GOP Politicians Are Using the Pandemic to Attack Our Reproductive Rights
Some states have set their sights on curtailing access to abortions
As the country continues to weather a global pandemic that has claimed over 28,000 American lives and is estimated to shutter as many as 47 million jobs, instead of focusing on slowing the spread of the virus or offering support to frontline health care workers and other essential personnel, GOP politicians have set their sights on curtailing access to abortion care. Currently, Arkansas, Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas have all attempted to ban abortion — claiming it is a “nonessential” procedure that is taking up hospital beds and personal protective equipment (this is not true) — with varying degrees of success. Lawsuits have been filed in each state challenging these clearly unconstitutional bans, but as the litigation plays out in court, it is Black and Brown pregnant people who will suffer the most.
Studies have shown that Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting Black people — in Alabama, African Americans make up 27% of the population but 54% of Covid-19 deaths; in Louisiana, Black people are 32% of the population and 70% of the state’s coronavirus deaths. At a time when one in four Americans are sheltering in place to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, to shut down clinics that provide abortion care and force people to travel farther distances to end their pregnancies is nothing short of cruel — putting them and the people around them at unnecessary risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19. According to the Guttmacher Institute, if the five clinics in Alabama were shut down, the average distance a person would have to travel for an abortion would increase from 26 miles to 108 miles — a 315% increase. In Iowa, the distance would increase from 28 miles to 139 miles — a 396% increase.
The same states that are attempting to ban abortion are also the states with the highest rate of maternal and infant deaths. In Louisiana, the state with the worst maternal mortality rate in the country, Black women are four times more likely to die from pregnancy- and birth-related complications than White women. In Arkansas, the state with the fourth-highest maternal mortality rate, the rate of pregnancy-related deaths for Black women is 71%. For White women, it’s 27%. Forcing Black and Brown people to give birth in the midst of a public health crisis that has all but exacerbated an already broken health care system would only ensure those maternal mortality rates rise, especially when Black women are already at a higher risk of experiencing pregnancy complications and so little is known about the coronavirus and its impact on pregnant and postpartum people.
Banning a common medical procedure that allows for economic freedom is to banish already poor communities to a lifetime of financial duress.
It is also Black and Brown people who stand to suffer the most financially from this public health crisis. A reported 701,000 jobs were lost in March alone as a result of the virus — many of those low-income service jobs held by Black and Brown people. And as the unemployment rate continues to rise, the country is surely headed for a recession that would disproportionately impact people of color. After the 2008 Great Recession, Black people’s median income declined by 47%, to $33,600 per household, according to the Pew Research Center. Latinx people saw a 55% decline. For White families, the median income decreased by 31%.
A reported 73% of people who seek abortion care cite an inability to financially provide for a child or another child, and since the Hyde Amendment, a 1976 law that banned tax dollars from funding abortion, also impacts Black and Brown people at an inordinate rate — pregnant people who rely on Medicaid are more likely to be Black or Latinx — banning a common medical procedure that allows for economic freedom is to banish already poor communities to a lifetime of financial duress.
Of course, the GOP politicians who would use a deadly virus to force people to carry unwanted pregnancies are aware of the harm they’re causing. Unnecessary barriers to care that have existed for decades — like mandatory waiting periods that require multiple trips to a clinic, and targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws that shut down clinics, increasing the distance people have to travel to obtain care — have made access to abortion care nonexistent for Black, Brown, and poor people long before Covid-19 came to the United States. Studies have shown that when a person cannot have a wanted abortion they’re more likely to experience pregnancy complications, more likely to live in poverty, and the children they already have are more likely to suffer. And states with the highest number of anti-abortion laws also have the poorest health outcomes for moms and babies. When more than 300 abortion restrictions were introduced in 2019, and 14 states attempted to ban abortion at six weeks or earlier, difficulty accessing abortion care is, simply, nothing new.
But because the abortion rate among Black pregnant people is five times higher than White people — another byproduct of systemic racism permeating the health care system, making it that much harder for Black and Brown people to gain access to birth control and other reproductive health care services — anti-abortion politicians also know who stands to be hurt the most by their policies. They simply do not care. Much like their calls to open up the country earlier than health experts advise, the plight of people of color is low on the priority list of those who’ve thrown their unmitigated support behind a racist president who fancies himself pro-life as he cages migrant children.
It is impossible to know what the future holds, especially during a global crisis that caused social upheaval and widespread unrest, but one thing is absolutely for certain: If GOP politicians are allowed to use Covid-19 to ban abortion, Black and Brown people will continue to suffer at an alarming, unequal rate. And if the past month has taught us anything, it’s that Black and Brown people are the ones holding society up and carrying us forward.