No, We Shouldn’t Be Excited About the Fall of ‘Roe’

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Commentary Human Rights

No, We Shouldn’t Be Excited About the Fall of ‘Roe’

Yamani Hernandez & Oriaku Njoku

In one article, a prominent pro-choice advocate and author offers a take that is breathtakingly insulting and obtuse, particularly for us as Black women and reproductive justice leaders living and working in the Midwest and the South, where abortion access is most threatened.

Imagine waking up, in the midst of fighting off a six-week abortion ban that will have widespread regional impact, to read that your efforts are meaningless. Specifically, you read someone telling you that everything will be better if abortion is banned in your state, and most states, so our nation can build a new abortion access system from scratch. That was our reality yesterday morning as we read Robin Marty’s words.

In an op-ed for Politico, Robin Marty, author of the Handbook for a Post-Roe America, shows that she shares the same goalpost of the so-called pro-life movement, in that she hopes Roe v. Wade is overturned. In fact, she says she “couldn’t be happier” for its demise: The protections of Roe are an illusion, Marty argues, and only once they don’t exist will people “really” start taking the threat seriously.

In her book and professional life, Marty has been a strong supporter of abortion funds, which know painfully well the shortcomings of Roe. However, in this article, she offers a take that is breathtakingly insulting and obtuse, particularly for us as Black women and reproductive justice leaders living and working in the Midwest and the South, where abortion access is most threatened. In the spirit of racial and reproductive justice, we hope that Marty pauses, learns from a racial justice mentor, and truly listens to the people most impacted.

We see every day how abortion funds have to tell the majority of their callers that they cannot bridge the entire funding gap for their abortion. As a network, our members would need an additional $16 million to fill the current need for financial assistance across 41 states at a time when abortion is legal. That doesn’t include the cost of staffing up abortion funds so that they have a greater capacity to manage their caseload, organize for more funding, and advocate for abortion access. Abortion funds with paid staff are able to help two to four times as many people as volunteer-only funds. However, three-quarters of our 70 member funds have no staff. Hiring enough paid workers would cost upward of $100 million at a minimum. We are not looking to exacerbate this problem.

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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We are already jumping hurdles to try and raise enough in the next two years for local funds to continue operating. If Roe were reversed, we would never be “happy” to tell people who call us for help that they have no legal right to an abortion and they’ll have to travel even farther away from home to get a five-minute procedure, not including any additional time for mountains of paperwork not required for other health care. Rather than deliver a theoretical analysis of what might happen, advocates of abortion rights should first ask people who are affected by barriers what they need and if they are excited for their legal right to an abortion to disappear. That could save us all a lot of time and energy.

Marty argues that overturning Roe will open the door for white women who support abortion access but have voted Republican to join our fight. Let’s be clear: When people of color talk about the danger of the 53 percent of white women who voted for our current president as a backbone of white supremacy that we are up against, we cannot ignore how the analysis and influence of liberal white women can also be complicit to the harm of Black people and other people of color, people outside of the gender binary, people with disabilities, and other marginalized populations.

The path to accessible abortion will not be won by the white women who have continually voted for racist policies gutting the social safety net for families that don’t look like theirs. This is not a yellow brick road to empathy or understanding, and such an argument continues to put too much faith where it has proven to be unreliable. These same white women watched all of the lies and promises to ban abortion spewed during Trump’s presidential campaign and voted as they did anyway. We don’t need to compromise our values or our experience of compounding oppressions to court racist white women who are solely interested in protecting their own privileges. We certainly don’t need to destroy the barely-there scaffolding of access for marginalized communities just to teach white women a lesson.

Should Roe be overturned, Marty writes, “for the first time in decades, the abortion rights movement will understand that the threat it is facing is not theoretical, and supporters will stop fighting like it is.” This is ahistorical, offensive, and ignores the relentless and back-breaking, often unpaid labor of abortion funds, and people of color-led reproductive justice coalitions that have been fighting this battle for decades knowing it is in no way theoretical. What unenergized abortion rights movement is Marty referring to?

With this line of thinking, Marty is rendering invisible the work of reproductive justice activists, who are overwhelmingly people of color and the ones most hurt by these decisions, locally and nationally. She is also rendering invisible the organizing and advocacy of us in the All* Above All campaign, which has brought about groundbreaking bicameral legislation like the EACH Woman Act, in collaboration with bold women of color legislators.

To be sure, we have said it often: Roe is not a promise to abortion access. It is deeply flawed. The government is out of compliance with its own laws, and yes, Roe is the floor, not the ceiling. Abortion funds know this all too well. There is a crisis in abortion funding and access that is fueled by the Hyde Amendment and countless other systemic injustices like lack of paid leave, child care, affordable housing, transportation, and health-care clinics.

However, for all of these other systemic barriers, we would never use the logic that we should abolish any protection in order to make people angry enough to improve protection. By that logic, are you saying the United States should become a lawless country in order to make people who never cared about human rights get angry enough to “start over”? Imagine using the same logic to fix voting rights, climate change, or our educational system.

Granted, while Roe legalized abortion, it has not been accessible for many of the communities we work with in the Midwest and South. Roe never guaranteed abortion access for people who have to travel hours outside of their county or state lines for care. Roe never promised safety and security for the Black and Brown people that are constantly criminalized when making decisions that are best for themselves and their families. Roe has not challenged abortion rights activists to take a forward stance that leverages their white power and privilege to fight with people of color, whose bodies are used as political pawns every day. But what Roe has done is create a climate where we must do this work in an intersectional way that goes beyond the binary that is choice.

We agree with Marty that the Democratic Party has been too accommodating on the issue of abortion. This is why we ran the campaign calling in Speaker Nancy Pelosi to be more accountable to people who do not have abortion access and stop stigmatizing those who have abortions. We aren’t afraid to call our friends in, and Marty’s article is no exception.

None of this speaks to the realities and lived of experiences of the Black and non-Black leaders of color working tirelessly to make sure that the material conditions of the folks in our communities are being met. Activists and advocates on the ground cannot afford to have think pieces like this speak for us in already volatile political climates. In Georgia, for instance, 96 percent of people live in a county without an abortion provider. There are 79 counties (over half) without an OB-GYN, and nine counties with no doctor. The state was ranked 48th for maternal mortality. Sadly, the work that people of color are doing to highlight and change the disparities in this state are silenced when pieces like Marty’s are being highlighted.

If Roe will be overturned within the next two years, now is not the time to resign ourselves to that reality nor be “excited” by it, as Marty previously put it. So what should we be doing instead? Here is what we are happy for and our call to action:

It’s time to pass the mic, organize in new ways, and listen to and resource new people who have been neglected and excluded from the conversation. It’s a time to be brave and bold in our approach to fighting for access and not get complacent. White feminism that does not center the needs of the most vulnerable and this toxic Roe rhetoric should not be the default. We refuse to offer up our communities as collateral damage to teach apathetic people a lesson, and instead demand that the same people being cruelly thought of as strategically disposable be lauded and supported in the leadership of a movement desperately in need of fresh, bold strategies. We are not theoretical; we are powerful. What we’re happy for is an imminent future that respects our power.

We are literally fighting for our lives. It’s time to take care of our people while we fight for the dream and promise Roe should be.