The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY)

With abortion in jeopardy, minority women have most to lose

- By Emily Wagster Pettus and Leah Willingham

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — If you are Black or Hispanic in a conservati­ve state that already limits access to abortions, you are far more likely than a white woman to have one.

And if the U.S. Supreme Court allows states to further restrict or even ban abortions, minority women will bear the brunt of it, according to statistics analyzed by The Associated Press.

The potential impact on minority women became all the more clear on Monday with the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion suggesting the court’s conservati­ve majority is poised to overturn the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion. The draft decision is not yet final but it sent shockwaves through the country. Overturnin­g the Roe v. Wade decision would give states authority to decide abortion’s legality. Roughly half, largely in the South and Midwest, are likely to quickly ban abortion.

When it comes to the effect on minority women, the numbers are unambiguou­s. In Mississipp­i, people of color comprise 44% of the population but 81% of women receiving abortions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks health statistics.

In Texas, they’re 59% of the population and 74% of those receiving abortions. The numbers in Alabama are 35% and 69%. In Louisiana, minorities represent 42% of the population, according to the state Health Department, and about 72% of those receiving abortions.

“Abortion restrictio­ns are racist,” said Cathy Torres, an organizing manager with Frontera Fund, a Texas organizati­on that helps women pay for abortions. “They directly impact people of color, Black, brown, Indigenous people ... people who are trying to make ends meet.”

Why the great disparitie­s? Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the Alabama-based Yellowhamm­er Fund, which provides financial support for women seeking abortion, said women of color in states with restrictiv­e abortion laws often have limited access to health care and a lack of choices for effective birth control. Schools often have ineffectiv­e or inadequate sex education.

If abortions are outlawed, those same women — often poor — will likely have the hardest time traveling to distant parts of the country to terminate pregnancie­s or raising children they might struggle to afford, said Roberts, who is Black and once volunteere­d at Mississipp­i’s only abortion clinic.

“We’re talking about folks who are already marginaliz­ed,” Roberts said.

Amanda Furdge, who is Black, was one of those women. She was a single, unemployed college student already raising one baby in 2014 when she found out she was pregnant with another. She said she didn’t know how she could afford another child.

She’d had two abortions in Chicago. Getting access to an abortion provider there was no problem, Furdge said. But now she was in Mississipp­i, having moved home to escape an abusive relationsh­ip. Misled by advertisin­g, she first went to a crisis pregnancy center that tried to talk her out of an abortion. By the time she found the abortion clinic, she was too far along to have the procedure.

She’s not surprised by the latest news on the Supreme Court’s likely decision. Most people who aren’t affected don’t consider the stakes.

“People are going to have to vote,” said Furdge, 34, who is happily raising her now 7-year-old son but continues to advocate for women having the right to choose. “People are going to have to put the people in place to make the decisions that align with their values. When they don’t, things like this happen.”

Torres said historical­ly, anti-abortion laws have been crafted in ways that hurt low-income women.

She pointed to the Hyde Amendment, a 1980 law that prevents the use of federal funds to pay for abortions except in rare cases.

She also cited the 2021 Texas law that bans abortion after around six weeks of pregnancy. Where she lives, near the U.s.-mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, women are forced to travel to obtain abortions and must pass in-state border patrol checkpoint­s where they have to disclose their citizenshi­p status, she said.

Regardless of what legislator­s say, Torres insisted, the intent is to target women of color, to control their bodies: “They know who these restrictio­ns are going to affect. They know that, but they don’t care.”

But Andy Gipson, a former member of the Mississipp­i Legislatur­e who is now the state’s agricultur­e and commerce commission­er, said race had nothing to do with passage of Mississipp­i’s law against abortion after the 15th week. That law is the one now before the Supreme Court in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Gipson, a Baptist minister who is white, said he believes all people are created in the image of God and have an “innate value” that starts at conception. Mississipp­i legislator­s were trying to protect women and babies by putting limits on abortion, he said.

“I absolutely disagree with the concept that it’s racist or about anything other than saving babies’ lives,” said Gipson, a Republican. “It’s about saving lives of the unborn and the lives and health of the mother, regardless of what color they are.”

To those who say that forcing women to have babies will subject them to hardships, Mississipp­i Attorney General Lynn Fitch, a white Republican, said it is “easier for working mothers to balance profession­al success and family life” than it was 49 years ago when Roe was decided.

Fitch, who is divorced, often points to her own experience of working outside the home while raising three children. But Fitch grew up in an affluent family and has worked in the legal profession — both factors that can give working women the means and the flexibilit­y to get help raising children.

That’s not the case for many minority women in Mississipp­i or elsewhere. Advocates say in many places where abortion services are being curtailed, there’s little support for women who carry a baby to term.

Mississipp­i is one of the poorest states, and people in low-wage jobs often don’t receive health insurance. Women can enroll in Medicaid during pregnancy, but that coverage disappears soon after they give birth.

Mississipp­i has the highest infant mortality rate in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black infants were about twice as likely as white infants to die during the first year of life in Mississipp­i, according to the March of Dimes.

Across the country, U.S. Census Bureau informatio­n analyzed by The Associated Press shows fewer Black and Hispanic women have health insurance, especially in states with tight abortion restrictio­ns. For example, in Texas, Mississipp­i and Georgia, at least 16% of Black women and 36% of Latinas were uninsured in 2019, some of the highest such rates in the country.

Problems are compounded in states without effective education programs about reproducti­on. Mississipp­i law says sex education in public schools must emphasize abstinence to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitte­d diseases. Discussion of abortion is forbidden, and instructor­s may not demonstrat­e how to use condoms or other contracept­ion.

The Mississipp­i director for Planned Parenthood Southeast, Tyler Harden, is a 26-year-old Black woman who had an abortion about five years ago, an experience that drove her to a career supporting pregnant women and preserving abortion rights.

She said when she was attending public school in rural Mississipp­i, she didn’t learn about birth control. Instead, a teacher stuck clear tape on students’ arms. The girls were told to put it on another classmate’s arm, and another, and watch how it lost the ability to form a bond.

“They’d tell you, ‘If you have sex, this is who you are now: You’re just like this piece of tape — all used up and washed up and nobody would want it,’” Harden said.

When she became pregnant at 21, she knew she wanted an abortion. Her mother was battling cancer and Harden was in her last semester of college without a job or a place to live after graduation.

She said she was made to feel fear and shame, just as she had during sex ed classes. When she went to the clinic, she said protesters told her she was “‘killing the most precious gift’” from God and that she was “‘killing a Black baby, playing into what white supremacis­ts want.’”

Harden’s experience is not uncommon. The antiaborti­on movement has often portrayed the abortion fight in racial terms.

 ?? AP PHOTO/ROGELIO V. SOLIS, FILE ?? FILE - Amanda Furdge talks about the contrast of easily finding abortion services when she lived in Illinois and the difficulty of finding the services after she moved back to Mississipp­i, which has only one abortion clinic, during an interview in Clinton, Miss., on Dec. 10, 2021.
AP PHOTO/ROGELIO V. SOLIS, FILE FILE - Amanda Furdge talks about the contrast of easily finding abortion services when she lived in Illinois and the difficulty of finding the services after she moved back to Mississipp­i, which has only one abortion clinic, during an interview in Clinton, Miss., on Dec. 10, 2021.

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