This election season has been quite a roller coaster ride. Unfortunately, we’re not in an amusement park where we can go home and laugh about it. The reality is that reproductive freedom is in serious danger — and so too are our lives.
While politicians are trying to enforce an abortion ban and judges are going back and forth with rulings, Georgians are sitting in waiting rooms wondering if they’ll be allowed to get an abortion without restrictions or turned away while waiting to see the doctor. And many of those patients are Black women.
Once the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, first signed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019, was allowed to take effect.
Black women knew what was coming next. The ban takes away Georgians’ control over their own bodies — and disproportionately harms Black Georgians, people with low incomes, and those living in rural communities with less access to care. Black women responded as we always do: by turning out to organize and mobilize voters to the polls.
As they did the work to win back their rights, Georgians faced the confusion and chaos of the ban going into and out of effect. Now, the ban is back, and Black women are, once again, preparing to fight back in force at the polls.
Why should politicians treat our health care like a political football? It’s unconscionable to ban abortion when maternal mortality is alarmingly high, and access to sexual and reproductive health care is dangerously limited. These bans are not in place to solve the problems we already have — they’re intentionally designed to do more harm to Black people, and we cannot stand for it.
The facts speak for themselves. Georgia has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the country — a country that, by the way, has higher maternal mortality rates than any of its high-income peers around the world — and is considered one of the most dangerous states to be pregnant in today. And Black women are even more at risk: 3.3 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women. Because of structural racism in the health care system and the state’s lack of investment in social support to help Black pregnant people thrive, Black women are hurt the most by restrictions on reproductive freedom.
Over 600,000 women in Georgia live in contraceptive deserts — counties without reasonable access to the full range of birth control methods. What’s more, access to health care providers is not a guarantee for thousands of women. According to Human Rights Watch, Georgia is also faced with a severe shortage of ob-gyns, and nearly half of its 159 counties do not have a single abortion provider.
This didn’t just happen: It’s the legacy of this country’s history of taking away the rights of Black, Latino, and Indigenous folks. That includes the right to decide whether and when to have children, and the right to raise them in environments that are healthy, nurturing, and safe.
There is absolutely no place for politics in our healthcare decisions. Black women know that fixing these problems and empowering their communities includes casting a ballot to vote in election after election. And the recent midterm elections were no exception.
While so many issues drive Black women to the polls every election, this year, reproductive rights were at the top of the list. According to Kaiser Family Foundation polls, 61% of Black women aged 18-49 and 54% of Black women over age 50 said the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade had a major impact on their decision to vote in the midterm elections.
Tuesday, Georgians have another chance to stop this sickening tide of restrictions that threaten the lives of Black women and families. We need leaders who are going to defend our freedom, not take it away. Every person is the expert in their own life, and we must trust them to make their own decisions about their health, their family, and their future. No one can or should make these decisions for someone else.
When Black women turn out and vote, we bring the power to shift our society into one that honors and respects the choices all women make. Your ballot is your power — and when you show up on Tuesday, you’re demanding a better future for yourself, your family, and all Georgians.
Alexis McGill Johnson is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Planned Parenthood provides vital health services to 2.4 million people each year through more than 600 health centers across the country. Planned Parenthood’s vision is a world of equity: where sexual and reproductive rights are basic human rights; where access to health care doesn’t depend on who you are or where you live; and where every person has the opportunity to choose their own path to a healthy and meaningful life.