In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which shattered our constitutional right to an abortion, my social media feed and e-mail inbox have been flooded. And what I’ve been reading, even from many who I admire, has shocked me to my core.
That’s because many have argued we must simply respect opposing opinions. Put our head down. Agree to disagree.
As a Black birthing-person, I ragefully dissent.
“Your privilege is showing,” was my first thought. My second thought was, “there is no opposing opinion that will be respected or regarded by me with anything but full guttural disgust.”
Because I work in diversity, equity and inclusion, one might be tempted to think that such a stance does not honor diversity of thought, is not inclusive and will not advance equity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Why? In my work I’ve learned that the most equity-centered stance one can take in watershed moments like this is to stand on principles of justice and challenge the dissenting opinions of those who would deny others fundamental rights.
The truth behind the Supreme Court decision handed out on Friday is that abortion bans are about control. Controlled bodies are easier to abuse and manipulate. And a birthing-person (a more inclusive term to describe people who give birth: women, men, gender non-binary people) can never be equal or free if they are denied the basic right to make decisions for themselves and their family. The most marginalized will be Black birthing-people and other people of color who have historically been up against crushing costs and obstacles in obtaining reproductive healthcare.
For example, several of the new laws rolling back abortion rights are in the south, where 56 percent of Black Americans live. Black maternal mortality rates are of great concern as Black people are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white people. And according to some studies, the ban could result in a 33 percent increase in pregnancy-related deaths among Black people, and according to 91 percent of Black people who know all too well that an unplanned pregnancy is a persistent contributor to poverty for Black people.
Black women, like me, have toiled and died across generations for the right and freedom to control our bodies - from slavery, to segregation, to the Supreme Court. In the not-too-distant past, our bodies were regarded as property, we were violently treated as less than human, and we were told that we weren’t to be trusted with freedom of any kind.
Equity is about specificity. In my line of work, I often ask myself what specific support and resources does one need to thrive? In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, I’ve been asking myself what support and resources have those opposed to choice and bodily autonomy -- what are those people being robbed of? The answer is nothing. As a diversity, equity and inclusion practitioner, I will always stand firm with those being oppressed and robbed of their support and resources.
One cannot separate this decision from the history that brought us here. Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, followed by Roe v. Wade in 1973, were instrumental in the rise of birthing people in the workplace. For the first time, we had full autonomy of choice - when to start a family, if we wanted children at all - allowing us to focus on careers or plan when pregnancy would be a reasonable option. Removing these rights would plunge us back into a subsidiary role.
We find ourselves in an era of stark health disparities, invasive surveillance, and criminalization for any scenario not ending in viable birth, including miscarriages. My fear is punitive measures will be delivered to birthing people, doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, clinic staff, volunteers, friends, and family. I believe this level of government-sponsored enforcement feels insidiously similar to 1700s slave patrols, considering who we know will be most impacted by these bans.
Our right to bodily autonomy is fundamental to our freedom - freedom many of us have only realized two generations removed from being regarded as property. Any opinion that opposes our right to this freedom is privileged and myopic.
So where do we go from here? Communities can stand up and take action by supporting Black and Indigenous-led groups that have been leading the charge for reproductive health care. We can organize, mobilize, and vote in upcoming federal, state and local elections and prioritize those candidates that believe in bodily autonomy. We can amplify the resources that center around mutual aid and community.
Author Robert Jones Jr. said in 2015, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Amira Barger an executive vice president at a global communications firm, providing diversity, equity and inclusion counsel to clients. She is also an adjunct professor of marketing and communications at Cal State East Bay. Views are the author's own.