We Black women have always been deemed essential to this country, but only when everyone else’s survival relies upon it — never our own. You need a nanny/maid/housekeeper to care for your family and raise your children? Black women have been your affordable high-quality workforce. But what has never been seen as essential, not fully, in our country’s history, is Black women’s basic human rights, including the most basic right of all — to be the only ones with a say over what happens with our own bodies.
Right now, this is especially true for Black women with low incomes living in Texas.
Trying to keep up with the current state of abortion access in Texas right now almost requires a law degree. The legal whiplash has meant women lucky enough to be able to make an appointment one day have had that appointment cancelled the next, and then rescheduled the day after. And this has happened again and again as the state continues to do all it can to make abortion inaccessible. In fact, just today a federal appeals court once again allowed Gov. Abbott to ban medication abortion in the state of Texas.
That means your only options are to travel to another state where there are currently no COVID-19 related abortion bans in place, attempt to self-manage an abortion, or carry your pregnancy to term.
If you can’t afford to travel, are unable to work from home, or cannot afford to stop working — especially if you are working an essential job — this means you could be left with no options at all. We know that in this country people of color make up the majority of low-wage earners economically impacted by the pandemic and are the least likely to be able to work from home and cannot afford to stop working. Nonwhite women are more likely to hold jobs deemed “essential” than any other demographic.
Not to mention, data from Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Illinois shows the virus is killing Black people at a higher rate than anyone else, a direct result of the history of systemic racism embedded in our health care system, the harsh economic disparities that already make it impossible for us not to work, and the targeted misinformation on how the virus is spread and how to stop it.
When this is your reality, you are not worried about the potential spread of the virus that traveling to a different state can cause. You are exposing yourself to the virus every single day, as you stock shelves, bag groceries, and clean hospitals and nursing homes. The government has deemed your job essential — you are helping all of us who are privileged enough to stay home and survive. While it seems heroic to some now, it is simply your job. You cannot afford to stop working. And you are one of the lucky ones who still has a job.
Even though your job has been deemed essential, your humanity, your ability to earn a living wage, your ability to access health care — pandemic or not — is not. And now in the state of Texas (and several others) your legal ability to access abortion is currently up in the air for a court to decide.
We know this firsthand, because we are hearing from you every day. At The Afiya Center — an organization that serves Black women and girls by transforming their relationship with sexual and reproductive health in Dallas, Texas — we are hearing from Black women with low incomes in desperate need of an abortion right now. At Planned Parenthood, our health centers are being flooded with calls from women from all walks of life who share the same desperate need. The difference is, we know that some of them will be able to travel for the care they need, and some won’t. And it won’t be easy for anyone. Politicians are making damn sure of it.
For women already struggling to get by, an abortion does not stop them from falling into poverty. They are already there. For many, an abortion can be a matter of survival. There are women every day who are being forced to carry a pregnancy to term simply because they cannot afford the abortion they want and need.
That’s why the work of The Afiya Center and the work of The Afiya Center’s abortion fund, Supporting Your Sistahs (SYS Fund) is so important. The SYS Fund is a practical support fund that assists Black women with funding transportation, childcare expenses, food, and financial assistance to help cover procedure costs. It’s also why we at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, alongside our partners the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project, have been battling this out in court. And why Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas and independent providers are working tirelessly to continue to provide care when they legally can.
As the fight continues day by day we know that it’s not just your jobs that are essential, but that your access to abortion is too. We’re not giving up. Together we will continue to work to ensure you can get the health care you need.
About the Authors:
Marsha Jones is the Executive Director of The Afiya Center.
Alexis McGill Johnson is the Acting President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.