40 Years Later: Abortion Rights Still Matter

Even decades after Roe v. Wade, women of color strive to define and protect their reproductive destiny.

Alex Wong/Getty Images News
Alex Wong/Getty Images News

When the organization found itself facing a significant loss of funding for its health work from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Planned Parenthood highlighted how many low-income women of color benefit from such programs, and increased the diversity of its spokeswomen in order to publicize such work. Actress Nia Long joined other high-profile celebrity ambassadors of color, such as actresses Gabrielle Union and Aisha Tyler.

The organization has also hired a more-diverse staff to focus on actively involving women of color. In an interview with The Root, Kelley Robinson at Planned Parenthood explained that making a concerted effort to reach out to communities of color and tailor messages to them are keys to keeping women of color informed and engaged on the issue of reproductive health. Acknowledging the shortcomings of the reproductive-rights movement in the past, she said, “Women of color have been marginalized within the movement for a long time.”

Going Beyond Labels

But she highlighted new findings that Planned Parenthood unveiled in the new year — namely that while many women support the legal right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, many are uncomfortable with the label “pro-choice.” While the term has not been replaced, the reproductive-rights movement is striving to tailor its message to address more effectively the fluidity and complexity that reflect the way many women feel about this issue.

“Moving away from those labels has really helped in bringing in communities of color,” Robinson said. “I can really see it in my work at historically black colleges.” Proving how much labels appear to paint an unclear picture of American attitudes on the subject, a recent poll found that a record-low number of Americans — 41 percent — consider themselves “pro-choice,” but in another poll, a record number, 63 percent, did not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

Robinson also raised perhaps the most important policy issue in the search for a solution to the abortion debate, particularly in communities of color: sex education. She cited a program launched by one of the Planned Parenthood affiliates in California, in which young, single mothers help to engage young teens in comprehensive sexual ed. The goal is to help educate younger girls so that they make safer, more informed and more responsible sexual-health choices.

The program reinforces the importance of employing creative solutions to find effective messaging ambassadors on the issue of reproductive rights. With unmarried and poor women more likely to seek an abortion, such programs could play a key role in decreasing the number of abortions overall as well as in communities of color, if only more funding and support existed for them.

As for conflicting racial and cultural attitudes toward abortion 40 years after Roe v. Wade, Feldt said that the subject isn’t really so complex after all. “I’ve traveled all over the world,” she explained. “Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are, what race you are, what color you are. There are some basic human issues and basic human needs, and people who really have concern about women and women’s equality and the well-being of children always want women to have access to reproductive health care.”

She concluded, “Women can’t have any other power in the world if they don’t have the power to determine their own reproductive destiny.”

Keli Goff is The Root’s political correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.