all. And when they’re not attacking Black women’s health and voting rights, they are protecting our racist criminal justice system designed to incarcerate Black men and women at ever increasing rates.

But we are fighting back. We will continue to organize in our communities, register voters, make demands and hold our elected officials accountable.

We will not go back to Jim Crow. We will not go back to the days of back-alley abortions. We will not go back to the days when others had control over our bodies.

Instead, we are going back to our communities to educate, mobilize and go to the polls on Election Day!

About and

Marcela Howell is the founder and president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda and the former senior policy and communications consultant for Communications Consortium Media Center and vice president of policy, communications and marketing at Advocates for Youth. She has a master's in literature from Saint Louis University and a J.D. from Pepperdine School of Law. You can follow Marcela on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.
Deon Haywood is the executive director of Women With a Vision. Haywood is also an activist, human rights advocate, mother and grandmother, and community leader from New Orleans. For more than 30 years, she has advocated for the rights of Black women and girls, poor and working class folks, sex workers, substance users and LGBTQ+ communities in the Deep South.