How will overturn of Roe v. Wade impact Black women, families?
AP Photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe

U.S. senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) are claiming to have been had, duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray and run amok by current SCOTUS members Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett for testifying under oath during their confirmation hearings that they would not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, yet did so anyway. But Black America and others who believe in a women’s right to have agency over her own body were not surprised, and sounded the alarm long before Collins and Manchin cast key votes that allowed the trio onto the Supreme Court in the first place.

And their votes brought Roe v. Wade to an end. But what does this new reality mean for Black women, other women of color and their families and communities? The Defender spoke with Lisa Mallory, Ph.D., executive director of the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE) out of Washington, DC to get her perspective on answers to those questions.

Lisa Mallory

DEFENDER: What was your initial reaction when you heard the news of the overturning of Roe V Wade?

LISA MALLORY: My initial reaction was one of tremendous sadness. I think about my children and my grandchildren. I think about women period, particularly women of color, who are always disproportionately, negatively impacted by some of these things, and particularly by this overturning. So, it was grave concern and sadness. I saw something online that said, “When you go to bed tonight, we’re setting back the clock 50 years,” and, boy, that’s a true statement. Maybe even more than 50 years. It’s a very sad time in our country’s history. You think we’ve gotten “there,” and it’s been so bad already, and we just continue to [experience an] assault our human rights. It’s just incredible.

DEFENDER: What’s going to be the impact of this overturning on the reproductive health of Black women and women of color? And can you explain how reproductive health is different than merely the issue of abortion?

LISA MALLORY: Reproductive health, a woman needs to have the rights to her body to make her own healthcare decisions around her ability to reproduce. And only a woman and her medical professionals are able to have these discussions, and perhaps the father of a child, if there’s a child involved, or partner involved. But I think of more concern is, this is a personal issue for an individual and their healthcare providers. This is not a government issue. It’s certainly not an issue for men to be addressing without consulting women. It’s certainly a personal health issue that women should have the right to have with, with their medical professionals, a plethora of opportunities and resources available to them. We already know that Black women in particular, and also other women of color, don’t have access to quality healthcare, don’t have access to health insurance, are disproportionately impacted by so many different diseases and health outcomes. So, to add this inability to choose onto the great burden that the women of this country have to carry is extremely disappointing. And it will have a tremendous impact. Duke University had a study that they published in December that said a complete abortion ban—and hopefully we won’t get to that place; but who knows—could increase Black maternal deaths by 33%. And that is a tremendous impact on our health. And it’s very discouraging.

DEFENDER: What other specific ways will these restrictions on safe and legal abortions, disproportionately affect Black women and women of color?

LISA MALLORY: We know that Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, and twice as likely to lose an infant to a premature death. That’s what’s going on right now. So, you add this to that, and we’re taking us back 50 years, where women may have to make some decisions that are very unsafe, in unsafe environments, that can be detrimental to their health. It is just extremely concerning. We will have state-to-state variability, and hopefully we’ll have some states that will continue to be able to fight and allow women to have this right. But, it’s not clear. We’re also extremely concerned that some of the justices signaled that everything is now fair play. They’re looking into access to education, equality rights, marriage rights, and so on. This seems like it’s a signal of even more worrisome things to come.

DEFENDER: Dr. Mallory, you must be looking at all of my questions, because you’re answer them before I ask.

LISA MALLORY: You know, we’re all thinking about these things. I’m in no way, shape or form a medical professional. NAHSE isn’t a trade association. We represent the advancement of Black leaders of color, healthcare leaders of color. The reason we were formed over 50 years ago was because we know representation matters. So, if you have more Black doctors, more Black CEOs, more Blacks in hospitals, more Black healthcare systems like Greg Adams and Kaiser Permanente and others, Lloyd Dean, CEO of CommonSpirit Health, if you have more of these individuals in these places, we know that representation has an impact on the quality of healthcare that’s provided to our underserved and under-resourced communities. That’s what we’ve been doing for over 50 years. We were already operating without having an even playing field. So, adding these additional burdens, taking us backwards, is of great concern. And we’re all thinking about it. I don’t have crystal ball to answer your questions, but I think many of us are extremely concerned about the state of affairs.

DEFENDER: I haven’t heard a lot about is how this ruling will impact not only Black women, but their families and communities. Do you have any thoughts on that?

LISA MALLORY: We certainly have families. We have single mothers. I heard a story of a woman in Texas that was seeking an abortion, was not able to have it, and now had twins that she had to care for. Years ago, I used to work on something called the Fatherhood Initiative, which was trying to figure out, not penalize men that could not pay child support, but figure out ways to engage them in the role [of fathers] and in women’s lives. And, I knew this was very much an issue for people of color, because we’ve had a lot of, unfortunately, fragile or fractured families. When you have children that you don’t have the ability to take care of, when we have social network systems and some subsidies that the government has already taken away for some families, I mean, we can’t even get formula for goodness’ sake. I don’t know how women are doing right now. Women are carrying the burden in so many instances that this just adds yet another component, things that you have to worry about. I have to worry about it for my children and for my grandchildren. I’m no different than anybody else. It isn’t an issue for all families. It’s not just an issue for the mother or the female in the family, it’s an issue for everybody. It’s for our spouses, our partners that maybe trying to support us. It’s an issue that impacts all of us. It’s a human rights issue.

DEFENDER: Those celebrating the Roe v. Wade decision, do so under the banner of “Pro Life.” What are your thoughts on that term?

LISA MALLORY: If you were pro-life you would care about gun control. But, the most dangerous thing that has happened in this country is we have politicized healthcare. And as a result of it, millions of people have died. And if we’ve learned nothing from the disastrous handling of the pandemic, where this became a political issue, as opposed to a [health issue], I really believe we could have been on the other side of this a long, long time ago, had it not been politicized. So, now we’re politicizing healthcare. We [NAHSE] don’t stand for that. We are standing for the rights of individuals, for human rights and we are representing those that don’t have a voice or whose voice is not listened to. So, we have a big fight. We’ll continue to fight this fight.

DEFENDER: For women who want to have an abortion right now and moving forward, what do they do?

LISA MALLORY: We know that there are 20-odd states that seem to be trying to figure out how they can put these bans in place immediately. I’m here in the District of Columbia. We don’t have statehood. So, we’re concerned that even in the District of Columbia where we are largely a pro-choice jurisdiction, we may not have the ability to do that. So, women are going to have to, in some instances, consult with their medical professionals, if there are other options for them. Unfortunately, some women are going to have to move to other jurisdictions or relocate.

DEFENDER: Lord, have mercy. What can we do to fight this new reality? What’s the call to action?

LISA MALLORY: Our mandate is to really educate. So, we educate around healthcare, and this is one of those issues that we want to educate the populace about because it is reproductive rights or human rights, and we believe strongly that this is a personal conversation for an individual in their healthcare professional. And at the end of the day, in addition to educating ourselves, the one most important thing now, and I never thought I would be saying this, and representing an organization like NAHSE I didn’t think I’d have to, but the biggest thing, the most important thing is for people to educate themselves about who is supporting these movements that are really impacting African Americans and people of color, and to vote accordingly. Get out and vote.