This week, reproductive rights organizations across the nation will host marches, rallies, fundraisers, and media events to commemorate the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down statewide bans on abortion.
But my colleagues at the Yellowhammer Fund and I won’t be “celebrating” Roe in Alabama. We are done celebrating a ruling and a movement that, while radically breaking down barriers for white women of moderate means to access safe abortion services, systematically left behind those without economic resources—especially communities of color and people in poverty.
The reproductive rights movement’s almost singular focus on preserving Roe means the national movement was neither prepared to address nor even appeared concerned about abortion access for people left vulnerable to the barriers erected by anti-choice lawmakers.
In 1976, when the discriminatory Hyde Amendment was first passed, many abortion rights supporters who made Roe a reality and supposedly pro-choice politicians abandoned pregnant people of color by failing to push back against a policy designed to keep low-income people from accessing abortion care. For nearly half a century, the movement failed to invest in and sustain local direct services and organizing efforts, especially in communities of color. The national “right to an abortion” was chipped away one restriction and one clinic at a time for almost two decades following 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which allowed conservative states to pass any restriction to abortion, even in the first trimester, as long as they could claim it did not place an “undue burden” on a pregnant person seeking an abortion. It wasn’t until the onslaught of post-2010 copycat legislation passed by Republican state-level majorities that mainstream activists became convinced that abortion rights were truly in danger. By this point, abortion care was inaccessible for many across the United States.
Post-Roe, abortion has become a “right” dependent entirely on those who perform it rather than those who need it. Access to abortion requires a person to have the financial ability to travel to and obtain the service; it also requires a performing doctor or clinic to have the ability to remain financially viable enough to keep their doors open.
Clinics close due to economic pressures from implementing expensive and medically unnecessary, yet legislatively mandated building updates, leaving people to navigate potentially illegal options or continue an unwanted pregnancy. Even in states that protect the right to an abortion, clinics may dwindle because of historically low Medicaid reimbursement rates and issues like providers retiring without anyone to replace them. The poorest among us will suffer those consequences.
But bearing or not bearing a child must never be dependent on a cost to benefit ratio. No one’s physical health should be dependent on whether a business entity makes money, and no one’s bodily autonomy should be dependent on whether a clinic or doctor is legally or financially able to provide an abortion. The failure of Roe is no different from our country’s refusal to recognize health care as a fundamental right rather than a profit center. Both abortion and health care in general must be embraced as human rights, beyond the rule of law and the dictates of capitalism.
Rather than a day of “victory,” January 22 should be a day of reflection for our movement, in which we remember how narrow our political victories are when we do not position the right to a legal abortion as a human right, regardless of a person’s income, zip code, age, race, or immigration status.
We are tossing aside the isolation of Roe to honor the reproductive justice values and principles that grow from the intellectual and activist contributions of women of color. On the first day of African American History month, February 1, Alabama’s Yellowhammer Fund and POWER House will gather with our allies in Montgomery to celebrate our perseverance, partnerships, and dedication to justice in the face of an ultra-conservative legislature peopled by mostly white, self-proclaimed Christian men desperate to maintain the power that has long advanced their communities.
Our movement is ready for something much bigger. Join us for a day of reflection, and let’s work together to build a robust movement dedicated to social justice. Together, we’ll celebrate victories that we can mark without an asterisk.