Commentary: Women’s rights are human rights – and that includes abortion

By Jamila Bey,
Special at AFRO

The first Monday in May became known as Met Gala Monday, and during and after the event, which carried what usually dominates social media and news. Normally, we could still talk about what Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion and Alicia Keys wore.

But who could have predicted that at the same time, the sequins were putting on their finery on the Met Gala red carpet, an explosive leak of the Supreme Court’s plans to overturn Roe v. Wade would unleash a storm of protests, debates and concern?

Indeed, on May 2, POLITICO reported on the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s initial majority draft Supreme Court opinion – an opinion on the court’s decision to roll back abortion rights. This would end the constitutional protection of women when it comes to terminating a pregnancy.

Alito, who is a devout Catholic, takes his direction on abortion from the Vatican. However, not all American Catholics agree with the church’s official position. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that 68% of Catholics do not want Roe v Wade overturned. But if Alito’s memoir predicts abortion laws in the United States, it will be up to each state to determine whether women and their doctors are free to terminate a pregnancy.

Rather than ponder the propriety of a Supreme Court justice imposing his bigoted beliefs on the laws and people of a nation that claims to recognize a separation of church and state, black activists are busy doing what black people have done on these shores since we got here: stand up to American power structures and fight for our rights.

Black birth attendants are at the forefront of this fight. Even before the Supreme Court’s draft was disclosed, they were circling the wagons to protect the country’s most vulnerable mothers.

Inas Mahdi, national director of training, practice and assessment for the National Birth Equity Collaborative, said the law is clear and it is essential to protect the lives of black women.

“Under international human rights obligations, our nation has a duty to protect, respect and fulfill the human rights of its citizens, rights which it cannot in good conscience entrust to states to honor them,” Mahdi said. “Women’s rights are, in fact, human rights.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women who are pregnant or have just given birth in the United States are three to four times more likely to die than their white counterparts. The numbers clearly illustrate the disparity – for every 100,000 live births, about 19 white mothers die, while about 55 black mothers die.

These disparities are rooted in the lack of access to quality health care for many black women. These disparities are exacerbated by a number of issues, including the implicit bias in medical treatment that leads black women to receive lower quality care, as well as unequal access to housing, education, employment and health care. These disparities are well known, but as they persist, so are the risks for black women who have worse outcomes for their pregnancies at the best of times.

The Associated Press, using information from the US Census Bureau, found that fewer blacks are covered by health insurance, especially in states with strict abortion restrictions. Some of the highest rates of uninsured women live in Texas, Mississippi and Georgia, where at least 16% of black women were uninsured in 2019.

Advocates have warned that abortion bans will disproportionately impact black women who would be forced to carry their pregnancies to term despite potential health risks. Many black women live in places with few options for abortion care if they cannot afford to travel out of state for the procedure or adequate means to raise a child.

A study published in 2021 in the journal “Demography” focused on the effect of a total ban on abortion on pregnancy-related mortality. The study found that banning abortion nationwide would lead to a 33% increase in deaths among black women and a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths for all women. According to the study, if abortions are denied, the lifetime risk of a black woman dying from pregnancy-related causes increases from 1 in 1,300 to 1 in 1,000.

Raven Freeborn, director of policy and partnership organizing at Mamatoto Village, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that seeks to address health disparities for mothers, babies, and their families, says fear women and the practitioners who care for them is palpable. , but premature. “Abortion in DC and the rest of the country is still accessible,” Freeborn says. “The reality is that women can still seek care.”

Freeborn says that although abortion has not yet been banned, the fact that medical care is a political issue means there is still work to be done.

“We predicted that Roe would fall. We need to galvanize people, and now is absolutely the time to embrace the political power of your own voice. But also accept that abortion is care, it is health care, and it is care that must continue to be available if we are caring communities.

Jamila Bey is the digital manager of The Washington Informer. She covers health, politics, and everything related to the First Amendment.

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