Young People Like Me Are Wondering: What Is the Path Forward for Abortion Rights?

Roe v. Wade was never enough. How can we build a better path forward?

A copy of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization against a black background.
Youth organizers are working to build something better than Roe. Austen Risolvato/Rewire News Group

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June 24 marks one year since the Supreme Court’s devastating decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving decisions about the legality of abortion up to states. Since then, we’ve witnessed more than a dozen statehouses pass abortion bans, leaving people without access to clinics—some even needing to drive hundreds of miles just to access critical health care.

The fallout of the Supreme Court’s decision emitted shockwaves across the country—and just like most damaging laws in our country, Black, brown, and Indigenous people, people trying to make ends meet, and young people like me are the most impacted.

What many people might not still realize is that Roe v. Wade itself was never enough. A young person living in a state like California—with expansive abortion laws—can face just as many barriers in accessing care as a young person living in states like Texas or Florida, where abortion is now banned at six weeks. Roe provided limited protections for white people, but didn’t consider the systemic racism built into the health-care and justice systems of this country; it was never enough to provide unquestionable abortion access—no matter one’s race, ZIP code, financial status, or gender. From Roe v. Wade to current abortion bans, racism has always lied at the core of abortion policy in this country. Without charting a new path, we risk repeating old mistakes, and communities like mine will be caught in the crosshairs.

Abortion should be personal, never political.

Banning abortion is a tactic used by politicians to criminalize communities, especially Black and brown communities, that are already impeded by financial insecurity, lack of child care, inability to travel, and other everyday factors. Combine these inequalities with the countless other discriminatory practices people of color encounter—like increased police surveillance and overall systematic criminalization—and it is clear that futures, where we are all safe, healthy, and empowered to thrive, are at risk. As we recently witnessed from a Republican lawmaker in Kansas, extremists are using “replacement theory” as a racist excuse to justify abortion bans. Anti-abortion elected officials have a clear path to restrict, ban, and criminalize abortion care to advance white supremacy.

The numbers tell an important story: Data shows that attacks on reproductive freedom fall heaviest on Black and brown communities, youth, and people of low income—the people who seek abortion options the most. The systematic inequalities that people of color and people living below the poverty line face threaten their reproductive health care the most due to discriminatory practices, like restricted sex education, voter suppression laws, state violence, and housing insecurity. The inherently racist obstacles that hinder marginalized groups from accessing the health-care options they need is a direct attack on bodily autonomy and their basic human rights. And, as we continue our lengthy battle for comprehensive health care, it’s important to name the communities most impacted by these historically racist systems.

Black communities have long faced systemic barriers to access to health care and other resources afforded to the communities that profit from our labor. For Black people, the conversation around abortion access goes beyond uteruses and wombs. Abortion bans have negative impacts that expand to many aspects of a pregnant person’s life that would only continue to grow throughout a child’s life. During pregnancy, Black people disproportionately have less access to prenatal care and rest while engaging with historically racist health-care systems, which contributes to alarmingly high maternal mortality rates. Postpartum, Black people may face a lack of substantial support to care properly for the child’s overall wellness or a care system intended to uphold generational poverty. Throughout the health-care systems, Black people deserve increased, supportive resources, not attacks on their bodily autonomy.

It’s not just Black communities. Historically racist and corrupt systems have also oppressed Latinas. In states where Latinas are likely to live, legislators have expressed and implemented abortion bans at the greatest volume. This increased risk for Latinas seeking reproductive care comes with an increased risk of criminalization, disproportionately threatening their quality of life. Studies have also found that there are more Latina women in these restrictive states than there are non-Hispanic women. It is no coincidence that Latinas are being restricted and surveilled more than their white counterparts. The clear attempt by extremist lawmakers to control and threaten people of color is apparent, so we must ensure all legislation is intersectional.

As the fight for abortion access in this country continues, it is imperative that every person, no matter their identity, is considered and reflected in proposed legislation. If we plan to build healthy communities, we must start by returning the authority of every individual to decide if, when, and how they would like to have a child. We must allow individuals the dignity to make this choice on their own with trusted medical providers.

Students have become increasingly vocal about the resources they need to navigate the bans on their bodies. URGE has met these needs by providing campuses with kits that provide students with free highly expensive reproductive care materials, alongside sex ed programming. These supplies include pads, condoms, ovulation tests, pregnancy tests, emergency contraceptives, and other resources they request. URGE also hosts quarterly gatherings to connect students with vital information about resources and options that are available to pregnant individuals.

Abortion should be personal, never political. Policymakers must ensure that everyone can access comprehensive and compassionate abortion care with dignity and respect and without stigma and racist barriers in their way. As we fight to heal the ever-present scars of our racialized past, we must ensure that our current and future battles for accessible, affordable abortion are inclusive of all.

If you want to see how you can get involved, check your area for local reproductive justice organizations. URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity has active chapters and community action networks in Alabama, California, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, and Texas. You can check our website at urge.org for how to get involved.