Abortion Restrictions Hurt Women of Color

Nikita Mhatre

Legislators and anti-abortion activists across the country are becoming increasingly explicit about their goal of overturning Roe v. Wade and prohibiting people from accessing abortion care. In 2019 alone, more than 300 abortion restrictions have been introduced in states across the country, and 14 states have introduced or enacted extremely restrictive laws that would ban abortion after six weeks — before many people even know they are pregnant. However, many women of color already live in a reality where they don’t have true access to affordable abortion care. That’s why for Minority Health Month this year, we want to recognize the disproportionate harm abortion restrictions cause women of color.

Due to factors such as structural racism and discrimination, women of color face rampant income inequality and are more likely to be covered by Medicaid as a result. They are therefore disproportionately impacted by the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds for abortion care in Medicaid. Similar funding restrictions limit the ability of Native Americans who receive care through the Indian Health Service from accessing abortion.

Explicit racism also creates barriers for women of color. For example, anti-abortion organizations have targeted Black women and Latinas with false and harmful rhetoric, claiming that "the most dangerous place for an African American/Latina is in the womb." And one of the main justifications for sex-selective abortion bans draws upon the racist stereotype that Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women decide to terminate pregnancies due to a preference for male children. Racist beliefs have no place in dictating who is able to access critical health care.

Anti-abortion proponents try to peddle the notion that women of color agree that abortion access should be further restricted, but recent polling from the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) and In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda shows this to be patently false. A majority of women of color believe it is extremely important for women to have complete authority to make decisions about their bodies and their lives. Furthermore, nine in 10 women of color believe that being able to control if, when and how to have children produces both individual and societal benefits.

Women of color’s access to abortion care is even more critical when considering the pervasive health disparities they face in comparison to white women. In nearly all aspects of reproductive health, women of color face poorer health outcomes than white women, from maternal mortality rates to endometrial and cervical cancer. Additionally, women of color, particularly Black women, frequently have negative experiences in the health care system due to institutionalized racism and a history of control, coercion and lack of bodily autonomy when it comes to their reproductive health and decision-making. Health care providers, and the system more broadly, must embrace a race equity approach to reduce these disparities.

Women of color already face layers of barriers in the way of accessing abortion care — these new restrictions only make it worse. They deserve more supportive policies that give them full autonomy in deciding if, when and how to become a parent, not bad medicine laws that further curtail their choices. Learn more at nationalpartnership.org/our-work/repro/.

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