Abortion Rights are a Racial Justice Issue

Mark G. Sheppard

With 69% of Americans supporting abortion as a U.S. Supreme Court opinion involving the overturning of Roe v. Wade becomes law, there has been a robust discussion about the implications of this ruling for abortion rights, and by extension women’s rights –however, what is often under-discussed is how consequential this potential ruling would be specifically for women of color. Following Roe, abortion services have been increasingly utilized by low-income women of color.[1]

When evaluating the states that have existing trigger laws bans on abortion it can be somewhat obvious that many of these states are located within the conservative south, however what often gets overlooked is the extent to which this area is populated by Black Americans. The Black Belt in the American South stretches from East Texas up through the Carolinas[2], the exact same area that would have near or total bans on abortion[3].

Additionally, this same area already has troubling trends with respect to access to healthcare and maternal death[4]. Taken collectively it becomes evident that the areas and the people who would be most affected, would be Black and Brown women living in the rural south, who already face discrimination in healthcare[5], where there are already higher rates of maternal death.

With a 6 to 3 Supreme Court, almost entirely insulated from the effects of public opinion, this opinion is quite concerning for those interested in abortion rights. But that conversation should not completely background the racial disparities that will result from this ruling. Because to be clear, this ruling would disproportionately affect diverse, working-class women of color in the Black Belt of the American south.

[1] https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/where-americans-stand-on-abortion-in-5-charts/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Belt_in_the_American_South

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/05/upshot/abortion-without-roe-wade.html

[4] https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/mortality-rates-united-states/maternal/#2014

[5] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/discrimination-black-womens-health/

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