For centuries, Black women have fought to have ownership over their bodies.
Black women have struggled to find bodily autonomy for centuries as a result of historical sexual oppression and reproductive racism. According to the University of Illinois Chicago's Women's Leadership and Resource Center, “reproductive oppression refers to the regulation and exploitation of individuals’ bodies, sexuality, labor, and procreative capacities as a strategy to control individuals and entire communities.” Reproductive oppression stems from the forced reproduction of enslaved people to increase slave population and profits. This commodification of their bodies was known as slave breeding.
Bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom have been stripped from the Black community throughout history. For example, under eugenic legislation, marginalized communities were thought to be burdensome and were forcibly sterilized by the government. Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger, held racist and ableist eugenic beliefs that some people were less than others or unfit to have children. Eugenic beliefs are inherently rooted in white supremacy, as society believed race was a determinant of physical and mental capabilities.
Sanger’s beliefs and practices detrimentally furthered racism in reproductive health care. While Planned Parenthood works hard to reconcile its problematic history with modern practices, it is important to recognize that no health care provider, including Planned Parenthood, is exempt from their role in the sexual oppression of Black people, and this is merely one example of Planned Parenthood’s role in the deepening the need to fight for reproductive justice for Black women.
With the recent SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v Wade, the fight for Black women’s bodily autonomy continues.
Roe v. Wade was the 1973 Supreme Court decision that codified abortion access across the country. In June of 2022, the landmark decision was overturned in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the Court delegated power to restrict and ban abortion access to individual states. This effectively gives state politicians permission to control our bodies. It is the first time a Supreme Court affirmed constitutional right has been taken away and the decision will have a lasting impact on everyone, especially marginalized communities.
It is expected that Black communities with being disproportionately impacted by the abortion bans enacted in this post-Roe environment because of systemic racism and a long history of reproductive oppression in America. Therefore, It is evermore important to fight for reproductive freedom.
The abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women. Abortion is an intersectional issue; we can’t have true reproductive freedom without addressing other underlying causes and roots of discrimination, racism, and oppression. It is clear that the overturn of Roe will disproportionately impact Black women compared to other ethnic groups, as they are the majority of those who seek and maintain abortions.
As a result of systemic and structural racism, modern problems exist in reproductive health care for Black people. Systemic barriers make it harder to access sexual and reproductive health care, like abortions, safe labor and delivery, and birth control. Data from the CDC shows that Black women consistently have higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths (PRD) than any other ethnic group. Unfortunately, PRD are expected to increase by 33%, and barriers to abortion health care will continue to grow in post-Roe America. This is why it is so important to protect the right to safe, legal abortion for everyone, regardless of income, zip code, race, or immigration status.
Abortion bans are a socioeconomic issue and go beyond health care. As a result of systemic racism, 1 in 4 Black women live in poverty and about 31% of Black women of reproductive age are enrolled in Medicaid, which does not always cover abortion health care and is dependent on the state you live in. Black women are less likely to afford and access abortions. Black women will disproportionately face more financial hardship without abortion access.
Location plays a huge role in a person’s ability to access abortion. Southern states, the home to about 50% of the nation’s population of Black women, have the most extreme abortion bans and restrictions. Therefore, Black women are more likely to face strict abortion regulation.
Everyone deserves the right to bodily autonomy and the right to access safe, legal reproductive health care, regardless of race. We must work to fight for bodily autonomy for all, and protect marginalized communities during these tumultuous times in the reproductive health landscape.
Black women will continue to fight for rights over their bodies. In a Statement by In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, President and CEO Marcela Howell said “The intersection of racial and sexual oppression is not new. For Black women, the fight for reproductive rights has always been about more than abortion and birth control; it is, and always has been, about having control over our own bodies.”