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How the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade will alter the lives of women of color

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: People protest in response to the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Court's decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case and erases a federal right to an abortion. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: People protest in response to the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Court's decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case and erases a federal right to an abortion. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Women are already going to great lengths to find safe abortion services.

“The number of patients that are traveling from out of state to get care in Georgia. So Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama,” Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director at Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta, says. “Most recently, we have seen patients traveling from as far as Texas.”

But unlike the 1970s, today, those patients are more likely to be women of color who are already mothers.

“Most people who have abortions already have children, so their lives will be upended by the idea that they can’t access health care in their community,” Fatima Goss Graves says, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, says.

Determining if and when to become mothers shapes everything in these women’s lives.

“How you stand economically, how you are able to shape your day to day life. How you retire. Whether you are able to retire with dignity,” Goss Graves says.

Today, On Point: How the Supreme Court is changing the lives of women of color.

Guests

Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director at Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta. (@superkwa)

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. Co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. (@FGossGraves)

Janai Nelson, president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense Fund. (@JNelsonLDF)

Also Featured

Ni’aisha, mother of four in Georgia.

Transcript: Highlights From The Show

NI’AISHA: I felt like death. And I remember actually praying one time that if I was able to go to sleep, that I wouldn’t wake up again.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: This is Ni’aisha. She and her husband live in Georgia.

NI’AISHA: So about two years ago, when my daughter was a year old, when my husband and I found out that I was pregnant again. And we were both excited and we wanted to have another child, but I was sick.

CHAKRABARTI: Ni’aisha was having grave difficulty carrying the pregnancy this time around. It threatened her health.

NI’AISHA: I was severely dehydrated. I couldn’t eat or drink. Sometimes I couldn’t even sleep.

CHAKRABARTI: She could barely get out of bed. Ni’aisha says that meant that her family’s welfare was also at risk.

NI’AISHA: I was the primary caretaker for my children because my husband works 12 to 16 hour days, and I was sick all the time. And so sometimes I would go to sleep and be angry when I woke up, because I would wake up so sick. And my six year old son was frustrated because he had to help take care of his younger siblings. And it wasn’t fair to him to have this responsibility when he wasn’t even old enough to take care of himself.

CHAKRABARTI: Every woman who seeks an abortion does so for her own deeply personal reasons. But many, many women are like Ni’aisha. According to the CDC, almost 60% of patients who seek abortions are women of color. Half live at or below the poverty line, and 60% are already mothers. Mothers like Ni’aisha. She and her husband have four children. Another child was stillborn. She had a history of complications and high risk pregnancies.

NI’AISHA: When I was in labor with my youngest son, my husband and I experienced how my labor pain was downplayed as a Black woman. Before I went into labor, I had vivid dreams of dying in labor. And when I got to the hospital, I was terrified. The reality shook me to the core when the nurses tried to tell me that I was not really in as much pain as I stated. No matter how much I cried or screamed. I even had to beg for an epidural. And it took two and a half hours for the anesthesiologist to come to me.

CHAKRABARTI: Ni’aisha told us again and again, when they found out she was pregnant, she and her husband wanted the baby. They wanted to welcome another child into their home. But early on in the pregnancy, Ni’aisha was so debilitated by sickness, she needed help.

NI’AISHA: I had a home care nurse. She would come to my house and give me IVs and equipment with … [a] pump that pumped the anti-nausea medication directly into my stomach through a catheter. And I wore it day, I wore it all night. The only time I took it out left to take a shower. Like I even kept talking to my doctor about it. And they wanted to keep me in the hospital. But we had no family support system. My husband and I are our kids’ sole providers. Staying in the hospital for an extended period of time really wasn’t an option for me.

CHAKRABARTI: Ni’aisha says she had to make a difficult decision, one which her husband supported.

NI’AISHA: My only option was to have an abortion. It was the only decision that I could make because, like I said, I didn’t have family who could watch my children while I stayed in the hospital.

CHAKRABARTI: Before getting an abortion Georgia requires a patient first receive counseling. And then go through a 24 hour wait period. The procedure cannot be performed after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Ni’aisha met the requirements, and a friend drove her to a clinic in Augusta. Women in a similar situation may soon be unable to receive an abortion in Georgia.

In 2019, Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill effectively outlawing abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. A federal judge struck down the law last summer, but now, following the Supreme Court’s ruling last week overturning Roe v Wade, Georgia’s attorney general Chris Carr has asked a federal appeals court to let the Georgia law take effect. Ni’aisha says that being able to access an abortion saved not only her health, but her family.

NI’AISHA: And since my abortion, my children are thriving. I have earned my first undergrad degree, and I’m currently continuing my education. I’ve elevated in my career, and I’m now a social justice organizer and advocate for other women. So needless to say, I couldn’t have seen my life without an abortion. Because I could not have kept my pregnancy to term and I wouldn’t have wanted to live that way.

Before, I did not agree with abortion or ever consider it as an option for me. But because I was raised in the church and always thought abortion was murder, due to my experience, I now look at abortion through a different lens. Abortion is actually health care, and I did what I needed to do to ensure that I was healthy enough to take care of my family.

And that’s why I wanted to share my story, because of the shame surrounding abortion. And the stigma that people have an abortion because they don’t want a child or another child. And for me, that just wasn’t the case at all. So I wanted to shed some light on that.

CHAKRABARTI: So what does need to think now about what could happen? Because Roe v. Wade is gone. She says she’s sad, anxious and fearful for women like her.

