The Supreme Court allowing SB 8, also known as the heartbeat law, to take effect has now led to the nation’s most rigid restriction on abortions to date, and it essentially bans an abortion procedure after a heartbeat is detected (around six weeks). Even more alarming, it also put power in the hands of private citizens to enforce the law by deputizing them to be abortion bounty hunters.
Under the law, “any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state,”may file a private lawsuit against anyone who performs an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy (doctors, nurse practitioners). In addition, individuals can choose to file against anyone who “knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion” (clinic staff, counselors, Lyft drivers, etc.) Plaintiffs who prevail in such suits shall receive at least $10,000 from the defendant. That means that private citizens could bring lawsuits to doctors, nurses, counselors, and even a taxi driver, to help people access reproductive health care, a fundamental human right.
The choice to terminate a pregnancy is private and should never be used to push a political agenda that further marginalizes people, especially Black people. Each year, millions of women who vary in age, marital status, and sexual orientation experience unplanned pregnancies. Often this discovery is one that they didn’t plan on or desire. That is why access to abortion is so important; it is not up to our legal systems to force people to become parents, especially if they have no desire or means to be parents.
For Black women, who make up about 2/3 of all abortions, the decision goes far beyond just the reason of bodily autonomy. We can not talk about abortion rights in the Black community without considering the socioeconomic policies that compel them to get abortions and varying social justice issues that lead to tragic consequences.
Let’s begin with a bit of money math. Currently, raising a child in the United States, on average, costs approximately $233,610. The cost of vaginal delivery is between $5,000 and $11,000 in most states based on data compiled in the most recent Expenditures on Children by Families report completed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and data collected by Fair Health. These numbers do not consider if the child has special needs or has a severe medical incident. That means the average cost per year to raise a child hovers around $15,000.
Although according to Cense data, the household income of Black households did go up by 8.5% (from $42,447 to $46,073), that annual cost of child-rearing still equates to almost 32% of net income, and that is only for one child. There are those of the anti-abortion movement that might say that there are programs that can assist families. Unfortunately, we have continued to see programs cut, and oftentimes the programs that do remain available are not always easy to navigate or access. The removal of abortion access limits people’s family planning options and can create a continuity of generational poverty in Black communities.
However, this isn’t just about the aspects of economics. It’s about Reproductive Justice, a phrase created by SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Reproductive Justice is the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. Sadly, we all deeply understand the constant threat of violence we can encounter in our communities for just the color of our skin. Therefore we do NOT have safe and sustainable communities to raise our children in and should not be forced to carry to term pregnancies that may have been unintended or otherwise.
While some on the right might say that individuals should be more responsible, I challenge that notion with a question; who is teaching us how to be more sexually responsible? Well, in Texas, no one, as the great state of Texas, doesn’t have a sex education mandate, which means that there is no requirement and that the decision to teach such content would fall on individual school districts. Yet, even if a school district chooses to administer some sex education curriculum, the state requires that the program stresses absence. These restrictions reduce the comprehensiveness of the content, which further mitigates people’s access to reproductive health care through a lack of comprehensive information.
Where do we go from here, welp? Full disclosure, we are in a pickle due to the language of SB8 and how it has put the power in the hands of the public watchdog; this law will be hard to challenge. So we must prepare for a fight as at least 22 states are actively working to ban or restrict access to abortion care.
Here’s what you can do:
- Donate to local Texas based organizations working to assist people in accessing comprehensive sexual health care, like janesdueprocess.org
- Educate yourself and get involved on the state level by on your state laws around reproductive health care then; call, write or visit your state legislators and members of Congress and stress the importance of voting to protect reproductive rights.
- Teach the youth; find out your state’s sex education policies by going to SIECUS.org and reviewing the list of Sex Ed policies state by state. If you have school-aged children, call the school and stress the importance of age-appropriate Comprehensive Sex Education.
For hundreds of years, Black women have had to rage war on the varying social, economic, political, and systematically racist forces that continue to try to rape us of our bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. Unfortunately, SB 8 is just another example of the lack of value of Black women and what seems like one of the last nails in the coffin to Black women’s reproductive rights, but it doesn’t have to be if we ALL come out swinging and ready to fight!
Michelle Hope is a dedicated Sexologist, educator, and activist with a Master’s degree in Human Development and extensive post-graduate training in sexuality. She is the Founder of Mixed Moxie a social impact firm focusing on the advancement of Reproductive Justice and sexual health equity for all people; regardless of gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or socioeconomic status.
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