In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda believes that the decision about whether to become a parent, when and under what circumstances is a deeply personal decision best left to a woman. It is important that all women are able to make their own decisions about when and whether to become a parent.
Examining State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care
Written Statement of Marcela Howell, Founder and President
In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda
Committee on Oversight and Reform, United States House of Representatives
November 14, 2019
The 1973, landmark United States Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade gave all women the right to obtain a safe and legal abortion. The Roe case challenged a Texas law prohibiting all but lifesaving abortions.
Having the legal right to an abortion does not necessarily mean that you have access to that right. Since 1976, Congress has restricted the use of federal dollars from being used to cover the cost of abortion services for poor women.
The Supreme Court famously invalidated the law in 1973 on the ground that the constitutional right to privacy encompasses a woman’s decision whether or not to continue her pregnancy. Characterizing this right as ‘fundamental’ to a woman’s ‘life and future,’ the Court held that the state could not interfere with the abortion decision unless it had a compelling reason. Moreover, the Court concluded that a state could ban abortion only once the fetus became ‘viable’ (usually at the beginning of the last trimester of pregnancy), and even then a woman had to have access to an abortion if it were necessary to preserve her life or health.
Since Roe, anti-abortion legislators and organizations have successfully placed numerous restrictions on the right to obtain an abortion, including funding, 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent and notification laws and vaginal ultrasound requirements.
Why It Matters
We believe that bodily autonomy and empowerment are at the core of Black women’s rights to obtain safe and legal abortions. Indeed, in a recent poll, 85 percent of Black women and men agreed to the statement “when it comes to abortion, we should trust Black women to make the important personal decisions that are best for themselves and their families.” This statement had agreement across gender, age, education, and political ideology, including 82 percent of self-identified conservatives and 81 percent of respondents who identified themselves as being very religious.
Trusting Black women to make their own decisions about their own bodies is critical to advancing Reproductive Justice. Pre-Roe configurations that place that decision in the hands of “a woman and her doctor,” or “a woman and her spouse” or “a woman and her minister” may have temporary political saliency, but they ignore the historical oppression associated with Black women’s lives when it comes to controlling our reproductive health. Additionally, Black women have been the target of a number of disrespectful and racist campaigns by the anti-abortion organizations.
Having the legal right to an abortion does not necessarily mean that you have access to that right. Since 1976, Congress has restricted the use of federal dollars from being used to cover the cost of abortion services for poor women. This means that women who receive their health care from government-funded programs such as Medicaid are denied access to safe and legal abortions.
For more than 38 years, conservative policy makers have punished low-income women by denying them the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Whether a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy or carry a pregnancy to term and raise a child or chooses adoption, should be left up to the individual woman. Medicaid coverage should not be left up to lawmakers.
At In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, we believe that abortion services are part of a continuum of reproductive health care that all women should have access to as basic health care. In our poll, 76 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “health insurance should cover abortion to ensure that when a woman needs to end her pregnancy she will be able to seek a licensed, quality health care provider.”
We will work to restore public insurance coverage so that every woman – regardless of income – can access affordable and safe abortion care when she needs it.