By Alexis McGill Johnson
This week’s leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft was shocking but not surprising. The writing has been on the wall, in big bold letters, for years. The Court confirmed the authenticity of a draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eviscerate abortion access in the United States. Overturning Roe would be an unprecedented travesty. And in the midst of our rage, sorrow, and exhaustion, we must wrestle with yet another question: what does this moment mean specifically for Black people, when the laws of this land have so often been intended to control our bodies?
Racial justice and reproductive rights are, and have always been, inseparable. Anti-abortion zealots weaponize our bodies for their ends. When I started working in academia and racial justice, I never thought it would lead to abortion rights. But one day over a decade ago, I was walking down a street in Manhattan and saw a cute Black girl on a billboard. I got closer, and saw the words underneath her read, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” I was livid and I wanted to do something about it. I wanted the dignity and humanity of Black women to not just be at the table, but running the table. I joined the Planned Parenthood Federation of America board of directors that year and became president in 2020.
This week, I read a draft decision of a sitting justice of the Supreme Court striking down the constitutional right to abortion citing the same absurd, racist reasoning as that billboard. He used fancier words and more of them, but his point is exactly the same: Black women cannot be trusted with the right to control their own bodies—the state must do it for them. Gaslighting, racism, and controlling pregnant people’s bodies: they are all part of the same terrible plan.
While the enemies of reproductive freedom use Black bodies to strip freedoms, it is Black people that suffer the worst consequences of abortion restrictions and bans. For too many Black and Brown people in the U.S., abortion is already a right in name alone. Getting an abortion may require hours or days of travel time, days off from work or school, childcare arrangements, navigating unsafe home situations, and money. Any or all of these factors may force a person to carry an unwanted pregnancy.
And in the United States, pregnancy carries particular risks for Black people. Structural racism means we are at a significantly greater risk of dying or suffering severe complications during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.
Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous, and queer people have always been central to the fight for reproductive freedom, even when their voices and needs were not centered. And sometimes, that’s not how Planned Parenthood has acted. By centering whiteness, we’ve contributed to America’s harm of Black women and other women of color.
Now, we’ve been striving to change that. We recognize that when we fight for abortion access, we fight for so much more. We fight all barriers to bodily autonomy, including systemic racism, policing, immigration enforcement, and more. We provide all cis women, trans women, femmes, and non-binary people the care, education, and information they need to make healthy decisions about their bodies, families, and communities. And we support 49 Planned Parenthood affiliates running health centers across the country as they adjust to changes in their states, whether it is a new ban on abortion care or surges of patients coming from across state lines.
I know Black people are exhausted. It’s been a long 400 years. But this is what we do. When you are ready, I need you to draw on your own well of strength and inspiration and join––rejoin––Planned Parenthood in this fight. Donate to abortionfunds.org to help those most in need. And join Planned Parenthood organizations across the country on May 14 (and beyond!) for a demonstration of our collective outrage on the attacks on abortion nationwide, and call for an end to abortion bans.
Together, we will refuse to surrender control of our bodies and our futures. We will ensure everyone, everywhere can access abortion and make the decisions that are right for themselves.
Alexis McGill Johnson is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
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