Today marks the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which constitutionally affirmed a woman’s right to end her unwanted pregnancy. Within that time, the decision has spurned an ongoing debate over abortion, but let’s consider what the fight is really about. If saving lives is what matters most, then Americans would truly value families where women were paid a fair wage and provided with the opportunity to diversify all ranks by giving them access to every level. If all lives matter from conception to birth and beyond, then the energy expended on blocking the doors to so-called abortion clinics (where women go for all types of health services) would be spent supporting the families created by women who are forced to bear children they can’t afford or are not in a position to raise for whatever reason.
The common denominator here is women and the forces that aim to control them. As some people will commemorate the Roe v. Wade victory today, there will be others, thousands of whom are anti-abortion activists rallying from the Washington monument to the U.S. Supreme Court to eliminate abortion access. And they should be taken seriously because the effort to roll back access has taken a critical turn. On March 2, the Supreme Court will hear a Texas case seeking to force abortion providers to have local hospital admitting privileges and make clinics meet certain surgical standards— all in an effort to make abortions safer.
This call for “safety” is just one of many cloaked assaults on a woman’s right to use her own mind. It’s the same lie that says voting rights need to be tweaked to stop voter fraud at the polls. There was never a crisis of voter fraud. It was simply a movement to keep marginalized (poor, Black and brown) citizens from voting. The truth is, access to abortion clinics is the safety measure. People forget the issue of abortion access rose to a cacophony in the first place because so many desperate women sought dangerous back-alley abortions — and died doing so.
In this example, the Roe v. Wade decision actually saved thousands of lives — those of the women who have had to make this difficult decision. About 5,000 women died each year before Roe v. Wade was passed, according to Our Bodies Ourselves, the non-profit public interest group that promotes information on women’s reproductive health and sexuality. Now, the World Health Organization indicates that the death rate from abortion is 0.6 per 1 million procedures “making it as safe as an injection of penicillin.”
“Being truly pro-woman is about creating the circumstances necessary for a woman to make the decision that is right for her and her family without the intrusion of politicians or others who oppose full reproductive health-care access,” said the Rev. Carolyn Davis, senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. “For many vulnerable women, this can literally be a matter of life and death.”
But if you are a Black woman, if you love a Black woman or simply if you know a Black woman, then you know that Black women are raising families on their own much of the time. Most Black children today (72 percent) are born out of wedlock. The reasons why vary but include women who are not able to find marriage-ready partners. Of course, two-parent families are optimal because we know Black fathers are more attentive to the children in the households in which they reside. But, then there are the economics around childbearing that must be addressed.
Consider these facts about Black economic life: at work, Black women lack sponsorship to climb the corporate ladder when their skill and contributions prove they’re more than ready, according to a 2015 League of Black Women report. Black men are less likely to be hired than White men with a criminal record. Lastly, the Black jobless rate is always double that of Whites. Any strategy that impedes a woman’s right to make a decision about what she wants to do with her own body — so she can live, work and thrive — is one worth fighting against.
Think about the absurdity of dictating what someone else can do with their own body: Anti-birth control companies like Hobby Lobby want to block women from deciding when or if she is ready to have children. They also want to control the decision about whether to carry a pregnancy to term, all without ever asking women what they think or if they’re capable of handling the ramifications of an unwanted pregnancy. Then the same people who seek to make all of the decisions simply walk away once the baby is born.
Whether you believe a fetus is a person or a bundle of cells, the goal should be to make abortion a last choice or an after-thought. We must support the responsibility of a woman to proactively and intentionally avail herself of every tool that will allow her to plan a family. Ultimately, our energy should be spent creating a society — and an economy — that welcomes children born of every circumstance whether their parents are poor, Black or brown, uneducated or educated.
The mindset that says women don’t have the ability to make up their own minds is the same one that insists state’s rights have primacy over federal law because local communities must be able to determine their own fates. And if you’ve been paying attention, this same states’ rights argument was used to uphold slavery and is currently being used to thwart the Affordable Care Act.
For African-Americans who view abortion access through the prism of their faith, that’s wonderful. But be clear on whether the issue is really about a baby’s life or something else — self-determination and shifting the status quo from the few to the many.
Deborah Douglas teaches journalism at Northwestern University and is a senior facilitator at The OpEd Project, dedicated to amplifying credible, expertise of women and other unheard voices.