Overturning Roe v. Wade: Black women hit hardest
An abortion-rights activist wears tape reading "2nd Class Citizen" on their mouth as they protest outside the Supreme Court. Credit: AP.

Now that Roe v Wade has been overturned, the legal status of abortion is back in the hands of state lawmakers. And many believe this will have especially damaging consequences for Black women, who often face life-threatening complications during pregnancy.

Disparaging numbers

In many states, Black and Latino women receive abortions at higher rates than White women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which collects data from state health agencies.

Nationwide abortion ban

21% increase for all women

33% increase for Black women

Source: Demography

The overturning of Roe v. Wade underscores the economic hardships and maternal health crisis Black and brown women face, with many advocates saying forced pregnancies would only worsen their outcomes. For example, Black women are three times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related complications, such as pre-eclampsia and eclampsia. Abortion rights leaders also worry poor Black and Latino women will not have the money to travel out of state for an abortion.

The historical racism embedded within the American healthcare system accounts in large part for why birthing is so much deadlier for Black Americans. They are routinely dismissed, ignored and have their concerns denied while seeking medical care and intervention. Black women also fall behind in other social determinants of health including housing, employment and socioeconomic status, all of which can affect their capacity to have safe, healthy pregnancies and care for a child.

A 2021 study published in the journal Demography found that abortion bans put all women at greater risk of death, but “the additional mortality burden is estimated to be greatest among non-Hispanic Black women.”

Trouble in Texas

Texas is one of more than a dozen states that have passed trigger laws that further restrict abortion in the aftermath of a Roe v. Wade reversal. Last year, Texas passed a law that stated if the Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade and abortion is no longer protected by the federal Constitution, then abortion will be completely illegal in the state of Texas.

That law, Texas House Bill 1280, makes it a second-degree felony “for a person who knowingly performs, induces, or attempts an abortion” according to the bill analysis. The penalty increases to a first-degree infraction “if the unborn child dies as a result of the offense.”

Seema Mohapatra, a visiting professor of law at Southern Methodist University, said that the Texas trigger law could have a disproportionate impact.

“Practically, people who are seeking an abortion in Texas will have very little options, especially if they are not able to travel to a far-away state,” she said. “It really does affect peoples’ lives, and when we look at the fact that forced pregnancy really has different outcomes depending on what race you are, we know that Black women are much more likely to die during pregnancy than other women. This has differential impact on people of color and poor people, and the court opinion really ignores that.”

Fighting back

Black-led social justice groups said the gutting of Roe v. Wade is just the latest example of lawmakers stripping their rights.

The NAACP released a statement with one leader saying the Supreme Court decision sets the country back to a “dangerous era where basic constitutional rights only exist for a select few.”

Portia White, policy and legislative affairs vice president for the NAACP, likened the abortion ruling to lawmakers suppressing the Black vote.

“They’ve stripped away our right to vote, and now women have lost their right to their own body. What’s next?” White said. “We cannot allow our future to rest in the hands of those determined to crush every bit of it. We need to fight back.”

White said the NAACP will be mobilizing voters for the “most critical midterm election America has ever faced” in November.

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