The recent law passed in Oklahoma that would have subjected doctors there to a felony charge for performing an abortion is a disturbing reminder that the attack on abortion access and reproductive justice remains relentless. Even a small swing in the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court could undo a constitutional right now more than four decades old and supported by more than 2 in 3 Americans.
As an African-American mother of two young girls, I am troubled by these attacks both as a woman who believes that all women should be able to control if and when to have children and as a woman of color who understands that this control has significant consequences not only for individuals but for entire communities. It is a matter of racial as well as gender equality.
Since Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in all states in 1973, anti-abortion activists and lawmakers have looked for ways to make the procedure inaccessible. A common tactic for limiting access is known as a Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers or TRAP law. These regulations are based on the concept that, because abortion is a serious and potentially dangerous surgical procedure, it needs to be tightly regimented.
There’s just one problem: It’s not true. There is no scientific proof that abortion is unsafe. It’s actually 14 times safer than giving birth to a child and 40 times safer than a common colonoscopy procedure. Most abortions don’t require any surgery in the traditional sense, and leading medical groups have taken the position that clinics do not need any additional regulation, in no small part because there is less than a 0.25 percent chance that an abortion patient will ever need to go to a hospital.
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Nonetheless, the narrative that abortion is a risky medical procedure frames abortion restrictions as a compassionate effort to improve women’s health and serves a larger strategic purpose.
TRAP laws are designed to force clinics to shutter. By requiring abortion providers to meet impossible standards, like widening their hallways, expanding their closets, installing new air filtration systems and applying for unnecessary licenses, clinics are left with no choice but to close. Last year, the N.C. General Assembly passed the “Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015” even though there is no evidence that it protects anyone. What it does do is require doctors who perform abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy to perform ultrasounds and supply the ultrasound images to state officials.
TRAP laws generally have a disproportionate effect on women of color. Having fewer clinics increases both the financial costs and the practical difficulties of accessing not only abortion but other health care services. We often have less access to resources, information and services needed to make important personal health decisions and are more likely not to have access to comprehensive sex education and contraception. We experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy than women of any other racial or ethnic group, and we are more likely to be uninsured and rely on clinics for preventive and basic health needs. We’re also more likely to experience pregnancy-related complications and are four times more likely to die from these complications than white women.
To achieve greater gender and racial equity, all women need to be able to make decisions for ourselves and our families about having children. Family planning and the timing of childbirth often have enormous consequences for women’s economic opportunity and security. To take care of ourselves and our families, women in Oklahoma, North Carolina or every other state need to control these deeply personal decisions ourselves without disingenuous interference from politicians.
One in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. I want my daughters to make decisions for themselves about having children. And I want them to know that they are part of families and communities that must take the lead in connecting the constitutional right to control our own bodies to the larger fight for the political, social and economic liberation of our communities.
Gloria De Los Santos is the Durham director of the advocacy group Action NC and the statewide director the Stand With Women campaign.