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Should Black Women Defend Abortion Rights?

Posted: Feb 05, 2012

Sunday, Jan. 22nd marked the 39th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, where the high court marked abortion as legal in every state in the U.S. However, nearly four decades after the landmark ruling was given, the issue of abortion still remains controversial.

Some religions take a hardline approach to opposing abortion.

For example, the Rev. John J. Raphael from the National Black Catholic Congress likened abortion to being a “major crisis” in the Black community and claims that abortion is the leading cause of death for Blacks.

On a nearly annual basis, new legislation has been proposed to severely restrict access to abortions in various states. In spite of the legal and moral issues surrounding abortion, the actual procedure remains a popular surgery for many women. Black women accounted for 40.2 percent of women who had abortions in 2008 or 472 abortions for every 1,000 live births in 2009 — the most recent year that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had data available.

Young Poor Women Have Majority of Abortions

According to the CDC, the high abortion rates among Black women can be attributed to the higher rates of unintended pregnancies. Women of color who have abortions tend to be between the ages of 18 to 24 and are either separated or unmarried and make less than $15,000 a year, according to the Black Women’s Health Project.

Meanwhile, a 2004 Guttmacher Institute survey shows that the top two reasons women gave for going through with an abortion were: 1) “Having a baby would dramatically change my life;” and 2) “I can’t afford a baby now.” Other reasons included: relationship problems; a desire not to be a single mother; not wanting to have any more children; and health problems.

How to lower the number of abortions, in particular for Black women, can be boiled down to increasing access to birth control to lower the rates of unintended pregnancies, according to the 2008 Guttmacher Policy Review.

“Geographic access to services is a factor for some women; however, for many, it is more a matter of being able to afford the more effective — usually more expensive —prescription [birth control] methods. Beyond geographic and financial access, life events such as relationship changes, moving or personal crises can have a direct impact on method continuation,” the review stated.

Veronica Byrd, the director of Black media for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says she has heard similar reasons as to why birth control is neglected among Black women.

“Over the years, I’ve heard many friends describe having to choose between their birth control pills and paying their bills,” Byrd wrote in her article, “Why African-Americans Support Abortion Rights.”
To Byrd, the higher abortion rates are not a moral failing or a sign of conspiratorial genocide, but a symptom of massive health care disparities.

“Abortion is a stopgap, not a solution, to the real problems facing Black women,” she said. “While standing firm for abortion rights, we must also find ways to reduce poverty and expand access to prevention services,” she concluded.

Last Monday, Jan. 23rd, a mass to pray for the end of abortion was held at St. Martha Church in Miami Shores. Church officials declined to make a formal statement about the mass.

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