Civil rights

Why abortion is a civil rights issue for black voters

Talking with voters about reproductive health issues, including access to abortion, is not new to Malika Redmond, co-founder and CEO of Women Engaged, an Atlanta-based group that focuses on engaging black voters. Shortly after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, who established the constitutional right to abortion in 1973, access to reproductive care was compromised by the passage of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for most abortions. This, Redmond told me, has had a disproportionate impact on women and youth in rural and perpetually disenfranchised communities, especially black women and other women and young adults of color.

Georgia was one of the 33 states which banned the use of state Medicaid funds for abortions, in accordance with federal guidelines. And, by 2017, some 95% of Georgia counties had no clinics offering abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Fifty-five percent of Georgian women lived in these counties. The situation deteriorated further in 2019, when Governor Brian Kemp signed a controversial bill that would effectively ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. At that point, Redmond said, her group started hearing from more people who wanted to understand the plight of reproductive health care in Georgia. This question is once again on the minds of black voters in Georgia, as the Supreme Court struck down Roe, and this six-week ban, which was canceled by the courts in 2020, is now should come into force soon.

In other words, access to reproductive health care and the impact its loss will have on people’s daily lives has always been a priority not only for black voters in Georgia, but also for Black voters across the United States That’s why, as we head into the midterms of this fall, a handful of pro-black advocacy groups said black voters could view November’s midterm elections as a referendum on abortion access — a wish some Democratic politicians bet on, too. But according to Andra Gillespieprofessor of political science at Emory University, “[I]It’s hard to say that black voters are single-cause abortion voters. I think it will be formulated in a mixture of other important things for them.

If history has taught us anything, is that the blacksespecially those who are poor, will be among the greatest victims in a post-Roe world despite some abortion advocates claiming that banning abortion will be good for black people. But it’s unclear whether black voters will prioritize Roe on issues such as rising prices, the economy or police violence. Additionally, it might be harder for black voters across the country to discuss one-size-fits-all abortion policies without first acknowledging how disproportionately their communities have been impacted by things like high rates of youth incarceration, increase in maternal mortality rates and one lack of educational opportunities for their children.

“I think race issues are much more existential for African Americans, and they’re going to emphasize those issues and those decisions,” Gillespie told me. “They’re going to have to figure out how to come to terms with how their views on these issues align with their general views on abortion access.”

At least when it comes to support for abortion rights and access, some polls suggest black voters are more supportive than white voters, said Tresa Undem, co-founder of nonpartisan research firm PerryUndem. In a February poll of registered voters, his cabinet found that black voters (58%) were among the most likely to support a candidate who supports abortion access. Additionally, at 79%, black voters were the racial group more likely to say they don’t have want to see Roe knocked down. (Asian and Pacific Islander American voters came in second with 75%, and only 60% of white voters said the same.)

This is consistent with other polls which have found that black voters are becoming increasingly liberals on abortion – even if they don’t name it as their main political issue. A Gallup a survey conducted between 2017 and 2020 found that 46% of black Americans said abortion was “morally acceptable” – compared to 31% who said the same between 2001 and 2007; non-black racial groups surveyed by Gallup reported a slight change in their opinion of abortion (41% from 2001 to 2007, to 43% from 2017 to 2020). And another poll Pew Research Center published in May found that a greater proportion of black adults (67%) than Hispanic and white adults (58 and 57%, respectively) believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

On the face of it, these numbers suggest that access to abortion — or lack thereof — could motivate black voters to turn out. After all, the share of women who have abortions who are not white (including black women) also increased steadily since the 1970s. But there are plenty of reasons why it won’t be a standalone issue for them. Namely, for many black people, the abortion access debate is inextricably linked to race – and access to equal opportunity once a child is born – in a way that which white communities rarely face.

For example, pregnant black women face poorer health outcomes, such as maternal and infant mortality rates, which inevitably shape how abortion access is discussed in black communities. A 2021 Duke University study, for example, have suggested that a hypothetical total ban on abortion would increase the number of deaths among black people the most compared to other racial groups. The study estimated that pregnancy-related deaths among black people would increase by 33% in the years following the abortion ban, compared to a 21% increase for the general population.

But access to abortion in black communities isn’t just tied to health outcomes; this is often tied to things like the quality of schools in predominantly black areas, racial disparities in health care, or even the criminal justice system. This February survey by PerryUndem found, for example, that black voters linked abortion rights and access to control over one’s body (72%), women’s rights (72%) and health care. (67%). A plurality of black respondents – 47% – linked access to abortion to racial justice, more than any other demographic group surveyed. And, of course, underlying the Roe debate is the question of what the abortion ban means for black children. Rallying cries for change such as “Black Lives Matter,” a motto and movement created to highlight the abuses black people face at the hands of police, confront difficult questions about the safety of black people and children whom ‘they may be forced to conceive.

“At its core, this issue for voters is about power and control over one’s own body. Given our nation’s history, I think black voters of all political ideologies are more susceptible than white people to threats to bodily autonomy,” Undem said. She added that her research found that black voters and people of color are more likely to see systemic factors affecting abortion access — because access to abortion is about access to abortion. resources and opportunities to raise healthy children. As Undem told me, black voters and people of color often view the lack of access to abortion as “forcing people to have children, but not providing access to necessary resources, like affordable child care”.

Of course, losing access to safe abortions isn’t the only thing black voters need to worry about. The Supreme Court may soon rule on a number of cases that could further disenfranchise civil rights. Earlier this year the High Court agreed to decide whether race-based admissions programs are lawful, raising questions about the future of affirmative action in higher education. The court also plans to challenge the Alabama Congressional map that argues that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — one of the most important safeguards against racial discrimination in elections — requires a second seat in which black voters can elect the candidate of their choice. If this law is weakened, our elections would lose one of their greatest safeguards against racial discrimination.

In other words, it’s hard to conclude that Roe will be the only motivating factor that brings black voters to the polls this fall. That’s because, as Redmond and Gillespie told me, black voters, like all racial voting blocs, are neither a monolith nor single-problem voters. But it’s also possible Roe’s fate will bring more voters to the polls because it’s wrapped up in a number of racial and economic justice issues that black communities care about as well.

“Nobody wants rights taken away,” Redmond said, adding that issues such as access to abortion are important, but wrapped up “in a set of civil and human rights issues” that are essential to ensuring the safety of black Americans, as well as the economy. and racial justice. “These are all key elements for black communities to thrive.”