Op-Ed: The end of Roe will be a death sentence for many Black women

Activists in front of Supreme Court with banner that says "We Won't Go Back"
Supporters of abortion rights rally outside the Supreme Court on Friday.
(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

I am shocked but not surprised. And I am angry.

For all women in the United States, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade will reverse half a century of progress in women’s healthcare.

For Black women, this decision represents something even more sinister. For us, losing access to legal abortion could spell the difference between life and death.

That may sound like a melodramatic statement, but it’s not. If the past is any guide, ending the right to abortion will spark a public health crisis for Black women defined by more maternal deaths, higher rates of poverty and greater inequality overall.


That cannot be the promise of America.

Let’s look at the facts. Black women already face significant health and economic disparities. Today the maternal mortality rate is three times as high for Black women as for white women. Black women are more likely to experience maternal health complications, like preeclampsia, than white women. And more than 1 in 5 Black women lives in poverty, compared to around 1 in 10 white women.

And while just 13% of American women are Black, 38% of those receiving abortions are Black.

Moreover, Black Americans are more likely to live in Southern states, where the most restrictive abortion laws will now come into force. In Mississippi, which already bans most abortions after 15 weeks, 74% of women seeking abortions are Black. Meanwhile, in Alabama, which would make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions at any stage of pregnancy, Black women account for 62% of those who receive abortions.

And it is poorly resourced Black women who will most likely face financial barriers to abortion. While more affluent women may have the resources to travel out of state to obtain a safe, legal abortion, that’s less likely to be an option for poorer Black women. Indeed, before Roe, the death rate from illegal abortion was 12 times greater for women of color than for white women. That is the world to which we are returning.

A Black woman in Louisiana or Arkansas, for example, will quite likely have to travel hundreds of miles to Kansas or Illinois to obtain an abortion. That journey means lost wages from taking time off work. It means additional childcare expenses. And it means that it will be harder to put food on the table that month. Consider that nearly 70% of Black women are their families’ breadwinners, compared to just 36% of white women.

In short, for many Black women, the post-Roe cost of getting an abortion will simply be too high. The paradox is that most women who choose to have an abortion do so for economic reasons. And when they can’t obtain one, the financial consequences can be severe. Women who are denied an abortion are more likely to live in poverty six months after giving birth, more likely to still be in poverty four years later, and less likely to be employed full time after the same period.


The negative impacts of this poverty cycle extend well beyond the woman herself. Research shows that when women who are already mothers are denied an abortion, their existing children are less likely to achieve developmental milestones and more likely to live below the poverty line and experience hunger.

Black children are already more likely to experience poverty, lag academically and face mental health challenges associated with household stress compared to white children. The impact on Black mothers from restricted access to abortion will only widen these gaps.

The facts are terrifyingly clear. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe means Black women and their families will suffer the most. As a recent study from Duke University found, a total nationwide abortion ban would increase pregnancy-related deaths for women overall by an estimated 21% — and pregnancy-related deaths among Black women by 33%.

The Supreme Court’s decision will spark a new — and entirely preventable — public health crisis for Black women in the United States.

We can’t afford to go back. We all need to keep fighting for the right to a safe, legal abortion.

Linda Goler Blount is president and chief executive of the Black Women’s Health Imperative.