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Commentary Race

Louisiana’s Clinic Shutdown Law Will Hurt Black Women. We’re Fighting Back.

Marcela Howell

Given the obstacles Black women already face, new barriers to abortion—in Louisiana and across the country—will turn reproductive health care into a right we cannot exercise.

As the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a law that would leave the entire state of Louisiana with one clinic providing abortion care, we are engulfed in a deluge of assaults on our constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion.

The attacks on our basic human rights that we are seeing in the June Medical Services v. Russo case are nothing new for Black women. When Black people were enslaved, rights were determined by where you lived and who owned you. Today, our access to basic reproductive health care is increasingly decided by zip code.

The attacks on legal abortion are part of the backlash against communities of color by white patriarchal systems determined to hold on to the reins of power in the face of an increasingly diverse country. As women—especially Black women and other women of color—continue to chip away at white, male power, the patriarchy is pushing back and working double-time to keep us in our place. While the attacks on reproductive rights hurt all women, Black women are disproportionally affected.

Black women often face insurmountable obstacles to accessing health care. We also face higher rates of unemployment than white women, and we are paid less than white women and all men. Making legal abortion less accessible in Louisiana means people seeking abortions will have to travel longer distances to get the care they need, take time off work, find child care, and come up with the additional funds to pay for it. Given all the obstacles Black women already face, new barriers to abortion access—in Louisiana and across the country—will turn reproductive health care into a right we cannot exercise.

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Of course, that’s the purpose of these restrictions. The same anti-choice politicians who want to protect the “unborn” couldn’t care less about the health and safety of children—especially children born to people of color. Politicians pretend that anti-abortion measures like Louisiana’s Act 620 will protect women, but a real concern for the welfare of women and children would require states like Louisiana to address the catastrophic maternal mortality and morbidity rates among Black women.

Louisiana is, by some rankings, the worst state for maternal mortality, with 72 deaths per 100,000 live births from 2013 to 2017, a rate on par with developing nations. For Black women, that rate rises to 112.2 deaths per 100,000 live births. And Louisiana is not alone. Everywhere in the country, the same politicians who oppose abortion also tend to oppose social safety net programs that support parents and children.

Many of the same politicians who talk about protecting women and “unborn babies” are the ones who cut access to health care, public assistance, education funding, housing programs, and employment opportunities. They attack our voting rights with oppressive laws and gerrymander districts to ensure that Black votes count less or are not counted at all.

We’re under attack, and we’re fighting back. We know that the only way to stop the assault on our rights is to continue to organize our communities, register voters, and hold politicians accountable. We are mobilizing to educate and activate every voter in our communities to get to the polls on Election Day.

We’re not going to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide our fate. Regardless of what the courts decide, we are drawing a line in the sand and will not step backward.

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