How Roe v. Wade getting struck down impacts women of color

This decision could disproportionately affect the access to safe and timely health services for African American women in particular and is concerning, regardless of personal beliefs.


The United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was unexpected for many. Abortion has been a polarizing topic for years, and the recent ruling has created angst for women of all colors regarding the future of their health. This decision could disproportionately affect the access to safe and timely health services for African American women in particular and is concerning, regardless of personal beliefs.

The decision was described as a death sentence for many African American women with the potential to undo decades of advancement in women’s health by Linda Blount, president and chief executive of the Black Women’s Health Imperative.

Dr. Melissa Simon, co-chair of Illinois Unidos’ Health and Policy Committee, expressed concerns that women of color would be disproportionately impacted, and the effects could further burden those who already have difficulties accessing health care; specifically reproductive health services.

Abortion rates differ across racial and ethnic groups. According to 2019 data from the CDC, abortion rates were 3.6 times higher among non-Hispanic black women and 1.8 times higher among Hispanic women when compared to non-Hispanic white women.

The incongruences in U.S. abortion rates parallel other health inequalities, including generally poorer health outcomes in people of color and populations with lower income and education. These include higher infant mortality, shorter life expectancy and increased cancer incidence. Additional factors that further complicate higher abortion rates among racial and ethnic minority groups include inequal access to quality family planning services and distrust of the medical system.

The health inequities above are often attributed to systemic hardships experienced by disadvantaged communities, including increased stress, decreased access to health care, inferior living and working conditions and racial discrimination. The highest poverty rates are experienced by American Indian or Alaska Native, African American and Hispanic women. These groups also represent a disproportionate number of women living in poverty.

According to 2020 U.S. Census data, African Americans had the highest poverty rate among the major racial groups examined in their report. In 2019, the number of African Americans in poverty was 1.8 times higher than the rate of the general population. While they represented 13.2% of the total population in the U.S., they accounted for 23.8% of the population living in poverty.

There is concern that unequal access to quality women’s health services for minority groups will be further strained following the Supreme Court’s ruling, leading to more unintended pregnancies and further widening the wealth gap. 2020 data from the CDC showed that the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic black women was almost three times that for non-Hispanic white women and was significantly higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women.

African American women are also over three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes compared to their Caucasian counterparts, which has contributed to the increase in overall rates of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. There is concern that limiting access to abortion will do little to improve the underlying inequities of wealth, education, health care and other integral factors involved in reproductive health, which may worsen health disparities for women of color.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

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