Abortion Restrictions Are Racist. Freedom Means Full Access for All, Full Stop.

We can’t end racism overnight. But we can call out the racism inherent in abortion restrictions—including the mifepristone lawsuit against the FDA.

Democratic lawmakers take part in a demonstration on July 19, 2022, at an abortion rights rally outside the Supreme Court, less than one month after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade. (Oliver Contreras / For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This year will be unlike any other for abortion access. Emboldened by last year’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion activists are on the verge of securing another devastating legal victory. A Texas case could soon force the FDA to revoke its approval of the abortion pill, mifepristone—a critical lifeline post-Roe and one of two drugs commonly used in a medication abortion, the procedure that currently accounts for more than half of all abortions in the country.

As a longtime organizer and advocate for abortion access, I know that our movement must continue fighting off these attacks and commit to helping our communities navigate the painful repercussions. But we must acknowledge that these attacks do not impact everyone equally. If the judge in Texas forces the FDA to pull mifepristone, it will remove one of the few remaining options to access abortion care for Black and brown people and exacerbate their already disproportionate risks for surveillance and criminalization. 

Once again, this abortion restriction would impact people of color the hardest. Why? Because abortion restrictions and bans are inherently racist. 

If we want to ensure that we all can actually get the abortion care we need, we must recognize that the bans we’re fighting against are rooted in racist ideologies and white supremacist values. We must shift our strategy and do more than defeat emerging attacks. Liberation for people of color means an end to existing restrictions on abortion care, without compromise or exception.

I’m not just talking about the ‘strictest’ abortion bans. I’m talking about the full spectrum of attacks that limit access: 20-week bans, waiting period requirements, bans on public insurance coverage, and all the restrictions that have been accepted in the name of compromise even as they leave behind the people who need abortion access most.

Black people have abortions at higher rates because they face barriers that undermine their bodily autonomy and deny them access. They are most likely to come up against financial and logistical barriers associated with getting care when abortion is not available in their community, like traveling out of state, securing childcare and getting time off work.

Policies like the Hyde Amendment, that prohibit Medicaid and other federal programs from covering abortion care, are racist. Restrictions on public funding for abortion care disproportionately hold people of color, who are more likely to use Medicaid coverage, back from affording the care they need. Bans that arbitrarily restrict abortion based on timing are also racist, particularly combined with other bans that create barriers to abortion access and cause delays in care. 

Decisions about if and when to end a pregnancy should be rooted in what is best for the pregnant person and their family—not how much money they make or whether they can get permission from politicians. 

We also know that people of color are most at risk of criminalization for seeking abortions. Amid efforts to eliminate access to medication abortion, lawmakers around the country are also relentlessly pushing harsher punishments for people who manage their own abortion outside a clinic or doctor’s office. Whether it be barriers to access, security concerns, or personal preference, self-managed abortion can often be the safest option for Black and brown people, but this scrutiny fuels a climate of fear that disproportionately impacts people of color who are already all too familiar with the dangers of being targeted by the racist criminal legal system in daily life.

Recognizing the reality of racist abortion restrictions and bans is the only way we will successfully fight back against them. It’s time for the movement and our allies to take cues from the Black women, queer people, people with disabilities, and others whose bodily autonomy have long been denied, who have known that Roe was not enough for people of color, and who have been leading the fight for real abortion access for all. 

For many, 2023 might be the first time they find themselves and their loved ones without legal abortion access—a dire situation that also presents an opportunity to mobilize the millions of people who did not previously think of themselves as abortion activists but now feel called to action. 

We know we can’t end racism and build a new world overnight. But we can call out the racism inherent in any restriction on abortion care and commit to fighting back against every new effort to restrict access—including the mifepristone lawsuit against the FDA. Black and brown liberation is rooted in bodily autonomy, and by building support for demands to full reproductive justice, for all of us, we can build a future where anyone who needs an abortion – regardless of race, class, gender, age, or disability – can get one safely, affordably, and without stigma or political interference.

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Kaelea Lucas is the Georgia state organizer for URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity. Lucas graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 2019 where she studied political science with a minor in African American studies and English. In her role, she works to support young leaders in the reproductive justice space.