When the news came out that a Texas woman had been arrested and jailed for a self-managed abortion, we were not surprised. Lizelle Herrera sought medical care and was reported by a health care worker as violating Texas’s atrocious 6-week abortion ban. Lizelle Herrera was held on a $500,000 bond until the prosecutor later dropped charges.
As we said, we were not surprised. It’s also no surprise that a woman of color was the first person to be arrested and jailed after the passage of the Texas abortion ban. Black and Brown people in the U.S. are incarcerated at higher rates than their white counterparts, despite there being more white people. Of course, we expect that same racist criminal legal system to treat women of color more harshly. But that’s not the only disparate impact of the law that we can expect.
Historically, Black women have been systematically denied the resources, services and information needed to access full reproductive health care services. Even when we choose to give birth, we are often disrespected by health care professionals and our needs ignored in hospital settings. In fact, because of systemic racism, we know that Black women and Black birthing persons are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts. This is why we celebrate Black Maternal Health Week every year – to ensure that the lives of Black mothers and Black birthing people are honored and celebrated.
Our fight for better care for Black birthing people and our fight to keep abortion legal and accessible is about the same thing: Black women having control of our bodies and our lives. With abortion bans spreading across the country, we may well see more and more Black and Brown women incarcerated for having the audacity to take control over decisions about their own bodies. Even now, some states are attempting to outlaw medication abortion, approved by the FDA and seeking to categorize it as a dangerous substance requiring prison terms for anyone who distributes or possesses them.
Black women are faced with opponents of reproductive freedom who have one goal in mind: to control us. Black women, femmes, girls, and gender-expansive people in the U.S. have been marginalized for too long—often fighting for our lives and that of our families’ very survival while others stood by and watched. We know that Reproductive Justice and the decriminalization of reproductive self-care are linked and can only be achieved when Black women and all birthing people can freely control their fertility without duress, without endangering their freedom and with the resources to live with dignity.
Right now, states across the country are on the precipice of being able to invasively monitor Black women’s bodies for signs of pregnancy and to imprison Black women when they don’t carry those pregnancies to term. This is unacceptable. We will not rest until decisions about our bodies and our families are fully within our control. We will not stop until Reproductive Justice is the law of the land.
Marcela Howell is president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. Follow her on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.
Marsha Jones is co-founder and executive director of The Afiya Center, the only reproductive justice organization in North Texas founded and directed by Black women. Learn more on Twitter @TheAfiyaCenter.