Reproductive Justice isn’t just about Texas. Ensuring access to reproductive healthcare in Massachusetts is crucial, too.
Note: Reproductive justice must include people of all genders. We recognize that experiences with pregnancy and abortions are not gender-specific. Throughout this article, we note that women of color are a large demographic which are disproportionally impacted by the legislation. However, many of these experiences are shared by people of color of all genders.
Since 1967 YWCA USA has been advocating for and supporting women’s reproductive rights – a discussion we now frame as reproductive freedom or justice. Reproductive justice is the “human right to control our sexuality, our gender, our work, and our reproduction” and includes recognizing the ways in which reproductive healthcare has been weaponized against women of color throughout our history. The recent threats to reproductive freedoms are not just a problem for women in Texas and Mississippi. This is of concern to people of all genders across the country, and we must take a stand for the women of color it will disproportionately impact.
What exactly is happening?
In state houses across the nation new laws banning abortions have been filed or passed in the past few years. In Mississippi HB. 1510 passed in 2018 which bans abortions after 15 weeks. It is this law that is in front of the Supreme Court which YWCA USA has asked be struck down as it violates the constitutional right of a pregnant person to seek reproductive healthcare. YWCA USA’s amicus brief in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization warns that “Armed with the knowledge that the right to determine their reproductive future was protected by Roe, young women have been able to invest in their education, training, vocations, and careers. Abortion bans could push young women out of the workplace and limit their education and careers, with lifelong consequences for themselves and their families.”
The other law garnering much attention in the news is Texas’ new law which prohibits abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy. The law legalizes and encourages private citizens to sue anyone who may have helped others get abortions after the 6-week window, which is before many even realize they are pregnant. If successful, the private citizen(s) who reported the ban could receive a minimum $10,000 reward with legal costs covered. Oppositely, there are no recovering costs or legal support for those being sued. Because the law is so broadly defined those being sued could include family, friends, drivers to the abortion center, abortion providers, or fundraisers. The Supreme Court declined to intervene before the law went into effect September 1st of this year.
How does this affect women of color?
Women of color disproportionately seek abortion care services in Texas, meaning the burden of this legislation will fall especially hard on them. According to the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda Black women in Texas make up 25% of abortion care patients, despite being only 13.1% of the state’s population. The Agenda is also deeply concerned as Black mothers are already more to die from pregnancy related complications. In 2020, it was recorded that Hispanic women in Texas had nearly 20,000 abortions in state. Texas has the fastest growing Asian American population in the nation, and it is estimated that between 1/5th and 1/3rd of pregnant people in those communities will seek abortion care. Asian Americans also face barriers and repercussions because of persistent and racist tropes pertaining to sex-selective abortion practices. As clinics in Texas stop offering abortion care, women of color are left to fend for themselves in this stressful time.
Many are concerned that women of color, and especially Black women, seeking reproductive health services will be disproportionately targeted by those trying to enforce the ban. The bill relies upon citizen policing, which worries many advocates who fear it will only exacerbate racial disparities in reporting. As 19th News reports, the bill’s “tacit approval of surveillance, in particular, makes people of color more vulnerable in a legal system where they already face disproportionate punishment.” In the past Asian Americans have been unfairly targeted by feticide laws meant to protect women from domestic violence because of the racist assumptions about Asian American people who seek reproductive healthcare.
Institutional and pervasive economic inequality also means that women of color are less likely to have access to financial services that might allow them to travel out of state to receive these services, especially those living in poverty. Finding transportation to go out of state and allotting the necessary time to have and recover from an abortion is not a possibility for working to meet their basic needs. With the new Texas abortion ban, some Latinx women may not have access to legal and safe abortions outside of state due to health inability to leave border and state areas and high health care spending. Not only does this ban continue the cycle of poverty but it increases the rate of maternal mortality and endangers the mental health of individuals. These laws do not affect all people equally, and the brunt of the burden will be borne by women and communities of color.
But I live in Massachusetts. What is there for me to do?
Reproductive justice is a nationwide issue, entailing the fight to ensure all people have access to safe and sustainable communities.
While we may not currently be concerned about interruption in reproductive health services in Massachusetts, the state is still facing a maternal mortality crisis. This is a major issue not limited to those affected by this Texas abortion ban. Within Massachusetts there are serious disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity amongst women of color. The Massachusetts COVID- 19 Maternal Equity Coalition reported Black women are twice as likely to die from pregnancy- related causes and twice as likely to have severe maternal morbidities as opposed to white women. There are several pieces of legislation in the State House to reduce maternal mortality. They are bills that would increase the window of time Medicaid patients can receive post partum care, allow for Medicaid coverage for doula services, and create studies of infant mortality in the Commonwealth. Consider learning more and reaching out to your State legislators to express your concern.
You can also reach out to federal representatives to support the Women’s Health Protection Act on Capitol Hill or join your local Women’s March National Call to Protect and Defend our Reproductive Rights on October 2nd.
It is imperative women that we stay vigilant in the fight for reproductive justice. That right can only be achieved when people of all genders have the complete economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, our families, and our communities.
About YW Boston
As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.
YW Boston Advocacy Committee
The Advocacy Committee supports YW Boston’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women by engaging elected officials, organizations and the public through legislative advocacy, coalition building, education, and action. The committee develops and implements the organization’s two-year advocacy agenda in order to rectify structural barriers to equity and opportunity for women, girls, and people of color.