Study reveals the impact of a total abortion ban would increase Black maternal mortality by at least 33% 

Regardless of whether or not you believe in abortion, access to good reproductive healthcare – which includes the ability to choose a legal and safe abortion – saves lives and protects families. The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade ensures that many more women in America, of all races, education and income levels are going to die in childbirth because they won’t have access to that care. 

“The impact that the reversal of Roe v. Wade will have on our community is significant and immeasurable,” says Dr. Melinda Miller-Thrasher, an Atlanta-based OB-GYN. “Socioeconomic factors dictate that women of color, particularly in the inner cities and rural areas will be negatively impacted the most. I suspect that the incidence of back-alley terminations will spike, with an unacceptable associated increase in morbidity and mortality.”

Black women especially, who already die at three to four times the rate of white women in childbirth will bear the brunt of the negative effects of the new ruling, which allows the states to determine abortion access. Further, Black families will face a huge financial burden as they are forced to bear more children than they can afford. 

Black women in the U.S. have the highest rate of abortions, about 24 abortions per 1,000 Black women, compared to just seven abortions per 1,000 white women.

“The fall of Roe will also condemn Black women who seek abortions due to financial hardship to an inescapable cycle of impoverishment along with the poor health outcomes that accompany it,”  writes Michelle Webb, Communications Director of the Black Women’s Health Imperative. More than 1 in 5 Black women lives in poverty, compared to around 1 in 10 white women. There is also the harsh reality of criminalization, which will hit the Black community hardest, as it always does.

The bleak reproductive justice situation is not hopeless. Aftershock, an award-winning documentary produced and directed by Paula Eisner and Tonya Lewis Lee, explores Black maternal mortality, but also celebrates the grassroots community efforts that are pressuring policymakers at local, state and national levels to at least attempt to mitigate some of the multiple structural inequalities that Black families must navigate to access quality healthcare.

Reproductive justice advocates at every level – from the medical profession and legislators to filmmakers and everyday folk – to raise awareness and preserve reproductive rights. 

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, introduced by Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, Sen. Cory Booker and other members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus is a package of 12 bills designed to address and correct many of the issues that lead to 60% of preventable deaths during and just after childbirth. The bill passed the House and is currently stalled by Republicans in the Senate.

At the same time, impactful work in birth justice activism is happening at the community level. Black fathers and partners, mothers and friends are joining together to establish and strengthen organizations that raise awareness, advocate for change, spotlight the importance of midwives and doulas in childbirth and share the stories of women who had traumatic medical experiences while giving birth but who survived.

According to birth justice advocates, there is a role for everyone in the effort to reduce health disparities and save the lives of Black birthing people. In Georgia, which has either the worst or second worst rate of Black maternal mortality in the U.S. in recent years, there are several organizations that are on the front lines of the battle for reproductive justice, including Atlanta-based Sister Song, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, and Black Women’s Health Imperative

“You need to vote again, and again, and again or you can run for office and change your world. Voting matters!”  Tonya Lewis Lee, says.

There is widespread agreement that, despite ongoing efforts to dilute the votes of marginalized communities, this is no time to be apathetic about voting, especially in local and state elections. Kansas, a state that leans Republican and voted for Donald Trump by a 15-point margin, defeated an amendment to its constitution that would ban abortion. Several other states will have abortion on the ballot in upcoming elections. A majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center

“Kira was an extraordinary person. She spoke five languages, and was highly educated. She was very athletic and took impeccable care of herself before and during her pregnancies. None of that saved her.”

Glenda Hatchett

After six years, Atlanta-based Judge Glenda Hatchet TV personality and  formidable litigator – is still fiercely grieving her daughter-in-law’s death. She and her son Charles Johnson, Kira’s husband, are on the front lines of reproductive activism.

“When you look at the timeline of what happened at Cedars Sinai Hospital, supposedly a first-rate healthcare facility, Kira went in for a routinely scheduled C-section and was butchered by a doctor who is still allowed to practice medicine.” The family has filed suit against the hospital.

She and Johnson – who is raising two young sons – have shared their tragic story and the realities of Black maternal mortality on countless news outlets, in conferences and before Congress. Their mission is to bring attention to the lived reality of Black communities whose mothers do not receive the same quality of medical care that white women receive.

“Kira’s sons are very conscious of the fact that all their friends have a mama, and that their mommy is in heaven,” Hatchett says as she recalls a time that lives in her heart like a stake. 

“When Charles was 2 and Langston was just a few months old, Charles came into my room and said to me, ‘Gramma G, do you have mommy’s cell phone?’ I told him no, and he said ‘Well I need you to find it so I can call God and tell him I want my mommy to be home with us.” 

Memories like that keep her heart wide open and her determination sharp and clear. As a lawyer, Hatchett’s eye is trained on empowering policy changes that can make a difference where it matters.