As Oklahoma and Idaho enact abortion restrictions, Black women will suffer the most

April 13, 2022, 5:57 PM UTC

On April 12, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill that makes it a felony—punishable by up to 10 years in prison—to perform an abortion, excluding cases where there is a high risk of pregnancy-related death. The bill is just the latest example of the steady rise in restrictive measures across the U.S. that limit women’s access to abortions, especially for Black women, who are five times more likely to have an abortion than their white counterparts

“States that enact restrictions on abortion access are not interested in supporting families, but rather in controlling the reproductive lives of women and birthing people—especially Black women and other people of color,” said Kamyon Conner, executive director of Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund, a reproductive justice nonprofit.

In 2021, over 100 anti-abortion bills that restrict or ban abortions were passed in 19 states, a record since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights’ 2021 Legislative Wrap-up Report. Now in 2022, politicians have filed over 300 anti-abortion rights bills in 41 states as of Februrary. In March, at least three states passed anti-abortion laws, including Idaho where a six-week abortion ban will take effect on the 22nd of April despite most women not knowing they’re pregnant until weeks four through seven of pregnancy, and sometimes much later

Challenges regarding Black women’s reproductive autonomy

Studies show that free birth control leads to reduced abortion rates, making the argument that contraceptive equity is crucial for reducing the rate that women—especially low-income ones—have abortions. Yet, Black women specifically are more likely to live in “contraception deserts,” with limited access to effective birth control methods—like condoms and oral contraceptives. Also, Black women are more likely to have less exposure to adequate sexual education which is a key factor in preventing unwanted pregnancies, which are more common in women from minority groups

Abortion prevalence in the Black community vs. other demographics

In Southern states with restrictive abortion policies like Georgia, and Mississippi, the majority of the women seeking legal abortion services are Black. 

In Georgia, 32.6% of the population is Black, yet Black women represent 65% of the women getting abortions. In comparison, white and Hispanic women account for 21% and 9% respectively. While in Mississippi—a state with a single abortion clinicBlack people are 37.8% of the population, and Black women account for 74% of those recieving abortions. White and Hispanic women, however, account for 20% and 3% respectively.

Abortion bans disadvantage Black women because of added expenses

Privileged women with access to childcare, a vehicle, and work flexibility can circumvent incredibly restrictive abortion rules in their state—like the Texas “heartbeat” abortion law—by traveling to another one. But this type of access is not equal among women of all races. 

“Even with Roe, abortion access has never been truly accessible to folks working to make ends meet,” Conner told Fortune. 

Similarly to how Black women are nearly three times more likely to forego prescription medicine than white men because they cannot afford it, they are also more likely not to have the financial resources to afford out-of-state travel for a time-sensitive abortion. In most states, the most popular age subset of women seeking abortions was ages 20 to 29, and for Black women, that’s the time when they are most likely to be earning the least amount of income. Black women aged 20 to 29 earned a meager median wage of $20,436 annually, from 2018 to 2019, while their white counterparts earned 26% more, citing to the Social Security Administration

Given the wage disparity, Black women will likely have the most difficulty traveling out-of-state to terminate pregnancies. An additional barrier to out-of-state travel is the inaccessibility of PTO—paid time off—for Black workers. Many abortion clinics have business hours during the work week and coordinating an out-of-state road trip during a workday means losing money for a sizable portion of Black women—more than 40% of Black Americans do not have access to paid sick days. 

Limiting abortion access has Black maternal health consequences

States with more abortion restrictions have been proven to have higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. States with more restrictive abortion policies also tend to have fewer supportive policies in place for parenting people and their families, according to Conner. Abortion bans affect Black women, in particular, because carrying an unintended or unwanted pregnancy to term means exposing yourself to the rampant medical malpractice that is endangering expecting Black mothers. 

“Restrictions on abortion care have far reaching consequences both deepening existing inequities and worsening health outcomes for pregnant people and people giving birth,” noted Conner. “For example, women who were denied abortion care are more likely to experience high blood pressure and other serious medical conditions during the end of pregnancy; more likely to remain in relationships where interpersonal violence is present; more likely to experience anxiety and stress shortly after being denied care; and more likely to experience poverty.” 

Black women are more than four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women in the UK and three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women in the United States. Additionally, when it comes to racial inequalities in health, the infant mortality rate for Black babies is twice that for whites.

“There is nothing more unsafe than being pregnant and Black,” Makeeba McCreary, president of New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, told Fortune. “The public accounts by some of the world’s most famous Black mothers and the pandemic have helped create greater awareness of the maternal health crisis.” 

Organizations funding access to maternal and reproductive care for Black women 

There are organizations trying to do their part to resolve the Black maternal health crisis such as the Texas Equal Access (TEA) Fund, which provides funding to low-income people in the northern region of Texas who are seeking abortion.

“The false and hypocritical framing of anti-abortion policies as “pro-life” and “pro-woman” is diametrically opposed to the lack of funding support for people who carry their pregnancies to term and parent their children—especially Black and Brown women and birthing people, and those struggling to make ends meet,” Conner told Fortune.

By providing abortion access to women who would have otherwise been able to receive such procedures, the TEA fund is aiding women of all races with reclaiming their reproductive autonomy. The fund offers grants that are $300 on average to women facing barriers to safe and equitable reproductive care. 

Intentional family planning positively affects Black women because it allows them to create the families and communities that allow them to thrive, according to Conner.

“Abortion is health care, and is an incredibly safe procedure,” said Conner. “Every person should be able to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, free of interference from politicians, including implementation of draconian federal and state laws.” 

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