Ban or Death Sentence? How Anti-Abortion Laws Criminalize Black Women the Most
Last week, Alabama passed a shocking piece of legislation criminalizing abortion from the moment a woman knows she is pregnant. Doctors who continue to perform the procedure could face up to 99 years in prison. This is the nation’s most restrictive abortion law. There were 25 “yes” votes cast by 25 senators. Check out their photos below!
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White men making decisions for women about what they can do with their bodies is nothing new—lawmakers in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Utah have all recently passed anti-abortion legislation.
As white women, we also have a role in suppressing reproductive freedoms, as evidenced by Governor Kay Ivey’s shameful support of the ban. Interestingly enough, the law was introduced by another white woman—State Representative Terri Collins.
We must call it like it is—the state of Alabama is using this legislation as a new means of promoting racism and white supremacy.
The United States has a long history of controlling the reproductive rights of Black women. Before 1865, it is estimated that 58% of all enslaved women aged 15–30 years were sexually assaulted by slave owners and other white men. In the early to mid-20th century, Black women were sterilized by the US government and doctors without their consent.
Today, Black mothers in the U.S. are dying at three times the rate of white mothers. At the same time, Black women are especially vulnerable to the criminalization of their pregnancies. In Mississippi, Latice Fisher, a young Black woman, was charged with the death of her baby after a stillbirth at her home in 2017.
She is not alone. In Arkansas, Keysheonna Reed gave birth to twins, both which were also stillborn. Afraid of facing legal consequences, she panicked and placed the bodies in a suitcase. The bodies were found, and Keysheonna was charged with two counts of abuse of a corpse, a felony in Arkansas with a maximum sentence of ten years in prison. Her bail was set at $50,000, almost twice the per capita income of most members of her community.
Some anti-abortion activists advocate for personhood, a concept which protects fetuses (at conception) as people under the Constitution. If personhood becomes accepted under law, then miscarriages and basic forms of birth control—including the morning after pill—could be considered illegal. We have seen lawmakers repeatedly attempt to incorporate personhood into federal and state legislation, including in a proposed version of President Trump’s tax bill that was passed by Congress in 2017. These laws, snuck into even the most basic framework of our country, strive to legitimize the case for abortion bans while simultaneously seeking to criminalize the women who will suffer most.
This latest ban in Alabama creates fear—fear in those who already have limited access to healthcare and other services. Instead of placing bans on abortions and criminalizing miscarriages, we should preserve the sanctity of all women’s bodies, but especially Black bodies that already face the greatest risks, and give them access to basic healthcare and economic opportunity.
For too long, Black women have been used as pawns in the ongoing political battle over abortion. It’s time to put a stop to this. Our elected officials were put into power to protect the rights of the people. However, they have consistently betrayed the trust the American public has instilled in them. We are beyond the point of simply holding our elected officials accountable. As communications professionals, we must not only fight for the health of every woman, but tell the stories of those who have the most at stake.