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In Matters of Abortion, the Personal Is Political, Especially for Women of Color

Posted on May 1, 2014

By Sonali Kolhatkar

(Page 2)

Ross’ conclusions are not far-fetched within today’s heavily racialized national context that includes legal attacks from the conservative wing of the Supreme Court against the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action, and racist comments by prominent older white conservative men such as Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling. Ross said, “Obviously the racists have decided they have new license to come out of the closet with their rage over the Democratic demographic as well as political changes with the election of President Obama. We’ve just seen so much of the naked racism of the right. And let’s be clear—this racism has never gone anywhere. They’re stoking up resentment of the Civil Rights Act, resentment towards affirmative action, towards the women’s movements, toward gay rights, towards immigrants.” Indeed, the four staunchly conservative Supreme Court justices (Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and John Roberts) who recently voted to preserve a Michigan ballot measure against affirmative action are all also opposed to women’s reproductive rights.

Women of color face disproportionately greater reproductive health challenges compared with white women, particularly in terms of death during childbirth, premature birth, lower birth weight and a higher rate of unintended pregnancies. Much of this can be attributed to a lack of access to contraception, prenatal care and routine reproductive health screenings. Most clinics that provide abortions also offer low-cost reproductive health care that women of color rely on. The right-wing push to shut down every last abortion clinic has a very real impact on poor women of color living in states such as Texas and Mississippi.

In an arena that is increasingly closing off options for women of all races, the outcome of criminalized or inaccessible abortion is grim. The fact is, according to Ross, “women are incredibly determined to choose their reproductive options for themselves,” and “all this legislation will drive women into more desperate and dangerous options.” She cited cases of “teenagers trying to throw themselves down the stairs to induce miscarriage,” women who “have been known to drink all number of poisonous concoctions to try to induce abortions” or “have someone punch them in the stomach” to try to end a pregnancy.

These nausea-inducing scenarios hit home as I recalled a childhood friend who once panicked about a pregnancy and went on a dangerous smoking and drinking binge until she miscarried. Most women can relate to such stories, either about ourselves or about friends and family members who have been in desperate need of safe reproductive health care. 


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I wondered what would have happened to my visiting friend had I not been able to take her to the Planned Parenthood clinic in my city. Would she have been stuck in a miserable marriage, resented her child or, worse, tried a dangerous method of self-induced abortion?

Both my friends are women of color who were in situations in which discreet, quick, safe and accessible abortions were not available to them in their own communities. In light of the current attacks on abortion, how real is the fear that the entire United States may someday be a reflection of Mississippi and Texas?

Thankfully there are some bright spots. A recent review of legislation related to reproductive health has found that dozens of bills supporting women’s rights and expanding access to abortion were introduced this year as countermeasures to the slew of anti-choice laws.

Even Ross was hopeful, telling me that despite the grim picture it is too late for the nation to go back to the days before Roe v. Wade. “The toothpaste is out of the tube right now,” she said, and “just because they want to push us into the 19th century, there’s no reason for us to go there. We’re going to take charge of our bodies and our lives.”

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