The Supreme Court ruling announced on Friday, June 24 was the beginning of shift in abortion access for women in over half of the states across the country. While emotions run high on both sides of the decision, the issue of maternal and infant mortality looms large for Black women. Due to the ban on abortion, there is an increased threat on Black lives during birth.
For the last five years, the Center for Disease Control has reported that Black women are almost four times more likely to die during or immediately after childbirth than any other race. Many of the reasons for this are due to lack of quality healthcare, systemic and interpersonal racism, and racial implicit bias of providers. Even though there has been an increase in education on this issue and the access to supports such as doulas to improve these rates, the overturn of Roe has once again put Black women in jeopardy.
The court’s decision is systemic oppression. It means forced birth for many who did not have the means or the ability to carry and raise a child. It means medical threat of those who need an abortion for a fetus who died inside the womb. But for Black women, it means increased threats of racism. The undue stress from daily microaggressions is a precursor to medical issues that can contribute to low infant birth weight and even maternal death. And medical risk is another layer of racism that will continue to work against those in need of a medically necessary abortion.
Allow me to paint a picture. When a Black mother goes into a doctor’s office, she usually enters with a fear of not being believed or heard about anything abnormal about her body. This is due to provider bias and the implicit belief that Black women are combatant and defiant in their own healthcare. With this fear as a baseline concern of Black mothers, it only gets worse when a mother fears there is something wrong with the fetus and her pregnancy. Panic sets in. She is at risk because any doctor who has determined she is overexaggerating is also determining the fate of her carrying to term. They determine the fate of her medical need. For the Black mother, she not only does not have a choice about her own body, but now that lack of choice is being scrutinized and judged by those who have decided she’s not worth listening to. The overturn of Roe has now made it easier for providers to do less to save mothers, especially Black mothers who have been crying out for help for centuries only for their voices to be silenced.
This post-Roe world is terrifying for so many birthing bodies. It is filled with uncertainty for access to abortion in codified states that will be overrun with appointments and out-of-state residents fleeing for hope. But the biggest violation of rights is the perpetuation of racism, low quality healthcare and providers for Black women forced to birth and at risk of death for high-risk pregnancies. I shudder to see the rates of maternal mortality in the upcoming years. This is another day that systems that oppress work hard to silence Black lives.