Reproductive Rights and Racial Justice

Frequently Asked Questions

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn reproductive rights in its ruling in the case. The 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization dismantles the constitutional right to seek abortion care and leaves the regulation of reproductive rights to the states. Some states have already passed extremely restrictive anti-abortion legislation, and many others will.

We have compiled an FAQ on reproductive rights, and how the dismantling of the constitutional right to abortion will impact people of color.

How are reproductive rights connected to racial justice?

Access to abortion care has been a fundamental part of reproductive care for Black, Brown, and low-income people throughout the country. The legalization of abortion in the 1970s, following Roe v. Wade, led to a 9.6% increase in Black women’s college graduation rate, according to a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Abortion access also resulted in a 6.9% increase in Black women’s labor market participation rate. This was three times higher than the corresponding rate for women generally.

Overturning reproductive rights would disproportionately harm Black, Brown, and low-income people who are most impacted by systemic inequalities. A recent study estimated that banning abortion in the U.S. would lead to a 21% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths overall and a 33% increase among Black people, simply because staying pregnant is more dangerous than having an abortion. It would also lead to increased deaths due to unsafe abortions or attempted abortions.

What is the criminalization of abortion?

Several states already have laws that criminalize abortions, stillbirths, and miscarriages, but the Court's decision to overturn reproductive rights will likely empower more states to pass similar legislation. Under these laws, people have faced criminal penalties for self-managed medication abortion. The two drugs used for medication abortion, mifepristone and misoprostal, have been approved by the FDA since 2000, and their efficacy and safety have been confirmed repeatedly. Several states already have “fetal personhood” laws that grant fetuses full legal rights that may be used to bring severe criminal charges against people accused of violating abortion bans. Under these laws, the loss of a pregnancy could result in homicide, feticide, or aggravated assault charge. 

Black people are significantly more likely to be prosecuted and arrested under laws criminalizing abortion. A 2013 study by National Advocates for Pregnant Women analyzed hundreds of arrests and forced medical interventions on pregnant women between 1973-2005. Fifty-two percent of the women arrested were Black. In the South, Black women comprised nearly three quarters of those arrested and charged.  

How do existing restrictive reproductive rights laws impact people of color?

People of color are more likely to live in states with the most restrictive abortion laws. The promise of Roe v. Wade has never been fully realized.

Fewer Black and Latino women in America have health insurance, especially in states with tight abortion restrictions, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For example, in Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia, at least 16 percent of Black women and 36 percent of Latinas were uninsured in 2019, some of the highest such rates in the country.

What is Roe v. Wade?

In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court established that under the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects a person’s liberty interest against state deprivation without due process of law, a person has a right to choose to have an abortion before viability — that is, before approximately 24 weeks into a pregnancy. The Court concluded that when a pregnancy reached viability, state interests in the life of the fetus are high enough to permit states to prohibit abortions.

This decision meant that states did not have the right to ban abortion. Since then, states have passed more than 1,300 laws and restrictions that make it harder and more expensive to get an abortion.

What is Planned Parenthood v. Casey?

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court affirmed its decision in Roe and recognized a constitutional right to decide to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the state. 

Planned Parenthood v. Casey was filed in 1992 to challenge the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, which required a waiting period, spousal notification, and parental consent for minors. The decision crafted the undue burden standard for abortion.

What is Dobbs v. Jackson, the current case before the Supreme Court?

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson overturned reproductive rights. The decision overrules Roe and Casey.

In 2018, Mississippi passed a law that, with few exceptions, prohibits elective abortions where the fetus has reached 15 weeks. Shortly after the law was passed, Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the only licensed abortion clinic in Mississippi — sued the state and sought an immediate order restraining the law’s enforcement.

Dobbs v. Jackson explicitly asks the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to an abortion.

What does it mean for the Supreme Court to overturn reproductive rights?

Even though reproductive rights have been overturned by the Supreme Court, abortion does not automatically become illegal nationwide. Individual states will decide whether and when abortions would be legal. Significant restrictions are already in place in many areas, including Texas, and there are only more to come after the Dobbs decision. Many states will continue to allow abortion, and some have even begun making provisions to help serve those who live in states that are likely to restrict abortion. 

Twenty-four states are likely to ban abortion now that the Supreme Court has overturned reproductive rights, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Those states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Some of these laws would make performing an abortion a felony, and doctors could face prison time.

What are some examples of recent legislation on reproductive rights?

More than 15 states have enacted laws to protect the right to an abortion and enshrine the right in their state constitutions. 

More than 20 states already have “trigger laws” in place that immediately and completely ban abortions when the Supreme Court overturns reproductive rights. 

Why is abortion illegal?

It is not illegal nationwide, but likely will be in several states now that reproductive rights have been dismantled. There are 9 states that already have pre-Roe bans on abortion that will come back into effect now that reproductive rights are overturned. At least 22 states have laws on the books that come into effect when reproductive rights are overturned by the Supreme Court according to The Guttmacher Institute. The organization also identified four more states that it expects to pass new abortion bans. 

How does abortion access positively affect women?

Increased abortion access has had a demonstrably positive economic impact on women, and on Black women in particular. When people have the ability to decide if, when, and how many children to have, they are able to make conscious determinations about other aspects of their lives, including education and work. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that abortion access increased college attainment for women, with “[i]ncreases in postsecondary attainment . . . concentrated among Black women, who had much larger decreases in teen fertility than white women.” 

How does abortion access affect children?

Children born to women with abortion access had lower rates of poverty, were more likely to graduate college, and were less likely to receive public assistance as adults. Conversely, the financial consequences of abortion denial can be severe. One study revealed that individuals who were denied abortions and eventually gave birth were four times more likely to have household incomes below the federal poverty level and were more likely to report being unable to afford basic necessities. 

LDF's Work

In September 2021, LDF joined an amicus brief with 17 other civil rights organizations in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which directly challenged Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Together, those cases confirmed that the Fourteenth Amendment’s liberty interest includes the right to physical autonomy without government interference. Thus, the Court previously affirmed and reaffirmed that pregnant people have a right to choose to seek abortion care up to the point in pregnancy when a fetus becomes viable, which is usually around 24 weeks into the pregnancy. Only after that point in the pregnancy can the state limit or prohibit elective abortions.

The amicus brief highlights that substantially limiting access to late-term abortions, as the Mississippi law and other anticipated laws throughout the country would do, would inflict grievous harm on Black and low-income people in particular, who have relied on the right to an abortion—and the right to access abortion later in pregnancy—at higher rates than other groups.

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