For members of Ohio’s Women’s Public Policy Network (WPPN) and others on the front lines of the fight for reproductive justice, Friday’s Supreme Court announcement was demoralizing, yet predictable. For decades, before and since Roe v. Wade was decided in January of 1973, activists have fought to expand and defend access to safe, affordable abortions as an extension of women’s constitutional right to privacy in America and the international human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Simultaneously, anti-abortion rights groups have lobbied to restrict access to necessary healthcare services, among other civil and human rights, at the expense of marginalized women and their communities.
In 2017, I (Ambur) traveled to Nairobi, Kenya as a member of Georgetown Law’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic. Our goal was to explore, document and develop policy solutions to Kenya’s alarming maternal mortality rate alongside local government and non-government stakeholders. During our visit, we saw firsthand the impact of denying women access to adequate reproductive healthcare, particularly safe abortions.
Desperate in the face of poverty and intimate partner violence, many Kenyan women resorted to drastic, sometimes fatal measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Those who gave birth faced severe health complications and imprisonment if they failed to cover unexpected hospital fees. For those who, under different circumstances, wished to give birth, dreams of motherhood quickly became nightmares in the face of such harsh realities. The national government’s empty promises to provide the most vulnerable women quality public maternal healthcare cost women their lives, devastating families and entire communities in the process.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe threatens to reverse the hands of time and create similarly dangerous circumstances for poor women of color right here in Ohio and throughout America. We know that deciding when and how to have a family is one of the most important economic decisions a person can make in their lifetime. Black women make up just 13% of Ohio’s population, yet they accounted for 48% of our state’s abortions in 2020. With more than 27% of Black Ohioans living in poverty, a lack of financial support most certainly influenced these women’s decision making.
Ohio was also already struggling to care for Black parents-to-be before the loss of reproductive freedoms. According to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, in 2020, Black women in Ohio were 2.2x more likely to die from pregnancy related complications and experienced a 1.85x higher rate of maternal morbidity (i.e., health problems related to pregnancy and childbirth) than white women. Only 6% and 4% of women who obtained abortions in 2019 were Hispanic and Asian/Asian Pacific Islander, respectively; yet they also experienced higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.
These disparities will only increase with more Ohioans unable to access abortion care going forward.
Instead of providing women, regardless of their ethnic or socioeconomic background, resources to feel confident in their decision to delay or embrace motherhood, those in positions of power prefer to punish them, and those who assist them, for their unique and personal life circumstances. That is where we must draw the line; not only on behalf of individual women, but the families and communities that depend on them.
There is a great deal of work ahead to empower and stand with Ohio women; women of color especially. Ohio’s six-week abortion ban took effect over the weekend, and Ohio lawmakers have said they will pursue a total abortion ban in the near future. These laws restrict the lives, livelihoods, and autonomy of millions of already vulnerable women and trans individuals in Ohio. Recognizing this, WPPN is prepared to empower you with accurate and up- to- date information about what resources still exist here and in neighboring states. We are also committed to bridging the gap between our domestic struggle for human rights and that of our sisters and allies abroad.
To find concrete ways to support activists, women, trans people and healthcare providers here in Ohio, follow us on social media and join our network at: www.womenspublicpolicynetwork.org/
Ambur C. Smith, Esq., WPPN Managing Director
Elizabeth Brown, WPPN Executive Director