Abortion in Virginia must be protected

7/14/2022, 6 p.m.
If you are a Black or Brown woman who is pregnant, living in Virginia, and want the right to become …

If you are a Black or Brown woman who is pregnant, living in Virginia, and want the right to become a parent, congratulations.

Despite the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which for 49 years conferred the right for American women to have an abortion, you are fortunate to still have bodily autonomy. You can choose whether or not you want to have a baby — for now.

However, that could change with a swing of the political pendulum in the direction of conservative, Pro-Life policies. In Virginia, the right for a woman to choose must be protected.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it turned its back on a nearly five-decade precedent and eliminated a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in this country. While abortion itself is not illegal, abortion laws are now under control of the states and those state legislatures have the power to determine how broad or restrictive the laws will be. Upon the high court’s ruling, some wasted no time in tightening the reins.

The states with the tightest restrictions often have higher minority populations than others and often have the worst maternal health outcomes. Why? Black women facing difficulties during pregnancy and delivery are often not heard or believed by their doctors when they voice concerns.

Why? Because many doctors believe the false stereotype that Black women have higher pain thresholds than women of other populations. As a result, Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you have heard professional tennis star Serena Williams tell her story about giving birth to her daughter, you know that even with her level of fame, wealth, athleticism and access to high-end health care, she faced this inherent bias and almost died.

This makes the right to an abortion a racial justice issue. And turning over Roe v. Wade is a way to control women, especially minority women.

America’s obsession with using and wanting to control Black women and their bodies is nothing new. Exploitation of the Black female body has included their sexual abuse when Black women were enslaved, demands that new Black mothers use their breast milk to feed the slave master’s white babies, and Black women’s bodies being sold to reconcile debt.

Even in death, Black women have been denied the right to decide what happens to their bodies. The 2010 book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” details how Henrietta Lacks’ “HeLa” cells were used, without her or her family’s knowledge or consent, to advance research in science and health.

Sarah Baartman was a slave in the early 19th century whose body parts were on display in museums until 1974; her remains were finally laid to rest in 2002.

According to Planned Parenthood, in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota and Texas, abortion is now banned. Thirteen states have “trigger laws” that immediately went into effect to ban or severely restrict abortion access. In other states, access is severely restricted. Health experts indicate this reality will disproportionately impact minority women and potentially compromise their mental and physical health.

Knowing this, and how Black women’s bodies have been used and exploited in the past, how do we protect and preserve their health?

Soon after the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, Richmond City Council unanimously voted to support abortion rights for residents within the city limits. Now city leaders are calling upon the General Assembly to take several steps to strengthen those rights, including an amendment to the state constitution that defines abortion as a protected right.

Despite protections under state laws and further support at the municipal level, the major divide between conservatives and liberals, and the fact that Virginia has a Republican governor are cause for concern. A continuation of abortion rights in Virginia is not guaranteed.

Pro-choice advocates in Richmond insist that now is not the time to be complacent. A woman’s right to choose in the Commonwealth must be protected, and participation from people in our communities is key.

We must show up at demonstrations, call our legislators and make sure that we vote to protect Black women’s health and abortion rights in Virginia.