Black Americans and Reproductive Rights: Attitudes Are Changing

This post was originally published on Word In Black.

By: Sylvester Brown Jr.

In 2022, Dr. Love Holt, at the time a reproductive freedom organizer with Pro Choice Missouri, shared a courageous commentary with the Riverfront Times, titled: “My Abortion Helped Me Escape an Abusive Marriage.

“After I had my abortion, I gathered the courage to leave my abusive marriage,” Holt wrote. “I was homeless with no resources to provide (for) myself or my children…I couldn’t imagine taking a new baby through this horrific journey. I don’t know if I would have made it as a single mother of four plus a newborn.”

The commentary, Holt said, didn’t go over well with Black people she knew.

“I was in a stand-alone position with many in my community, turning their backs on me, shunning me,” Holt recalled, adding: “They were perplexed as to why I was supported by white people for a white cause.”

African American attitudes toward abortions have always been rather nuanced. Although they overwhelmingly vote Democrat, there’s always been a stubborn streak of conservatism-especially among older Black churchgoers-that isn’t as robust among white liberal voters.

For centuries, the Black church has played a crucial role in the civil rights struggle. Therefore, religiosity, even for those who don’t attend church regularly, has influenced how many Black people discuss, debate or vote on reproductive rights issues. Some support issues like abortion in silence or not at all.

Apparently, according to several surveys, those attitudes are changing, especially since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

According to recent polling, Black voters are becoming more supportive of a legal right to abortion and are concerned about how eliminating access to abortion will disproportionately harm women of color.

An aggregated Gallup poll found the percentage of Black Democrats who found abortion morally acceptable rose from 34% in 2017 to 50% in 2020 …before Roe was overturned.

A Public Religion Research Institute poll after Roe v. Wade was overturned, found that about 75% of Black Americans — compared with 88% of all Democrats — are now supportive of laws protecting “most or all” cases of abortion.

That figure is mostly attributed to younger Blacks being more likely than older Black voters to be fully supportive of abortion rights. It also speaks to why Vice President Kamala Harris and the Democratic Party are framing the issue of reproductive rights as part of a broader civil rights struggle.

Kawanna Shannon is aformerdirector at Planned Parenthood who is now an author, motivational speaker, and owner of her own healthcare company.

“Reproductive work,” she said, has her studying new and pending laws that will impact the health of Black people. Shannon, too, maintains thatBlack attitudes-even among those in church-are evolving and many are becoming more concerned and politically active on the issue.

“I believe (Black) people are waking up and realizing this is bigger than church and state. Reproductive rights are more than just about abortion. Black women are number one in almost every disease; we’re number one in dying (both mother and child) on the delivery table during childbirth.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Black women have the highest abortion rate at 23.8 per 1,000 women, compared with 6.6 per 1,000 white women. Additionally, the maternal mortality rate for Black women is 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.9 times the rate for white women.

Changing thoughts into action is one reason Pamela Merritt accepted the role of executive director at Medical Students for Choice. The nonprofit has a network of over 10,000 medical students, who, after graduation, Merritt said, “should be able to describe reproductive healthcare-medically and accurately to their patients.”

“We have to realize that 51% of the population is capable of pregnancy and that we deserve, as the majority, to have our realities centered in medical information. If people don’t learn how to talk about reproductive healthcare and how to advocate for access to it for their patients, we’ll never break this cycle of providing inadequate care.”

Merritt said Black women and African American voters of all genders are deeply connected to reproductive rights and access to abortions because it’s a “life-or-death issue” and Black women “uniquely die as a result of pregnancy complications.”

Social media-particularly Black Twitter, she added “has done a wonderful job in allowing people to connect across states and talk about how scared they are of pregnancy and possible complications.”

Shannon warns that even if Black attitudes and voting habits rise to the point where anti-reproductive rights initiatives are defeated in November, the fight should continue.

“There’s always work to do. We should never be comfortable because there’s too many (Black) people who aren’t registered to vote, too many who will not exercise that right. Yet, the adversary never sleeps,” she said.

“We need to be ready to take action and make change at any given moment. We should never rest, never sleep, never think we’ve made it…even if we win.”

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