Abortion Is Not Just a White Woman’s Issue

Your Take: Although white women make up most of the protesters, it’s black women who are in the greatest need of family-planning services.

A young woman protests during International Women’s Day Protest in Dublin on March 8, 2014.
A young woman protests during International Women’s Day Protest in Dublin on March 8, 2014. iStock

Throughout 2015, reproductive-rights issues have made headlines, and the news has mostly been bad.

From deceptive videos intended to discredit Planned Parenthood to more clinic closures and the recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, legislators and anti-abortion extremists are unrelenting in their efforts to push abortion out of reach. While there has been a large flood of support for Planned Parenthood and other reproductive-health providers, clinics and their staff, rallies and protests are predominantly white, when, in reality, abortion access and reproductive-health care are more significant issues for black women than for any other group.

Black women have a higher rate of unintended pregnancy than white or Hispanic women and are more likely to have an abortion as a result. According to the Guttmacher institute, around 42 percent of abortion patients are poor. For women living in poverty, even with limited health care, accessing high-quality contraception remains difficult. Many factors can prevent a woman from being able to use her chosen method of birth control consistently, including the distance from the clinic, cost of birth control and lack of awareness of no-co-pay birth control options.

Moreover, impediments caused by life events, relationship changes, personal crises, and cultural or linguistic barriers, all of which are common among all women, become magnified when you are low-income, already very busy, stressed and living paycheck to paycheck with children (since 60 percent of women who have an abortion already have children).

Access to abortion and reproductive-health care is challenged further when legislative restrictions close clinics, forcing women to travel longer distances to receive care and comply with mandatory waiting periods. Nowhere is this felt more than in a place like Texas. Despite then-state Sen. Wendy Davis’ valiant 11-hour filibuster, anti-abortion bill H.B. 2 was passed by a predominantly anti-choice Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2013.

As a result of this law’s provisions, over half of the clinics in the state have closed, leaving Whole Woman’s Health, which provides gynecological-health services in several states, as one of the few remaining abortion providers in Texas.

“Clinics that are still open, even with H.B. 2, have very long wait lists, very long,” said Marva Sadler, director of clinical services at Whole Woman’s Health in Texas.

The clinic closures—including the closing of the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in Beaumont—have hit some predominantly black communities in Texas particularly hard.

“Our Beaumont clinic [saw] a majority [of] African-American women, and the majority are low-income,” said Sadler. Travel is not an option for them because of a lack of financial resources. “They’ve never been out of the city of Beaumont, Texas. Our clients in Fort Worth, they might have [money]. In Beaumont they just don’t have it.”

Many activists argue that while Roe v. Wade in 1973 established a woman’s right to choose, it means nothing if women cannot access services because of a lack of financial resources or legal restrictions. This falls hardest on women of color and those struggling to get by.