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Striking down 'Roe v. Wade' will hit people of color hardest, activists say


As people across the country prepare for the end of Roe v. Wade, reproductive justice activists and experts say abortion access is a racial justice issue. NPR's Sandhya Dirks reports.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: Michelle Colon calls herself an abortion freedom fighter. She's the founder of SHERo, which fights for abortion access in Mississippi.

MICHELLE COLON: We are here for all women and girls, all people, but our specific target - and we're unapologetic about that - is Black and brown.

DIRKS: Colon says communities of color have already been disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions. And when Roe is overturned, they'll continue to bear the brunt. There's a lot of reasons for that, starting with geography.

USHMA UPADHYAY: The states that are most likely to ban abortion have much higher, much greater proportions of people of color.

DIRKS: That's Ushma Upadhyay, a public health social scientist at the University of California, San Francisco.

UPADHYAY: We also know that about 60% of people obtaining abortions are people of color.

DIRKS: Just take a closer look at Mississippi, where Michelle Colon lives. People of color make up 44% of the state. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, they receive 81% of the state's abortions. When Roe is overturned, it will likely shutter Mississippi's last abortion clinic, but it won't stop Colon.

COLON: The reality of it is that we're going to have to get people from Mississippi outside of the state, across the country.

DIRKS: But traveling isn't always easy. Having a car, money, the ability to take time off of work - all things that a lot of lower-income folks of all races don't have access to. And research has shown being denied access to an abortion only makes things worse. UCSF's Ushma Upadhyay points to the turnaway study, which followed women who couldn't get an abortion over 10 years.

UPADHYAY: They were living at higher rates of poverty five years later. It has economic health outcomes and social outcomes for years to come when people are denied their wanted abortions.

DIRKS: For Black and brown women, just giving birth puts them at increased risk. Class doesn't matter here. All Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.

UPADHYAY: The root cause is racism. When Black women are experiencing complications of pregnancy, they're not listened to. They're not believed. They are believed to have higher pain thresholds.

DIRKS: And then there's what will happen when abortion becomes criminalized. Here's Melissa Murray, a professor of law at New York University.

MELISSA MURRAY: Ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages - like, all of these are going to be questioned, I think, in a world in which abortion is either unlawful or entirely criminal.

DIRKS: Women are already being prosecuted and charged after miscarriages and stillbirths. Those women are often poor and disproportionately women of color.

MURRAY: Who's going to be singled out for that kind of treatment, for that kind of surveillance? It's likely going to be the people who are already adjunct to the criminal justice system.

DIRKS: In Justice Samuel Alito's leaked draft opinion, he wrote that abortion is not deeply rooted in this nation's history. Murray says that's not right. Abortion wasn't illegal until after the Civil War, and the reason it was criminalized - Murray's talking about the past here, but she could be describing the present.

MURRAY: The immigrant birth rate is swelling, and the white birth rate is shrinking. And they are deeply, deeply worried that America is no longer going to look like America - so shades of Tucker Carlson.

DIRKS: Murray says what is deeply rooted in American history is racism, but just as deeply rooted is resistance. I'm Sandhya Dirks, NPR News.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sandhya Dirks
Sandhya Dirks is the race and equity reporter at KQED and the lead producer of On Our Watch, a new podcast from NPR and KQED about the shadow world of police discipline. She approaches race and equity not as a beat, but as a fundamental lens for all investigative and explanatory reporting.