MomsRising, a grassroots organization dedicated to achieving economic security for mothers and women, is leading the fight against the recent legislative blocks to reproductive freedom. MomsRising found the people who need access to abortions are often mothers. As a result of these abortion bans, we could see a rise in maternal morbidity, a disproportionate impact to women of color and LGBTQ+ individuals and an increased risk of families experiencing poverty.
As of March, 529 abortion restrictions have been introduced in 41 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute. They have effectively been enacted in Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, South Dakota, Wyoming and Texas. The ban has also recently passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives, per Reuters.
MomsRising created a petition to urge the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to secure women’s reproductive rights. Diarra Diouf, Campaign Director of Maternal Justice, Reproductive Justice and Youth Justice at MomsRising, spoke to The Root about why the bill is important and why reproductive rights are vital to women of color.
The Root: How will the recent abortion bans affect women of color, especially as we recover from the pandemic?
When we lose access to abortion, we will see an increase in maternal morbidity rates across the board. The CDC says, about 700 women in the U.S. die annually as a result of pregnancy or related complications and at least 50,000 women each year experience potentially life-threatening complications in childbirth that can have serious and life-long consequences for women and their families. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.
The act of abortion will not simply go away when bans are enacted. More people will die from unsafe abortions, and because racial disparities and social, health, environmental, and economic determinants already exists, the highest amount of people that will die annually from unsafe abortions will be Black women and women of color. There is no nice way to put it, our literal lives are on the line.
We have the data and what is clear is that the people hurt most by abortion restrictions are those who already face barriers to accessing health care - including women and mothers, Black, Brown, Latino, Indigenous and People of Color, those working to make ends meet, members of the TGNCI (transgender, intersex, and gender-nonconforming) and LGBTQI community, immigrants, young people, those living in rural communities, and/or people with disabilities.
The fundamental right to make decisions about our bodies, lives, and futures is essential to the pursuit of not only racial and reproductive justice but economic justice as well.
TR: What is your goal number for signatures on the petition?
As many signatures as possible! In September 2021, MomsRising safely hand delivered over 300,000 signatures alongside organizations like SHERO Mississippi, MS in Action, UltraViolet, MoveOn, NARAL, Catholics for Choice, and National Council of Jewish Women to our members of Congress at the Capitol – to both, legislators who support WHPA and the ones who don’t. We’re not letting up anytime soon. This number is increasing everyday and we hope to raise more awareness about WHPA and reproductive rights in the future, garner additional signatures, and inspire more action takers.
TR: What are the next steps after everyone’s signatures are collected?
We did win (not the win we wanted) but our actions and advocacy worked! On September 24, 2021, Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the U.S. House of Representatives took an essential step to protect our health, rights, dignity, and autonomy by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) of 2021! While WHPA didn’t pass the Senate after passing the House, many of our Senators showed up and showed out once it came time to bring the final vote to the Senate.
This moment comes after decades of advocacy of Black women, queer activists, and feminist reproductive rights leaders who have paved the way and brought us here. We must acknowledge not only their activism but their bravery and courage. They risked their own lives to protect the honor of today’s justice.
And although we didn’t get the amount of votes in the Senate that we needed to see WHPA become federal law, we still make it a point to thank our representatives for listening, acknowledging the activism of those that came before us, and taking leadership when it mattered the most.
We must keep the pressure on our U.S. Senators to make sure they bring this bill to the floor and PASS IT.
TR: Why is the passing of this bill important to you?
The most extreme abortion-ban bill (S.B. 8) Texas has ever seen went into effect last Spring and is now law. I live in Houston and when I had to write about the unfortunate news, I felt angry, disappointed, unprotected. Knowing that the U.S. Supreme Court had the power to block the law and protect our reproductive rights yet they made the decision not to, was terrifying.
The Court was presented with three separate opportunities to block the Texas law and rejected each and every request, sending a clear message to me, Texans that look like me and Americans across the country: Our reproductive rights and our lives simply put, do not matter.
Every single person should be able to make their own decisions about their health and their bodies — including whether to get an abortion, in consultation with their loved ones and health care providers. Our elected officials and appointed judges need to understand that abortion is essential health care and respect people’s dignity, autonomy and rights. All families deserve to determine if, when, and how they will build their families.
If there’s anything the global pandemic has taught me is that none of us are living single-issue lives. All of us, especially now, are living complex lives and experiencing unique circumstances. It does not matter where you stand on abortion and what your opinion is, what matters is that we unite to protect our human rights and access to health care. Our reproductive rights are unequivocally essential to our lives and well-being.
TR: In addition to signing the petition, are there any other action items we can share with our audience to help this initiative?
Follow our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages for more information on ways to take action and live reproductive justice events. Be on the lookout for #MaternalJustice live chats every month on our platforms.