This Roe V. Wade Birthday, We Must Consider Race
On September 1, 2021, the state of Texas passed a new abortion ban, threatening the basis of the landmark Supreme Court decision in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case. Senate Bill 8 (SB 8) Severely limits the ability of organizations such as Planned Parenthood to provide abortion care in Texas beyond six weeks of pregnancy, and sometimes even earlier – since state law depends on detecting this what lawmakers call a “fetus.” heartbeat.”
As champions of access to safe, legal and affordable abortion for every pregnant woman continue to fight this regressive law in court, a tottering and divided Supreme Court continues to hear arguments over the fate of the Roe decision. v. Wade. On December 1, 2021, the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization “challenges legal restrictions in Mississippi that place a burden on women seeking abortion services, including laws that demean, delay, and misinform women.” One of those restrictions included a 15-week abortion ban. In the landmark argument, the state of Mississippi is asking the Supreme Court to drop all previous rulings on abortion and return abortion legislation to the states.
States with concentrations of Black, Latino, and/or Indigenous populations — like Texas and Mississippi, with nearly 60% and 40% non-white communities, respectively — force us to consider the fate of those communities on the anniversary. This year’s Roe v Wade. Although abortion has been the law of the land for nearly 50 years, Black and Indigenous women remain historically disadvantaged when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“We know that regardless of what the Supreme Court does, abortion is a nominal right for many Blacks and Latinx people, as well as Asians and Native Americans. Abortion has been out of reach. for many of us, and we have seen restricted access for millions of people even before the current dismantling of abortion rights,” Jamesa Bailey, Planned Parenthood’s associate director for black campaigns, told POPSUGAR on Zoom.
The historic decision of Roe v. Wade, who affirmed access to safe and legal abortion as a constitutional right, failed to address the racial inequity and inequalities inherent in reproductive health care in the United States. Instead, Roe v. Wade would keep pointing that out.
“We have to consider poverty, language barriers, anti-immigration policies, racist criminalization, and the disproportionate mass incarceration of Blacks, Indigenous peoples, and Latinx people,” Bailey says. “It’s not something new for our communities. These are things that keep happening. And I think Roe’s birthday is a really good opportunity to magnify that.”
Bailey warns that despite what is looming politically, black and Indigenous people still face limited access to the legal right to a safe abortion in this country. In a recent Q&A with Jamesa Bailey on the fate of Roe v. Wade and Sexual and Reproductive Rights, we discuss his role at Planned Parenthood, issues for black and other marginalized communities, and the unspoken seriousness of the situation.
POPSUGAR: Tell me a bit about what you do at Planned Parenthood.
Jamesa Bailey: I’m the associate director of Black Campaigns. This basically means that I oversee our black organizing program, which is one of three constituency-based programs we have nationally. I’m on the same team as the Latinx organization and the Generation Action team that organizes youth on college campuses.
POPSUGAR: Why are campaigns or programs like the one you run important?
JB: We launched in February 2018 the need for a truly intentional way for the national office and affiliates of Planned Parenthood to engage and organize black communities. We knew black patients used and needed our services. We knew our supporter base, our patient advocates were black, and we wanted to put real funding, education, and intentionality behind organizing in black communities. We have been doing this for four years now.
POPSUGAR: What is the general modus operandi of your organization?
JB: I’ll start by saying that the program’s theory of change is that if we’re going to achieve reproductive freedom for everyone, in everything we do, we need to make sure there are three components. We always ensure that there is an organizing and advocacy component, an education component and a distribution of resources. We can’t just be here mobilizing people without letting them know about the education behind what they are organizing for.
POPSUGAR: Can you expand on some of the ways Planned Parenthood specifically affects black and brown communities?
JB: We have a lot of resources that many small organizations won’t always have, including a resource distribution element available in those communities. I’m going to highlight two specific things that our program does on a daily basis. First, our HBCU organizing program consistently does truly intentional work around reproductive health and justice. These young students at historically black colleges and universities are doing incredible things when it comes to civic engagement, and they are really driving policies that have a huge impact on sexual and reproductive health care for students on campus.
POPSUGAR: That’s nice to hear. And the other?
JB: So my favorite is our signature program, it’s called Shop Chat. In Shop Chats, we partner with Black-owned businesses and actually host community conversations on topics around reproductive health care. We had one recently at the Lip Bar in Detroit. They are very intimate; about 15 to 20 people. The audience is largely black, and we sit around talking about what’s going on. We discuss the direct impact of these issues on black communities. We talk about access or lack of access, and then we always introduce a patient storyteller who comes to share their story. We always end with a call to action because we really want to make sure people are inspired not only to attend our events, but also to create action around them.
POPSUGAR: What would you say in layman’s terms what’s going on right now in our country with regards to abortion laws and Roe vs. Wade?
JB: This is not an exercise. This is not an exercise. Abortion access is being dismantled as we speak. We note that the Supreme Court has clearly indicated that the constitutional right to abortion is no longer guaranteed and that the days of legal and accessible abortion across the country are numbered. It’s as clear as I can tell.
POPSUGAR: What about black immigrant and non-English speaking women and communities?
JB: Planned Parenthood is a strong advocate for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and education in Black, Latina, LGBTQ+, and immigrant communities who have historically been denied access to quality care. We serve our communities regardless of immigration status or language barriers and other things.
POPSUGAR: You’ve given us a nice plain-language synopsis of what’s really going on at the Supreme Court level. What are the stats or key takeaways as we enter 50 years of Roe v Wade?
JB: Abortion remains popular among Americans. 80% of people agree that abortion should remain safe and legal, and we want to make sure that we really let people and politicians know that the majority of people agree that safe and legal abortion should remain safe and legal. And I want to make sure you add numbers, because these are real people, these are our family, our friends and our colleagues, who will be denied a basic right to health care. Five million blacks, 5.7 million Latinx, 1.1 million Asians and nearly 340,000 Indigenous people of childbearing age are on the verge of losing access to abortion. Again, this is not an exercise. This is actively happening. Planned Parenthood has and will continue to have to fight to ensure that safe and legal abortion remains a vital part of American health care.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Image source: photo by Klaus Nielsen of Pexels