Overturning Roe Will Threaten the Lives of Those Who Depend on Abortion Care the Most: People of Color

People of color make up 60 percent of abortion recipients. Upholding the 15-week abortion ban at the heart of Dobbs v. Jackson would signal the end of Roe v. Wade—and women and girls of color will disproportionately bear the brunt.

Outside the Supreme Court in June 2016 for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down an abortion clinic admitting privileges law out of Louisiana. (National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice Instagram)

Once again, reproductive justice is under siege. Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on Dobbs v. Jackson, a case challenging a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the Court rules in favor of the state, it will override Roe v. Wade—shrinking constitutional protection for abortion and effectively ending abortion access in 26 states

At stake is a crucial part of medical care that more than 600,000 people in our country receive every year. But overruling Roe v. Wade would be particularly devastating for those who comprise over 60 percent of abortion recipients: people of color.  

As leaders in the Black, Latina/x and Asian American communities, we see the hurdles that people of color face when accessing reproductive care. And we have watched courts overlook and silence our collective experiences—even as 47 states introduced abortion restrictions this year alone, and the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse, the killers of Ahmaud Arbery, and the Charlottesville rally organizers kept white supremacy in the spotlight. 

It’s time for people of color to be heard in the fight for reproductive justice—in Washington, and across the country. Our three organizations work on the ground with communities most affected by threats to abortion access and challenges to Roe v. Wade exacerbate the existing barriers people of color face in accessing comprehensive reproductive care. 

Black and Latina/x women are much more likely than white women to have unintended pregnancies, in part due to lower rates of insurance coverage. Nearly 70 percent of Black people live in states with restrictive abortion and sexual education laws, while immigrants comprise nearly 35 percent of the Latina/x and 60 percent of the Asian American community—barring them from Medicaid and other vital healthcare programs.

The AAPI community is the only group in which abortion has not decreased over the past 15 years. Studies suggest that as many as one-third of Asian American pregnancies may end in abortion, the second-highest rate of any demographic group. 

For people of color, this is a matter of life and death. Across the nation, Black women are three times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy or childbirth. A recent study found that a nationwide abortion ban would increase pregnancy-related deaths for Black women by 33 percent. 

Meanwhile, many Latina/x women are blocked from receiving healthcare because of their documentation status or that of someone in their home. Without Medicaid coverage, many in the Latina/x community cannot access prenatal care. And Latina/x and Black women alike may be hesitant to seek medical care due to racism in the healthcare industry, with large segments reporting medical discrimination.

For Asian Americans, sex-selective abortion bans have long used Asian people as scapegoats, increasing the number of Asian Americans denied abortions. And Asian American women are 40 percent more likely than white women to die from maternal complications. 

Already, we have seen that when Roe v. Wade protections shrink, people of color suffer. In Texas, Latina/x women’s abortion rates have plummeted, in part due to difficulties accessing the few abortion clinics in the state. And in Mississippi, where that state’s last abortion clinic is fighting to stay open, Black women make up nearly three-fourths of those accessing abortion care. If Mississippi’s law takes effect, people of color—particularly Black Americans—will be forced again to bear the burden. 

If Mississippi’s law takes effect, people of color—particularly Black Americans—will be forced again to bear the burden. … [Roe v. Wade] is just the floor. We must tear down the barriers to healthcare that people of color face throughout their reproductive lives. 

But as these experiences demonstrate, Roe v. Wade doesn’t ensure equal and comprehensive reproductive care on its own. It is just the floor. We must tear down the barriers to healthcare that people of color face throughout their reproductive lives. 

Nearly 70 percent of Black people live in states with restrictive abortion and sexual education laws. (In Our Own Voice Instagram, Courtesy of @rePROsFightBack)

That begins with expanding insurance coverage so that all people, in every state, can afford reproductive healthcare. At the same time, we must work holistically to lower maternal mortality rates and improve the health of parents of color. We must continue interrogating biases throughout our healthcare system, including pernicious stereotypes that disregard the pain of women of color—and lead directly to their deaths. 

As the courts continue to undercut and destabilize our most underserved communities, we must change our approach to expanding and protecting abortion services. It’s time for a broader grassroots movement focused on legislators who can make our right to bodily autonomy inviolable—in law, and in our shared moral code.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, people of color stand to lose not just a constitutional right to abortion, but the right to bodily autonomy and equal access to healthcare that belongs to all of us. 

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About , and

Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the nation’s only organization dedicated to building power with Asian American Pacific Islander women and girls. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church. You can follow her @schoimorrow.
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.
Lupe M. Rodríguez is the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.