From Outrage to Action: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Planned Parenthood’s Jamesa Bailey looks at the longterm implications of overturning the right to abortion access in this country and a world where children will grow up with fewer rights than their parents.

 

I’ve seen a whole new level of outrage in the Black community since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and states started banning abortion — and it’s invigorating.

When I launched Planned Parenthood’s Black Organizing Program in 2019, people at our community gatherings wouldn’t even use the word abortion. They were interested in discussing birth control, cancer screenings, and other sexual and reproductive health care. Abortion? Not so much. I think the general feeling was that since abortion was legal, there’s no need to talk about it — especially with strangers.

After June 24, 2022, that all changed. The U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion, a right Americans had since 1973. The decision cruelly stripped us of our reproductive freedom, allowing states to ban abortion, and many have. Seven months later, as we mark what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22), we live in a world where our children will grow up with fewer rights than their parents had. And it’s unacceptable. Like millions of Americans, Black people took to the streets marching and protesting. And sisters — as well as some brothers — are finally ready and willing to say it with raised voices: “abortion.”

We live in a world where our children will grow up with fewer rights than their parents had. And it’s unacceptable.

To be clear though, even with Roe v. Wade in place, the right to get an abortion was never enough for many Black people. Access has been out of reach for generations. For so many people, it’s nearly impossible to navigate a health care system steeped in racist practices with a long, despicable history of policing Black bodies. Removing the federal constitutional right to abortion robs us further of the right to decide whether and when to have children. Now, state lawmakers are the ones with the power to make those decisions for us.

Cost is a huge barrier to this essential health care. The discriminatory Hyde Amendment blocks Medicaid funds from covering an abortion in most states. So, thousands of people who rely on Medicaid for health care are burdened with trying to come up with the money to pay for an abortion and/or paying for transportation, childcare, and taking time off of work to get to health centers hours away from home. Now, already-imposing barriers are even worse for many Black people — for whom inequitable access to health insurance and a lack of financial opportunities have made health care a costly or even impossible burden.

As of this month, 18 states have either banned abortion completely or imposed harmful and often confusing restrictions. In the first 100 days following the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe, 66 clinics in 15 states with abortion restrictions were forced to stop offering abortions. Nearly 5.8 million Black women, or 56.7% of the reproductive-aged Black women in the U.S., plus nonbinary and trans people, face new barriers to abortion care.

To be clear though, even with Roe v. Wade in place, the right to get an abortion was never enough for many Black people. Access has been out of reach for generations.

Jamesa Bailey is the Director of Black Campaigns for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Planned Parenthood’s Black Organizing Program held its first-ever Shop Chat meet-up in 2019 as Texas and other states enacted strict abortion bans. These gatherings take place at  Black-owned spaces in local communities — usually a barber shop or beauty salon. They bring together dozens of Black people to enjoy brunch and discuss how sexual and reproductive health care, or the lack thereof, harms their communities. At that time, people were shocked to learn threats to abortion rights, decades in the making, were becoming a reality in some states.

The stories began to flow about why people get abortions, in spite of the maze of challenges to do so. Many folks in the room shared how their lives may have gone differently had they not had that option. Toward the end, one woman who had been silently observing stood up and told her abortion story for the very first time. “I have never even told my mother, and I’m really close to my mother,” she said. She hugged me later and thanked me for what turned out to be a cathartic experience.

Since Roe was overturned, people don’t want to stop sharing. They understand the importance of eliminating stigma and shame around abortion, and they recognize the value of sharing their stories. They are outraged that lawmakers can now make decisions that should be left up to them and their healthcare providers. And at Planned Parenthood, we were outraged, too.

No one is free unless they have control of their own body and future, and all people deserve the freedom to make their own health care decisions.

But now, as we face a new year and a new era in the reproductive rights movement, we are moving beyond outrage. The passionate organizers who lead Planned Parenthood’s Black Organizing Program and our engaged student activist leaders in Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapters on college campuses across the country — including at 14 HBCUs — help channel that outrage into action.

Here’s the bottom line: No one is free unless they have control of their own body and future, and all people deserve the freedom to make their own healthcare decisions.

We invite you to join us this year as we stand with our partners to help ensure all people can access the health care and education they need to control their bodies, lives, and  futures. This moment cannot and will not defeat us. It only empowers us to move toward a future where access to abortion is a reality for all. And we’re determined to get there.

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