UPDATE June 24, 2022: The Supreme Court just overturned Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year-old precedent guaranteeing the right to an abortion in the United States in a 6-3 decision. In an ruling written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled: “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked plan to overturn Roe v. Wade has confirmed what many have been fearing for months—and now, experts gearing up for the fall of Roe say it will disproportionately harm people of color in the U.S., especially Black people.
A Supreme Court draft opinion that leaked Monday night indicated the majority of the court will overturn Roe v. Wade this summer, ending a half-century of constitutional protection for abortion rights in the U.S. The decision will further clear a path for several states, including Alabama, Texas, and Georgia, to continue to severely restrict access to legal abortion, and it will disproportionately harm pregnant Black people and people of color, as well as immigrants, undocumented folks, and LGBTQ folks, experts say.
This could also give authorities yet another way to target people of color.
“We see very clearly that people are being surveilled, targeted, and accused of accessing abortion,” Dr. Jamila Perritt, an abortion provider and president of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told VICE News.
A 2013 study that examined 413 civil and criminal cases brought forward after Roe found that Black women were “significantly more likely to be arrested, reported to state authorities by hospital staff, and subjected to felony charges.”
The loss of Roe, coupled with the worsening abortion bans across the country, could make it worse, Perritt said. “When we think about who is caught in reporting it'll be the usual suspects, it'll be people who look like me, it’ll be Black and brown people, immigrants, young people, LGBTQ: the same communities who are often surveilled and criminalized.”
Already in March, staff at a Texas hospital reported Lizelle Herrera, 26, after she had a miscarriage and said she had tried to induce her own abortion. Authorities charged Herrera with murder over the alleged self-induced abortion, only to drop the charges last month in part because the state doesn’t actually criminalize or penalize pregnant people who get an abortion, despite having effectively banned it.
It’s a violation of privacy to report a patient who is suspected of seeking or getting an abortion, Perritt said, and will undoubtedly continue to affect pregnant people of color and other marginalized groups.
Plus, Black and brown pregnant people are more often put in positions where they need to access abortions. In 2017, Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that supports abortion rights, found that between 2008 and 2014, women of color were more likely to get abortions.
According to the data, 27 Black women had an abortion per 1,000 women of reproductive age. For Hispanic women, the figure dropped to 18, and for white women it sat at 10. (It’s worth noting that women of color also reported the steepest proportionate decline in abortions during the same period.) Nearly half of people who accessed abortion also lived below the U.S. poverty line, the data found.
VICE News previously reported how it’ll also be more difficult for women of color to access abortions out of their home states at a time when Texans seeking abortions are already inundating clinics elsewhere. States have already suggested they’ll try to make out-of-state abortions illegal too.
That’s partly why St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said the end of Roe will have long-term consequences, including in her state of Missouri, where abortion rights are also at risk.
“Poor people, Black and brown people will have larger barriers to get access to abortion… Then, they’ll get driven back into the shadows,” Jones said. “If we think maternal and infant mortality is a thing now, just wait until this decision is final.”
Jones said a lot of the accountability for the current war on abortion falls on white people, particularly the white women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
“We need to always remember that the reason we are here today is because the 2016 election laid the groundwork for this,” Jones said.
For those seeking safe abortions, there are several local and national groups, including many led by people of color that can help. For legal advice, the group If/When/How offers reproductive rights-related legal support.
Ultimately, numbers alone don’t reveal context: Pervasive systemic racism and other prejudices prevent some of the most marginalized people in the U.S. from accessing affordable health insurance, quality care and contraception, according to Guttmacher.
For Perritt, that kind of context matters because “people from all walks of life seek abortion care, so there isn’t one type of person.”
“When we look at the likelihood of someone needing an abortion, it’s impacted by lots of different things, including access to community support and resources,” she said. “If you can’t access them in your community, you’re more like to have an unintended pregnancy and seek abortion care.”
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