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Roe V. Wade – The Racial and Economic Issues Within 

Merissa Kovach of the American Civil Liberties Union, Michigan, left, and Shanay Watson-Whittaker of Michigan Voices, right.

The potential to overturn the historic Supreme Court ruling on reproductive rights, Roe v. Wade, has sparked both outrage and support from opposing sides. The leak from the United States Supreme Court has shown a very real attack on a woman’s right to choose and has left many feeling the sacred 1973 decision will soon be met with anti-abortion laws and regulations.

As the world becomes well aware of the social and moral ramifications of the potential overturn, a new light is being shed on the debate. Some states, including Michigan, are now working to ensure women’s rights remain intact. Though all women can be impacted, Black women and other women of color are expected to suffer the consequences at a higher rate than their white counterparts. With medical access limited and trust waning, the world waits to see what the Supreme Court will decide and the domino effect it will have on communities of color.

“It very much intersects with the control of the bodies of all marginalized people. The end game here is to ensure that folks who are most marginalized — Black people, people of color, women [who] don’t have full autonomy over their bodies and can’t fully exercise all of their choices and that they can’t tap into their full economic potential – [that they reach] their full potential in education and have full bodily autonomy,” said Merissa Kovach, policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black mothers are three times more likely to die in childbirth than any other demographic. Black women are also predisposed to endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome and fibroids. This, in combination with racial disparities in healthcare, could lead to elevated infant mortality rates for Black mothers. Criminally, African Americans and other people of color also stand the risk of higher rates of prosecution should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

“We know who this directly impacts and dealing with the criminal justice system that we do and people of color, specifically Black people, do we want to go back to criminalizing abortion services and reproductive access? We would be impacted the most by it,” said Shanay Watson-Whittaker, director of Strategic Partnerships for Michigan Voices.

Economically, Black families remain a hard-hit demographic as the country continues to adjust to inflation rates and the rising cost of living due to the pandemic. Now, an infant formula shortage has caused the country to struggle with feeding their children. As pressures mount, the economic responsibility of child-rearing will present a growing strain on families with ripple effects felt across many households. For families already finding it difficult to meet economic thresholds, unplanned pregnancies have the potential to tip the scales.

“Contraceptive care, access to contraceptives; this is becoming an economic issue for many people. Contraceptive care and access to reproductive services, for many of us, is an issue that we deal with every day. Many of us are living from paycheck to paycheck. What does that mean for us long term? Many of us are taking care of multiple generations of family members and being the chief provider,” said Watson-Whittaker. “This is an economic issue that we all need to seriously think about and consider in the next few days.”

For many, fear of the coming days has begun to settle in. Should the U.S Supreme Court decide to overturn the historic decision, many wonder what other rights could soon be reversed.

“With the criminal justice system and how it starkly impacts Black people, I’m worried about that (reversal of other laws). Other rights that are at stake — LBGTQIA rights, that’s gay marriages at stake as well. Some people are talking about Loving v. Virginia; interracial marriage, even though we have a Supreme Court Justice who’s in an interracial marriage,” said Watson-Whittaker.

Across the country, advocacy groups are banding together to help prevent the overturn of Roe v. Wade. In Michigan, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Michigan Voices have begun gathering signatures for Reproductive Freedom for All, a proposal that would amend the state’s constitution allowing all women the right to make reproductive decisions, including birth control, without the interference of government.

“This initiative we have in place protects reproductive rights for all Michiganders. The goal is to make sure all people have access to reproductive care no matter where they live, no matter their social identities, but to also have protections in place that protect people from discrimination as well as give people the right to have children when they want to and if they do decide to have children, that they have access to prenatal and postnatal care,” said Watson-Whittaker.

Recently, the state experienced a major victory on behalf of women as the Michigan Court of Claims granted a preliminary injunction to Planned Parenthood of Michigan that would halt the 1931 abortion ban in the case that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Named as a defendant, Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel has declined to appeal the order set forth by Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher.

“This injunction is a victory for the millions of Michigan women fighting for their rights. The judge acted quickly in the interest of bodily integrity and personal freedom to preserve this important right and found a likelihood of success in the state law being found unconstitutional. I have no plans to appeal and will comply with the order to provide notice to all state and local officials under my supervision,” said Nessel in a press statement.

Though seen as a victory, the fight continues for female reproductive rights in Michigan and across the country. In the days to come, the highest court in the land will hand down its final decision. As the country waits, only time will tell the verdict.

 

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