I come to this fight for reproductive justice and community health care as a mother and a daughter. I come through women who have worked and sacrificed tirelessly since the beginning of time for the health and autonomy of our own bodies. My mother, now an educator, was a social worker directing the largest WIC program in Brooklyn, N.Y., making sure that Black and Brown women, babies and their families had what they needed to survive and thrive. My grandmother was a pediatric nurse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and she helped create a pipeline for Black women and girls to enter the field of nursing. She cleared a path for hopeful young women who sought to embark on a career traditionally denied to Black women and to help others. This is the foundation that helps me to understand what it really means to be pro-life and to support families, and babies.
Now, a week after the destruction of Roe v. Wade, my daughters, depending on what state they will live in, will not have the family planning options that their foremothers had for decades. The five Supreme Court justices who voted to strike down Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, are a part of the political party that has stood in the way of life-saving interventions for women and babies for far too long. These justices consistently block paid family and medical leave programs, improvements to maternal and infant health, national childcare infrastructure, in addition to consistently blocking protections against wage discrimination, and bans on assault weapons. These justices, and the political party they represent, are anti-life and we must do all that we can to dismantle their power over our bodies, our livelihood, and our basic human rights.
The United States is the most dangerous place in the world to give birth among so-called industrialized nations. Pregnant people are in danger and racism plagues our maternal health care systems and causes Black and Indigenous pregnant people to lose their lives giving birth and have postpartum challenges at rates 2-3 times higher than white women. And during the current pandemic, the overall maternal death rate and racial disparities are rising. Many people know these stats, but what people often don’t know is that disparities persist even when we factor in things like education and income. Make no mistake, these disparities are about racism. In fact, white women with less than a high school education, on average, have better maternal health outcomes than Black women with a college education. The data backs up what was infamously experienced by one of the greatest athletes of all time, Serena Williams, who almost died giving birth when her pleas for help were ignored and dismissed—an all too familiar experience for Black women.
Six-out-of-ten people seeking abortions are already mothers in a country where being a mom is a greater predictor of wage and hiring discrimination than gender alone. Black, Brown, and Indigenous moms experience compounded wage and hiring discrimination due to structural racism to the extent that Black moms are paid just 52 cents to a white dad’s dollar and Latina moms just 46 cents to a white dad’s dollar. Despair is rising for mothers and postpartum depression and suicide have skyrocketed.
To add insult to injury, the United States remains one of the only countries in the world without paid family medical leave when a new baby arrives or a serious health crisis emerges. On top of that, in most states, childcare costs more than college. Ironically, in the wealthiest nation in the world, there is no national childcare infrastructure, and “childcare deserts” are growing, forcing moms out of their careers to fill these gaps in childcare. We also care for our elders and the people in our families with disabilities. Our Black families end up in an economic “freefall” without funded home-and community-based services. Equally worse, there is no fair pay for healthcare workers. Unlike most other industrialized nations, the United States has yet to build a care infrastructure—and that hurts us all, especially our elders and babies.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade will not protect Black babies nor Black families. It will not stem the rising rate of Black maternal deaths or decrease infant mortality. It will not increase access to health care. It will not make our schools or community safer for our children and families. It will not address the explosive rise in mental health disorders. It will not stem violence. It will not house or feed people. In fact, forced births will only make all these crises worse. The overturning of Roe v. Wade will actually strengthen the already entrenched powerful systems of white patriarchal supremacy that are destroying Black families and communities. But our individual and collective will, resolve, and unwavering organizing can dismantle these anti-life political systems. We have done it before and will do it again. As Black reproductive justice leaders have been urging for decades: Protecting Black babies means deconstructing patriarchy and white supremacy. Let’s stay on task!
Monifa Bandele, MHS is senior vice president & chief strategy officer of the MomsRising Together & MomsRising Education Fund.