Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court took up a case involving Mississippi’s abortion ban law. The case could overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that secured abortion rights for people across the US in 1973 –– a situation which reproductive justice advocates say will impact us all.
“Choices are being made for us before we can even make choices for ourselves,” Laurie Bertram Roberts, Co-Founder of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund and Alabama Reproductive Freedom Fund told the Black Information Network.
Roberts said that she got into the fight for reproductive justice because she “lived reproductive injustice.” From being denied an abortion at a Catholic hospital despite her own health emergency, to stigma blocking access to birth control, Roberts says reproductive justice is critical to other fights.
The Jackson State alumna explained the stigma that blocks access to options for birth control and healthcare is driven by stereotypes about Black people and sex.
“They think you’re going to get an STI and all of us are sleeping around, or, even if we are, we’re too irresponsible to use condoms,” she said.
“You can’t have equity when everyone doesn’t have access to the same options,” Roberts added. “Rich white women will always have the option to delay their pregnancies, to control their reproductive destiny, and if we can’t do the same, we can’t grow and flourish,” Roberts said.
Accessing Our “Right to Parent”
Roberts broke down how the fight for the right to an abortion is interwoven with economic justice, food justice, and more. After attending her first session on reproductive justice, what stood out for her wasn’t just the access to abortions and birth control –– it was also the “right to parent.”
“We are surveilled in our communities, by schools, [and the system]” via mandated reporters, the police, Roberts explained adding that even Child Protective Services can be “weaponized” against Black families infringing on our right to parent.
A lot time, it’s due to “layered” interaction of classism, racism, and other forms of oppression at work. “You cannot talk about what’s going on in [Black women’s] lives without intersectionality,” Roberts said. “You just can’t.”
Accessing the right to parent and to an abortion, Roberts went on, has a lot to do with access to adequate healthcare.
“We can never talk about lowering the abortion rate among Black women,” Roberts said, noting that may be hard for some to hear, but that conversation can’t happen without talking “about medical racism that leads us to that issue.”
“We don’t fix [higher abortion rates] by taking away the bodily autonomy of Black women. For people talking about abortion is Black genocide,” she continued, “you don’t fix ‘genocide’ by taking away bodily autonomy of people having children.”
Roberts also explained that viewing the disproportionately high abortion rates in the Black community as genocide is inaccurate because, Black mothers “can’t simultaneously be raising the community and destroying the community.”
“They’re basically accusing Black mothers… of committing genocide, when they are [primarily] raising [kids],” she said. “How?”
Further, the higher rate maternal mortality among Black women as well as the higher rates of C-sections needs to be discussed.
“My doctor wasn’t wrong to tell me to terminate any of my pregnancies,” Robert shared, noting that being pregnant every year or even every other year can be dangerous.
What’s more is that, if the US returns to a “pre-Roe existence,” abortions would still take place, Roberts said, it would just be a more dangerous situation for people needing that type of care.
The Impact of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health
Right now, there’s a stay on the Mississippi abortion ban, and in Texas, SCOTUS allowed legal challenges to the law to continue. But there hasn’t been a major decision one way or the other just yet.
If, however, there is a fall of Roe v. Wade, the impact would be far-reaching. The attack on abortions rights, Roberts explained, is a direct attack on rights found in the 14th Amendment –– which made Loving v. Virginia and interracial marriage possible, and is the same Constitutional right that same sex marriage, and birth right citizenship rest on.
In terms of limiting access to abortion, Roberts and other advocates highlight the lack of support mothers and parents receive from states once the children are born. Mississippi officials “brag” about offering the lowest TANF benefits in the US, and passed on opportunities to expand Medicaid coverage.
“When you take access [to abortions] away from 24 states … and it’s whole swaths of the country that does not have care,” Roberts said, there’s an influx of patients traveling to receive care, straining providers and people needing healthcare help.
For more on reproductive justice and the work the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund is doing, please click here.
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