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While Black women may not unanimously agree about the legality or morality of abortion, the fact remains that they will be most impacted by the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“I’ll be damned if my children and the next generation have less access than myself.”
Amanda Brown Lierman is a Black mother of three, a doula, and the Executive Director at Supermajority, a voting advocacy hub created in 2017 to mobilize women across the country and defend women’s rights. Lierman, like many other women across the nation, felt gutted yet emboldened to fight like never before after the forecasted overturning of Roe v. Wade.
For nearly 50 years, abortions have been federally protected in the United States. Even with attempts to outlaw or restrict abortion access in various states, abortions have been relatively accessible for the last half-century. But that could soon change.
On the evening of May 3, a leaked Supreme Court draft written by Justice Samuel Alito sent shockwaves throughout the nation, as millions learned about the majority-conservative court’s plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. The nearly 100-page draft obtained by POLITICO would outlaw the landmark case, giving states the right to determine their own laws.
Although the legality of abortion has been framed as a binary of “pro-choice” or “pro-life,” there is a grey area for many Americans. The freedom to choose and the sanctity of life have been hot-button talking points debated for decades, with most people not taking an absolutist approach.
For Black women in particular — who account for the highest percent of people that get abortions in the country — the undoing of Roe v. Wade would impact them the greatest. Yet, Black women have an array of opinions when it comes to the legality and morality of abortions.
Adanna Newby is 24 and lives in Virginia. Although she doesn’t live in one of the 13 states that has trigger laws — laws that would automatically ban abortion in a state when it’s federally outlawed — she’s still concerned about the domino effect the ruling would have if Roe v. Wade no longer falls under the constitutional protection of Americans having a right to privacy.
“I think that does put a lot of the other landmark court decisions like interracial marriage, gay marriage, and right to contraception in jeopardy as well,” Newby said. “Even if they don’t go that route, I think all of those are fair game as well in the future.”
Newby said that if she were in the predicament of choosing whether to have an abortion or not, she would choose otherwise. Still, she believes that choice should be left up to each woman to make on her own.
“I do think that life does begin at conception. However, I don’t think that it would be right for me to impose my viewpoints on someone else,” she said. “I don’t think I would have any right to impart my own beliefs on them because I don’t know what is right for their life…I didn’t grow up religious. I just think that life is valuable and it also colors my perspective on the death penalty.”
Nearly 20% of U.S adults said that abortion should be legal in all cases with no exceptions. A 2021 survey from PEW Research Center shows that that percentage is even higher for Black U.S. adults, where 67% believe it should be legal in all or most cases.
Janet (who requested anonymity is using an alias) is one of those adults.
Janet attended an all-girls catholic school, where she recalled being taught that abortions were wrong but never how it actually works. Even in grade school, she didn’t align with her teacher’s beliefs that the fetus was a child at that stage, instead believing it was “just a clump of cells.”
Now a 24-year-old pro-choice advocate, she’s scared for what the future may hold for women in the country.
“A lot of people are using examples of people being raped or incest, but women should have the right to an abortion regardless,” Janet said. “It shouldn’t have to be ‘Oh, this person was raped so they should get an abortion.’ If someone doesn’t want a child for whatever reason, they should have access to abortion.”
Less than 10 percent of U.S. adults believe that abortions should be illegal in every case. Diane (who also requested anonymity and is using an alias) has been teaching science abroad for the last seven years in the United Arab Emirates. Although she was raised to attend church when she lived in the states, the sermons in Dubai — which were less focused on personal desires and more about denying yourself — is where she truly became a Christian, which influences the 32-year-old’s decision to be pro-life.
“Where’s the value of life? Are you saying that these people don’t deserve to live because they have a certain income? Are you saying that this mother shouldn’t reproduce because she hasn’t been in this position?” Diane said. “Who’s making the deciding factor over whose life is well and whose life is not valuable? Are we thinking if you’re in poverty don’t reproduce? Nowhere in scripture, the Lord doesn’t say you don’t deserve to live because you are here, and these people deserve to live because they are there.”
Religion heavily influences personal opinions on abortion. Judaism and Islam prioritize the life of the mother over the child. Eighty-three percent of those who practice Judaism and 55 percent of Muslims believe that abortions should be legal in all or most cases, according to a survey from Pew Research Center. Catholic and Protestant Christians however largely make up the pro-life category.
Diane’s one exception is for women that receive emergency contraception following a rape. She believes this is standard procedure for rape kits and believes it’s okay. But contrary to popular belief, this isn’t always standard procedure. In eight of the 11 states, the ACLU surveyed less than 40 percent of emergency care facilities provided rape victims with emergency contraception. However, 10 states have passed laws requiring victims to receive emergency contraception.
In addition to rape and incest, the health and safety of the mother is often an exception for those that otherwise take a pro-life stance. But for pregnant Black women, their health has historically been neglected in the United States, starting with enslaved Black mothers being forced to neglect their own health to tend to their slave owners’ children, having their babies stripped from their arms, and separating families in the process. Black women haven’t always had the option to choose, and those that deliberately carry their children to full term and birth them, they’re still facing medical negligence and discrimination.
The United States is ranked 10 globally as having the highest GDP per capita and is one of the most developed and industrialized countries. Yet, the maternal mortality rate for Black women is over three times that of non-Hispanic white women. And with the federal overturning of Roe v. Wade, these disparities could widen.
“There are a lot of inequities that present themselves through the healthcare system,” Lierman said. “Women of color are going through our healthcare system, and they don’t see a lot of people that look like them. They are certainly not advocates for them. There’s little research on what happens to people of color during the experience, and so that has created sort of this ripple effect and just a really sad reality.”
While Black women may not unanimously agree about the legality or morality of abortion, the fact remains that they will be most impacted by changes in access to them. The striking down of Roe v. Wade will be a watershed moment that exacerbates health disparities for Black women and will consequently impact their communities.
“[Roe v. Wade] is also the floor to women’s rights and to the protections that women should have in this country,” Lierman said. “I organized a Mother’s Day protest at the Supreme Court on Sunday morning because this is such a generational fight. My grandmother fought for this, my mother fought for this and for my three young girls it breaks my heart that they would grow up in a world where they have fewer rights or access to the healthcare that I myself had.”
Sierra Lyons is a recent graduate of Florida A&M University and freelance journalist covering race, justice, politics, Christianity and the intersection of all four. She has over six years of experience in the field as a writer, editor and fact-checker. Twitter: @sierra_298