NI’AISHA: Even more so now than I’ve ever been in my life. I think my anxiety now is on ten because I don’t think people realize what our future is gonna look like.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s Ni’aisha, a mother of four who spoke to us from Georgia. Well, let’s turn now to Kwajelyn Jackson. She’s executive director at the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta. Welcome to On Point.

KWAJELYN JACKSON: Thank you so much for having me today.

CHAKRABARTI: First of all, how familiar does Ni’aisha’s story sound to you?

JACKSON: Sounds incredibly familiar. There are certainly many people who come in seeking care, who have very similar circumstances to what was described. Where they’re already parenting, caring for multiple children, and are concerned about their ability to continue to care for those children, while also having a difficult pregnancy.

CHAKRABARTI: The Feminist Women’s Health Center, if I understand correctly, has been providing abortion care and other services since 1976. Is that right?

JACKSON: That’s right. Our center was founded very shortly after the original Roe v. Wade decision.

CHAKRABARTI: So tell me then, who were the majority of patients who’ve been served there since 1976?

JACKSON: So currently the majority of the patients that we serve are Black people. We certainly serve people who identify as low income or as receiving Medicaid assistance. About 20% to 25% of our patients are non-English speaking. About a third of our patients identify as LGBTQ or gender non-conforming. And again, many of our patients are already parenting. The majority of our patients have other children that they’re caring for.

CHAKRABARTI: So, I mean, this is why we wanted to focus this hour on really who is seeking and needing access to safe abortions, because it’s a very different picture now than it was in the 1970s when Roe was first decided. I read those statistics earlier about that. You know, more than at least half are low income and more than 60% are women of color. So what do you think the impact will be, particularly on these folks, the folks that you serve at the Feminist Women’s Health Center? Now that Roe is gone.

JACKSON: Well, one thing I’ll also offer is that abortion access has been difficult for communities of color. Even with Roe fully intact. The challenges that folks have to face to get to care, afford care, and then also navigate the multiple restrictions and barriers that have been put in place by decades of legislation, have made it incredibly difficult. And those obstacles are only multiplied by what has transpired from the Supreme Court most recently.

For example, in Georgia, 95% of counties did not have a local clinic. And so people inevitably have to travel for care. And the cost of the abortion itself can also be incredibly burdensome. People making decisions about what other bills they might forego in order to make sure that they have sufficient funds to pay for their abortion. Because Georgia decided to block Medicaid recipients from using that coverage to cover their abortion.

We offer a Medicaid discount so that people who do qualify for Medicaid coverage will at least have some relief in their ability to afford their care. But all of these compounding factors, in addition to the risks of continuing a pregnancy to term, all of these things, I think, will be exacerbated, multiplied and will reach sort of dangerous levels as a result of the overturning of Roe.

CHAKRABARTI: That 95% of Georgia counties having no clinics that provide abortion. I’m also seeing that more than half of Georgia women live in those very counties. So you’re talking about quite a large percentage of people there who have to travel at least some distance to get this kind of care. … Have you seen people having to travel even further now to get to you at the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta? I’m hearing about you’re already seeing patients coming in from out of state.

JACKSON: That’s correct. Because Georgia law has not changed in light of the Roe decision yet. But in other neighboring states, it has. States that had trigger bans or pre-Roe bans are deferring their patients to travel to other places for care. And in the southeast, Georgia is that place … for now.

CHAKRABARTI: … There is evidence that increased access to abortion has a positive economic impact, especially on women of color. And in fact, Ni’aisha’s story … was an example of this. There’s been research from the Women’s Policy Research Center that said following the 1970s, following Roe, there was a 9.6% increase in Black women’s college graduation rate, and a 7% increase in Black women’s labor market participation rate. And that was three times higher than the corresponding rate for women generally. So that’s over a 40 year period.

So losing that access then potentially means those women losing the opportunity, the time, the resources to be able to take those steps in their lives like Ni’aisha did. So what I wonder is what are you and staff members at the Feminist Women’s Health Center telling patients who come in now about what the future might be, what the center might be able to provide for them? Can you tell me a little bit about what those conversations are like?

JACKSON: Well, fortunately, the law has not yet changed in Georgia. So we are continuing to offer care up to the legal gestational limit while we await a decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. But that doesn’t mean that Georgians who are seeking abortion and calling our center are not afraid, desperate and feeling very angry about what’s happening. Not to mention the many people, as we talked about earlier in the program, who are traveling from states where abortion has been eradicated.

Feminist Women’s Health Center is committed to achieving reproductive justice. And so we remain undaunted in light of what’s happening. We know that the care that we offer, abortion care, comprehensive reproductive health care, trans health care, all of those things will continue to be necessary for our communities. And so we are in a position where we will adapt and evolve so that we can continue to meet those community needs. I want patients to know that we will be there for them, and that we honestly believe that abortion will come around again.

I think that the time is right, that there are many strategies that folks are using or are contemplating around the country right now. Local and federal strategies that we will use to try to restore what has been broken. And that communities are working on and deepening and widening the ecosystems that support people who seek abortion. We’re in conversations with abortion funds that will help people navigate getting to and paying for their care.

We are working collaboratively with maternal health and birth workers so that we can really see these things as deeply connected and intersectional as a part of a continuum, as opposed to two ends. I want the patients who are coming to Feminist Women’s Health Center to feel seen, to feel honored, to feel respected, to feel trusted. I think that the Dobbs decision shows that abortion opponents do not trust the people to make their own decisions for their own lives. And we want to make sure that, at least for a moment, people feel like they are trusted.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.