For women of color, the right to control our own bodies has been denied to us throughout our four hundred year history in the United States. The Roe v. Wade’s 1973 Supreme Court decision, which placed the right to abortion within a broader right to privacy, was not only, contrary to many critics, a victory for white women. It was also a milestone in the struggle of people of color – and especially black people – to gain autonomy over their own bodies and reproductive lives.
Now, nearly 50 years later, a vastly different Supreme Court, deliberately and deceptively stacked with anti-abortion radicals, is set to decimate abortion rights as a matter of federal constitutional law in a legality ruling. of the 15 weeks of the Mississippi. prohibition of abortion. If, as expected, the court’s anti-abortion hardliners leave it to state legislatures to determine the legality of an abortion, it’s critical that the Colorado legislature act now to protect abortion rights.
It’s time for Colorado lawmakers to stop paying lip service to abortion rights, and step up and pave the way for the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA). State lawmakers must introduce and pass RHEA now, and Governor Polis must sign it into effect immediately.
The right to individual self-determination – the right to control our own bodies – is such a precious right that for centuries African Americans have sacrificed their lives in pursuit of it. From mass abductions, slavery, forced childbirths and forced family separations, the systemic racist terror of post-reconstruction, to both public and personal segregation, to medical experimentation, to the incarceration of mass, forced birth control and sterilization, our blackness has been regulated and exploited by law and custom.
Of course, the ability to control one’s own reproductive health and decisions is deeply personal for everyone, but as an African American woman who shares a collective age-old history of bodily exploitation, coercion and denial, this agency is beyond beyond the sacrosanct. Although critics have (with some truth) considered the right to abortion guaranteed in Roe vs. Wade Being a victory for middle- and upper-income white women, the decision was indeed a significant victory for black Americans.
Sadly, deer did not guarantee access to abortion regardless of income or health insurance status, and much more needs to be done to make abortion a reality, but the ruling was an important starting point.
Without this starting point, pregnant women will be at the mercy of their state legislatures. Which means politicians will determine our physical and mental health, our educational opportunities and our financial well-being. According to the Guttmacher Institute, state legislatures passed 106 abortion restrictions last year, the most since the Court ruled deer in 1973.
If, but more likely when, the Supreme Court gives the green light to state legislatures to restrict or ban abortion later this year, it is estimated 26 States will probably ban abortion outright. BBarriers to abortion access continue to weigh the heaviest on those who already have the least access to health care – communities of color, low-income people, youth, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community and the rural Coloradans. We cannot ignore the needs of the many because of the lack of leadership from the few.
Colorado voters decisively defeated four statewide anti-abortion ballot measures between 2008 and 2020. However, no law in Colorado explicitly protects the right to abortion. That’s why we must protect abortion access and reproductive rights with the Reproductive Health Equity Act to be introduced in the Colorado General Assembly in the 2022 legislative session.
Abortion rights organization Cobalt and reproductive justice organization COLOR, along with more than 35 other grassroots organizations, support RHEA, and yes, that means black women too. Legislation will guarantee each individual the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception; anyone who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy and to give birth or have an abortion; and a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus will have no independent rights under Colorado law.
In Colorado, like everywhere in the United States, we have a black health and health care crisis, and a black maternal health crisis in particular. So today, we’re starting by making sure our lawmakers pass legislation that will truly help women of color. We need to expand access to health care – which by definition includes abortion and other reproductive care – so that everyone can help close this gap.
Laws like RHEA will take a crucial step in this direction. Women of color must be able to decide for ourselves if and when we want to have children, and Colorado law must affirm our humanity and agency to consider and control OUR bodies, OUR lives, and OUR future.
Portia Prescott serves on Cobalt’s Board of Directors and Dani Newsum is Cobalt’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. Cobalt is a reproductive rights advocacy group.