As a Black woman from Virginia, I’m pretty nervous about the outcome of this upcoming election.
I’ve traveled around the Commonwealth and around the United States talking about Black women’s health, and the impact that the Trump administration's policies have already had on our health — all a foreshadow of what could come to my home state depending on the outcome on Nov. 7.
An Ed Gillespie governorship would not only condone racist and anti-immigrant fear-mongering in elections to come, it would devastate Black Virginians’ access to affordable health care. Blocking access to affordable health care and preventative care at Planned Parenthood health centers disproportionately harms people of color. And, as always, the responsibility to advocate for the needs of our whole community, our whole state, is disproportionately placed on our shoulders.
From 2011-2012, I served on the Alexandria Commission on Women. The health and wellbeing of Virginia women — particularly Black women — has a special place in my heart. I’ve spent my professional life advocating for communities of color on issues of reproductive health, rights, and justice. I’ve seen firsthand how Medicaid funding, access to affordable birth control, STI tests, and cancer screenings allow Black women to take control over their reproductive futures and succeed both personally and professionally.
All of the health care resources that affect Black women’s ability to thrive will be on the chopping block if Gillespie is elected governor.
First, Gillespie has promised he would ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood if elected. About 23,000 Virginians rely on Planned Parenthood health centers every year, 33 percent of which identify as Black.
Planned Parenthood health centers are one of the few places women can go to access lifesaving reproductive health care on a sliding scale. No matter your income, insurance status or immigration status, Planned Parenthood is there for you.
And, due to the prevalence and power of systemic racism in our country, Black women face reproductive health care disparities that our White counterparts don’t.
Black women are the group most likely to die from breast cancer and account for 64 percent of new cases of HIV among women. In 2014, nearly half of the people with HIV diagnoses who died were Black. This is health inequality. And access to Planned Parenthood health centers is necessary to fight it.
On top of removing funding for Planned Parenthood, Gillespie would block 400,000 Virginians from accessing health insurance by refusing to implement Medicaid Expansion.
Nationally, women are the majority of Medicaid enrollees, and due to systemic barriers, women of color disproportionately comprise the Medicaid population. Thirty percent of Black women are enrolled in Medicaid, compared to only 14 percent of White women.
Without Medicaid funding for the Commonwealth, a disproportionate number of Black women are left uninsured.
Perhaps most jarring of all, maternal mortality is the sixth most common cause of death among women in the U.S. (ages 25-34) and Black women are dying at more than three times the rate of White women. Maternal mortality is a crisis in Black communities and access to early and prompt health care — including Medicaid coverage — can help close the gap.
Fifteen million Black women gained access to no cost birth control thanks to the Obamacare birth control benefit and nearly 40 percent of Black women of reproductive age could not afford more than $10 for birth control if they had to pay out of pocket, including 46 percent of mothers with children under 18.
If Gillespie is elected as governor, the needs of Black women in the Commonwealth will go unrepresented. As President Barack Obama told us in Richmond the other week, the Democratic Party can get a little “sleepy” and “complacent."
But not us, not Black women.
On Nov. 7, Black women from across the Commonwealth will hit the polls to elect women’s health champions Dr. Ralph Northam for governor, Justin Fairfax for lieutenant governor, and reelect Attorney General Mark Herring.
We know that we have too much to lose.
Alencia Johnson is the Director of Constituency Communications, Planned Parenthood Votes