DETROIT, MI — The expected ruling overturning the constitutional right to an abortion invokes strong reactions. There will likely be no access to legal abortion in half of all states if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Some medical experts say that could spark a new public health crisis, particularly for vulnerable communities.
Overturning Roe v. Wade would allow states to ban most abortions for the first time in nearly fifty years.
“These things that we call trigger laws that are on the books in certain states are set up for when Roe falls. These laws go into effect immediately. And generally, they banned all forms of abortion, even if the woman's life is at stake,” said Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of the Black Women's Health Imperative, a decades-old national organization focused on health equity and health and wellness of Black women.
“Until around reconstruction, abortion was legal. It became illegal after slavery ended,” said Goler Blount. “But those landowners, former slave owners, said, ‘Well, we've got to keep up the labor force.’ And so, abortion became illegal.”
A piece of history studied and documented by the National Institutes of Health. Since then, research has shown that the impact on Black women has been disproportionate.
“Black women have disproportionately the greatest number of percentage of abortions. But that is due to the economic oppression and frankly, the poor economic circumstances that we exist in now, but that are 400 years in the making,” said Goler Blount.
At least 26 states are certain or likely to move quickly to ban abortion - 13 have laws designed to be “triggered” and take effect nearly immediately.
In the leaked draft opinion obtained by Politico, Justice Samuel Alito writes in a footnote, “A highly disproportionate percentage of aborted fetuses are Black… For our part, we do not question the motives of those who have supported and those who have opposed laws restricting abortions.”
Still, health care providers across the country, like Central City Integrated Health in Detroit, are bracing for the disproportionate impact on Black women.
“In communities like ours in Detroit, in Michigan, we see those numbers as high as 52%. So, 52% of women who have abortions happen to be Black,” said Dr. Kimberly Farrow, president and CEO of Central City Integrated Health.
Farrow says Black women already have a maternal mortality rate three times that of white women. And in Michigan, a 1931 law criminalizing abortion, one of the strictest in the nation, could make it worse.
“I think obviously what we're anticipating is an increase in those numbers of pregnancy-related deaths due to illegal abortions,” said Farrow. “We may see a return of people receiving services in basements, alleys and places where medical professionals aren’t present.”
According to a recent study from Duke University, a ban on abortions could increase Black maternal deaths by 33%, compared to a 21% increase for the overall population.
Primary care physician Erin Miller said creating a patchwork of states that still provide abortion services will deepen the divide and further limit access to women who can’t afford to travel across state lines for reproductive health care.
“I take care of patients who don't even have a car to get across the city of Detroit to get to their primary care doctors’ appointments,” said Miller. “So, if they need to travel to someplace like Illinois for an abortion there, it'll be impossible.”
Goler Blount says the impacts will be far-reaching.
“While this certainly disproportionately impacts Black and brown women - this is also an issue of just poor women in general,” she said. “This affects everybody.”
For now, all eyes are on the high court.