Roe v. Wade overturn: What the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion means for Black women

A pro-choice activist holds a sign that reads 'keep abortion legal' in front of the US Supreme Court on January 22, 2009 in Washington, DC to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court abortion ruling. Photo: Getty Images

Nearly 50 years ago, abortion was made legal across the U.S. after a landmark ruling in the Roe v. Wade case. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, taking away constitutional protections for abortion. Many believe that the ruling disproportionately impacts Black women. Before getting to how and why, this was what Roe v. Wade was about?

In 1969, Norma McCorvey, who was 22, single, unemployed and pregnant for the third time, challenged the criminal abortion laws in Texas using the pseudonym “Jane Roe”. The state did not allow abortion at the time, saying it was unconstitutional except when the mother’s life was at stake.

Henry Wade was the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas who defended the anti-abortion law when McCorvey filed the case, and that is how the case became known as Roe v. Wade. McCorvey claimed that she was raped but her case was dismissed and she was forced to give birth.

She appealed, and the case landed in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. That year, the nation’s highest court heard McCorvey’s case as well as that of Sandra Bensing, a Georgia woman who was 20. They argued that abortion laws in Texas and Georgia were at variance with the U.S. Constitution as they infringed a woman’s right to privacy.

The Supreme Court eventually ruled by a vote of seven to two that governments do not have the power to disallow abortions. They ruled that a woman’s right to abort her baby was protected by the constitution. The majority opinion found “an absolute right to abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy.”

The recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization challenged Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks. On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks, and this means putting an end to the constitutional right to an abortion for U.S. women. Individual states can now ban abortion again, per the ruling. About half of the states in the country are likely to introduce new abortion restrictions while 13 have even already passed “trigger laws” that will automatically outlaw abortion following the Supreme Court’s ruling.  

Following the ruling, experts are concerned about the health of many Black women who could need an abortion.

So what really does overturning Roe v. Wade mean for Black women? Janette Robinson Flint, the executive director of Black Women for Wellness, spoke with The Seattle Medium.

“…78% of Black women do not approve of the overturn of Roe v. Wade. 85% of Black women will support someone they love who chooses to have an abortion. With the overturn of Roe v. Wade, what it does is put women across the middle of the country at risk. They won’t be able to access abortion, and if they have to travel to another state, there is a cost of abortion. And it is unfortunate because every woman, every Black woman, deserves control, autonomy, and self-determination over her own life. It’s a basic human right. You get to say if you want to be pregnant or not.”

A recent study from Duke University says that a ban on abortions could increase Black maternal deaths by 33%, compared to a 21% increase for the overall population.

“These things that we call trigger laws that are on the books in certain states are set up for when Roe falls. These laws go into effect immediately. And generally, they banned all forms of abortion, even if the woman’s life is at stake,” Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, told The Denver Channel.

Black women have disproportionately the greatest percentage of abortions. And that is largely due to the poor economic circumstances that they live in. “I think obviously what we’re anticipating is an increase in those numbers of pregnancy-related deaths due to illegal abortions,” Dr. Kimberly Farrow, president and CEO of Central City Integrated Health, said. “We may see a return of people receiving services in basements, alleys and places where medical professionals aren’t present.”

Flint added that in states like Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana where there are lots of Black people but very little healthcare, this ruling means “even less healthcare”.

She has urged people who want to secure access to abortion to not only join marches or rallies but to vote the right people into office. “I’m talking down-ballot about the city council people, about the state people, about the propositions, and importantly, about the judges.”

What people can also do is to call those who represent them, she said. “Call your city council people. Call your state. Call your Congressperson. Call the Senate. And let them know that you are concerned, that you care, you’re watching, you will remember.”

It is important to note that while this ruling disproportionately impacts Black women, this is also an issue of just poor women in general, experts say. It affects everyone.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 27, 2022


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