Florida’s 15 week abortion ban is an unconscionable assault on the women of Florida, especially following the overturn of Roe v. Wade that already strips millions of people of the freedom to make basic decisions that should be theirs alone.
I’m a pro-life Black woman, a mother, a grandmother and an elder in my community. When people struggling with personal decisions ask me for advice, I try to put myself in their shoes rather than dictating that they make the same decision I did.
A friend once asked me my opinion about her daughter having an abortion. She was pregnant with twins. One fetus was not developing and endangering the other by siphoning nutrients from the healthier fetus. The mother’s health was not at risk, she had good access to prenatal care and a supportive family, but she was uncertain about the health of the twins given the situation. I advised her to continue the pregnancy if there was no immediate danger to the mother. Ultimately, the pregnant daughter gave birth to both babies but only one survived. That woman could have spared herself the death of her baby by making a different decision, but today she might not have had that option.
Extremist judges on the U.S. Supreme Court took away women’s freedom to decide for themselves whether or not they will have children by overturning Roe v. Wade, which provided this Constitutional protection to make private health care decisions for nearly 50 years. In states that don’t have their own laws protecting abortion access and rights, women can no longer decide to end a pregnancy even if they think–for whatever reason–that abortion is the right option for them. And, in Florida, abortion after 15 weeks–when it’s often too early to even know anything is wrong–is banned by the state. The ban is being challenged in court.
Given my religious views, I never considered abortion personally. But my religion doesn’t dictate that everyone else has to agree. My faith is rooted in compassion and tolerance, not judgment and condemnation. God’s grace enables me to respect the reality that each person must make moral decisions for themselves and reconcile with their own conscience, just as I did. Secular laws should do the same.
If my friend’s daughter needed an abortion to protect her life or that of a fetus, I would trust her judgment better than someone outside the situation who will not bear the consequences of that decision. Individuals are better equipped to make decisions about their own bodies and lives than anyone on the Supreme Court or anyone in elected office.
Black women descended from African slaves and brought to these shores involuntarily didn’t have the same “rights” and “choices” about reproductive healthcare as their white counterparts. Historically, Black women’s bodies were treated as commodities to be traded, bought, sold and used for work, childbirth and experimentation, largely to enrich whites. The impact of this legacy has persisted for generations, despite progress. The nation has had many opportunities to work toward eradicating these disparities, but too many elected leaders and now, their appointed Supreme Court judges, are taking us backward instead of forward.
Black women and girls still face more barriers to healthcare, including abortion, than white women. Even when Black women have coverage, their health outcomes are more negative than whites. The maternal mortality rate for Black women is 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020, nearly three times higher than the rate for white women, and the infant mortality rate for black families is 10.6 per 1,000 births, nearly double the overall rate for the U.S.
Black people are less likely to have access to affordable healthcare. In Florida, 425,000 people are in the Medicaid coverage gap because state Republicans refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Half are women and a disproportionate number, over a quarter, are Black. That means that many Black women don’t even have basic preventive care that could provide birth control, regular reproductive exams and other care that women of reproductive age need.
Even with Medicaid, many women can’t access abortion. While Medicaid pays for birth control, family, prenatal and maternity care, it doesn’t pay for abortion services. The nearly 1.4 million women covered by Medicaid in Florida must pay out of pocket to receive abortion care.
The role of elected leaders is to ensure that public policy provides a meaningful opportunity for everyone to decide for themselves whether to have a family or not to have one, not to dictate what those decisions will be and deny individuals control over their own destinies. Congress must act to ensure everyone has the freedom and the means to decide what’s right for them no matter what they look like or where they live.
Jaunita is a member of the Florida Black Women’s Roundtable, an HCAN partner in Florida. She serves as the Co-Chairperson of the Brevard County Black Women’s Roundtable, a component of the Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation. The Florida Coalition envisions a nation in which all people, from youth to seniors, have the tools to participate fully in the democratic process at the local, state, national and global level. She is also a member of the National Congress of Black Women Space Coast Chapter and active with the League of Women Voters.