For full coverage of June Medical Services v. Russo, check out our Special Report.
As a physician and one of six African Americans in the country who own abortion clinics, I had been anxiously awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in June Medical Services v. Russo. We are witnessing a historic moment in the movement for Black lives in this country, with people taking to the streets in solidarity all over the world while reeling physically and economically from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the future of abortion access hung in the balance.
I find myself at the intersection of all of this, as a Black woman who performs abortions and owns a clinic in Arizona.
Since my arrival in Arizona a decade ago, abortion access has eroded with the passage of anti-abortion legislation in the state almost every year, beginning with the first omnibus bill in 2009 and resulting in the consolidation of abortion care primarily in the Phoenix metropolitan area. In Tucson, there is one abortion clinic. In 2008, there were 19 abortion clinics across the state; when my clinic, Desert Star Family Planning in Phoenix, opened in 2013, there were nine. Today, only eight abortion clinics remain in the state.
So I am no stranger to abortion restrictions. There’s an admitting privileges law in Arizona similar to the one in Louisiana that the Court struck down in June Medical Services, and other bans and restrictions that make it difficult for people to access care. The fight for Louisiana clinics to stay open and maintain access to essential health care in their state deeply resonated with me.
Providing abortion care opens me up to a great deal of harassment and disregard for my humanity. People who oppose abortion believe they have license to call me out by name, make false claims against my character, and even issue death threats. And as a Black abortion provider, I receive this vitriol along with racism.
Abortion opponents don’t care that only 2 percent of all physicians in the United States are Black women. They also don’t care that I may have been the first Black woman to own an abortion clinic in the United States when I opened my clinic seven years ago. The racial slurs—inserted in front of, in the middle of, or at the end of whatever colorful language the antagonist chooses in the moment—flow effortlessly from their lips.
As we struggle simultaneously with the spread of COVID-19 and confronting police brutality and racist violence, the ability to exercise reproductive autonomy is critical for communities of color deeply affected by these circumstances. Legislators have been working overtime to dismantle access to abortion, state by state and law by law, causing disproportionate harm to Black and brown communities. This will only get worse if Roe v. Wade ceases to be the law of the land.
Against the backdrop of a reinvigorated civil rights movement, we must move beyond the framework of reproductive rights to one of reproductive justice. Reproductive justice is the right to not have children, the right to have children, and the right to parent the children we have in sustainable communities. How is reproductive justice possible without racial justice in Black and brown other communities of color? What does it mean to have the “right” to an abortion when the opportunity to exercise that right is impeded?
The clinic I lead has legally challenged Arizona laws that restrict abortion on behalf of our patients. At stake in the June Medical Services v. Russo case was our ability to do that. Could an abortion provider or clinic bring cases on behalf of its patients? Imagine a pregnant person having to bring a legal case against the state to exercise their right to obtain an abortion. Patients do not have the resources or time to initiate court proceedings, especially while simultaneously trying to obtain the care they need in a timely manner. Although abortion is essential health care, it has become highly stigmatized and polarizing. I was concerned for the safety and privacy of individual patients stepping forward to be plaintiffs.
On decision day, I rejoiced. I envision a world where people can get dignified, and exceptional abortion care regardless of where they live. I am so relieved that the people of Louisiana will retain the three clinics in the state providing abortion care. Yet the June Medical Services ruling served as a reminder that abortion access is extremely vulnerable in Arizona.
As we celebrate this win at the Supreme Court, I ask the people of Arizona to demand that our elected officials repeal the archaic laws still on the books and ensure that Arizonans will always have abortion care when they need it. I am dedicated to providing compassionate abortion care here despite the restrictions we face. People need more access to health care, not less.