[CW: this op-ed mentions sexualized violence, forced sterilization, maternal mortality, and forced birth]
Years ago, a young Black girl came to ask for abortion care support. She was enrolled in one of our programs at Girls for Gender Equity, where we work intergenerationally to achieve gender and racial justice by centering the leadership of Black girls and gender-expansive youth. Looking back, we see how that experience radicalized our organization in new ways. We had always been steadfast in our belief in bodily autonomy, but supporting someone who relied on us at such a crucial time revealed all that undergirds the discourse on abortion and young people’s access to sexual health.
Black women and gender-expansive people don’t have the luxury of simplification or being shocked at further state restrictions around bodily autonomy. The fall of Roe v. Wade as a consequence of the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling has a painful historical precedent printed on Black women’s bodies—the force our ancestors had to bear, from coerced impregnation by rape to forced sterilization. Roe was never enough; it was only the floor. Black women, girls, and gender-expansive people have always had to envision something greater than Roe because abortion “access” was not the only thing impacting our family systems. This is why a group of Black women came together and coined the term “reproductive justice”; a framework that now informs the autonomy we know is our birthright and reminds us that we deserve self-determination.
We are clear that the overturning of Roe is not about fetuses, “babies,” their protections, or resources to start families. This is about control—control over Black, Indigenous, and people of color, poor people, disabled people, migrants, LGBTQIA+ folks, and anyone at the margins of society. The state has always been a site for harm and control over Black people. This is a direct attack on our reproductive rights and will continue to have a detrimental impact on the lives of young Black people as we see their rights to self-determination and bodily autonomy ripped from them.
Today, homicide is the leading cause of maternal death in America, and as of 2020, Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. We will see the impact of overturning Roe in a spike in sexual assault, intimate partner violence, gender-based violence, child sexual assault, femicide, and maternal health complications and fatalities. These crises push the needs of Black girls and gender-expansive young people to the forefront of our organization’s mission because too few are considering how this will impact the bodily autonomy of the most vulnerable members of our society. Black girls and gender-expansive youth will face even greater roadblocks to accessing abortion care.
Young people face the greatest barriers to abortion care and services, and there is no reproductive justice movement without their voices at the forefront. But for Black girls and gender-expansive youth, reproductive justice goes beyond abortion care. Young people need comprehensive sex education, access to contraceptives and reproductive health care, and resources to surviving sexual assault and gender-based violence.
In 2020, a group of Black women and Black organizations came together and published the Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda, a comprehensive policy agenda that highlighted every area of reproductive justice. To augment the policy recommendation put forth in that report and in lieu of the Roe v. Wade ruling to come, Girls for Gender Equity published our first Reproductive Justice Memo in May 2022, centering Black girls and gender-expansive youth and their reproductive justice needs.
Legality alone has never been enough. To revolutionize reproductive justice, we need to see abortion care through an intergenerational and intersectional lens. As we write in the Reproductive Justice Memo, reproductive justice for Black women has always been about “fighting for policies that free abortion from unnecessary legal restrictions, fund[ing] community clinics, and mak[ing] abortion available and affordable to every pregnant person … [It has also meant] fighting to remove the barriers to parenthood as well, including poverty, patriarchal violence, queer and transphobia, white supremacy, ableism, and more.”
In just one week, the Supreme Court ruled that states are required to fund private religious schools, that police cannot be sued for not reading you your rights, that gun holders have the right to carry arms in public without a permit, that incarcerated people may not present new evidence that could exonerate them, and now that each governing state reserves the right to decide whether or not people can access safe abortions.
In one way or another, these rulings impact Black people disproportionately because religious fundamentalism has and continues to be a cover for advancing racist and misogynistic policies; gun violence harms Black communities at a much higher rate than white Americans; Black people are incarcerated at disproportionate rates; and finally, the barriers to accessing safe and affordable abortion are greater for Black people.
To state it plainly, Black people are the primary targets of these repressive policies, as we always have been. This fact alone should help everyone understand that there will be no lasting progress without Black people and without centering Black women and Black girls and gender-expansive youth. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody is free until everybody’s free.” Given the history of this country, we have to take this quote a step further and reframe it to say, “Nobody is free until Black people are free.” We may be the targets, but as the fall of Roe proves, the ripple effect is much broader.
For us, Roe getting overturned is part of a long history of repression on our bodies, our autonomy, and our freedom. Our outrage is not for this moment alone. We hope that, just as that young girl radicalized us in a different way, this ruling will radically transform how we fight for change in this country by finally recognizing that it won’t last if you don’t create movements that are genuinely loving and inclusive of Black women, Black girls, and gender-expansive people. This is the only way forward.