As abortion bans loom, Black families are left vulnerable

Originally published by The 19th

This story was originally published by Capital B. Please sign up for Capital B’s newsletter, which comes out each week, to follow similar stories.

Abortion attacks aren’t slowing down as the clock ticks on Florida’s six-week ban and Arizona’s Supreme Court has paved the way to reinforce a Civil War-era law that criminalizes nearly all abortions. 

The consequences could be catastrophic for Black reproductive health, exacerbating existing disparities in access to care and alarming rates of maternal mortality, advocates and health-care providers fear.

In the Southeast, Florida’s Supreme Court decided to allow the ban, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last year, to take effect 30 days after the announcement, on May 1. The same day, they also allowed Floridians to decide through an amendment on the November ballot whether to enshrine abortion protections in the state’s constitution.

It’s a consequential decision for all of the American South, where over half of the country’s Black population resides, and where many of the country’s strictest abortion laws have taken hold, backed largely by Republican lawmakers.

In May, access to abortion care in Florida will shrink from 15 weeks to six weeks.

“Pretty much in the South, abortion care is null and void,”  Ciné Julien, a reproductive justice organizer for Florida Access Network, told Capital B.

The move further shrinks access to abortion care in the region, at least until voters decide the ban’s fate at the ballot box. And across the country, in Arizona, the fate of abortion access is still in the throes of legal, political and legislative battles. The decision is on hold until a lower court hears additional arguments about the law’s constitutionality. 

Members of Florida Planned Parenthood PAC Abortion rights activists hold signs that read "Abortion is healthcare" and "bans of our bodies" in Miami during a protest.
Members of Florida Planned Parenthood PAC Abortion rights activists hold placards in Miami as they protest the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the landmark abortion Roe v. Wade case. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Black women are more likely than white women to get abortions, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows, and they are also at least three times more likely nationwide to die due to pregnancy-related causes.

In Florida, the disparity between Black and white pregnancy-related deaths doubled between 2010 to 2020. Any decision about reproductive health care leaves Black women particularly vulnerable. 

“This ban, shrouded in white supremacy, is another attempt to take away our autonomy,” said Alexia Rice-Henry, co-executive director of ARC-Southeast, an abortion fund covering many of the southern states, in a statement about the Florida news. “It will add another hurdle, but won’t stop folks from having that ultimate say.”

As two deadlines loom, advocates are in the midst of significant pushes to educate Florida residents and get them out to vote. 

“We’re in crunch mode,” said Melanie Andrade Williams, the legislative manager for Planned Parenthood of south, east and north Florida. For many residents, she said, “the devastating impact of what’s coming hasn’t sunk in yet.”

A mother of three, she’s worried about the implications this will have on maternal health care in the state. She fears for the regions across the state that already have limited access to reproductive care providers. Many, especially in rural areas, are living in maternity-care deserts with no care. 

“We’re already lacking in access before a ban is in place,” Williams said. “Many people hear Florida, they think Orlando and Miami.”

In the time between the decision and when the ban takes effect, as well as the lead up to November, many organizers are dispersing information about what a ban will look like in practice and mobilizing voters around Amendment 4, which will be on the ballot in the upcoming election. Amendment 4 will leave it up to voters to decide whether or not access to abortion should be enshrined in the state’s constitution. It will need at least 60% of voters to support it to be approved. 

“I’m honestly exhausted,” Julien said. “It’s hectic. We’re always on our toes.”

Williams also worries about health care providers leaving states with shrinking access because they don’t feel safe performing the full spectrum of care they’ve been trained to provide, including abortions. She has already seen some OB-GYN doctors leave for states where abortion care is less restrictive. 

That could increase the number of maternity-care deserts and reduce access to maternal health care. 

“There’s a lot on the line for us,” Williams said.