The price of Black motherhood is life and then some

OPINION: The economic impact of overturning Roe v. Wade will make an already bad situation even worse for Black women.

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The impact of overturning Roe v. Wade is reverberating in communities you won’t see in the news or hear about—communities that house the most marginalized among us. Coupled with the ruling on concealed and carry, it’s clear that those claiming to be pro-life, have an asterisk attached to the life they value. Pro-life, but not all life. Pro-life, but not that life. What is life to them is not life to all but rather conditional, life only mattering if they deem it to matter, not necessarily because it inherently does.

Like most of America’s most discriminatory laws and policies, ending Roe v. Wade begins and ends with undermining Black women and girls. In the United States, Black mothers are two to three times more likely to experience pregnancy complications or death as well as miscarriages, which are now being criminalized. Furthermore, one in seven Black infants is born prematurely, facing an infant mortality rate that is more than double the rate of infants born to white mothers. Epidemiologist Jamie Slaughter finds that Black women face “multiple and simultaneous sources of chronic stress, stigma and discrimination” especially when child-bearing and child-rearing. These facts have remained as plain as day from the inception of slavery itself, yet no one has claimed to be pro-life for Black (and brown) lives despite claiming to care for the vulnerable

As someone who has bore witness to the perils of Black motherhood, I can tell you that Black mothers are the most disrespected, neglected, and undermined child-rearing group in the United States. There are private and public stories of Black mothers and infants to this end, beginning with Serena Williams, whose pain was dismissed while pregnant, which almost led to her death. At the core of the fight for reproductive rights, many abortion patients cite the inability to provide a child a life that they deserve alongside personal bodily autonomy, which is why overturning Roe v. Wade is ironic. The GOP leadership claims to want more babies but continually invests time and energy into laws and policies that put those babies in harm’s way. 

For Black expectant parents and their children, this is acutely felt. More than 68 percent of Black mothers are the primary breadwinners of their households, and yet they are most likely to be evicted out of their homes. Persistent discrimination and bias in the workplace and beyond further impede Black parents from earning money to support their children, and among all groups, regardless of race and gender, Black women have the highest student debt. According to IWPR, Black mothers account for 40 percent of Black women pursuing degrees across higher education. The same report finds that Black parents borrow five thousand dollars more than all other groups. In other words, the student debt burden for Black mothers is yet another barrier to building generational wealth for their children. 

As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated, rolling back reproductive rights is economically inept. And what is abundantly clear is that the evidence, as provided by economists Josh Angrist and William Evans, suggests that the legalization of abortion can improve the labor outcomes of adolescent Black women. Another study corroborates this fact by showing that abortion access leads to a statistically significant increase in the likelihood of employment for Black women (17.9 percent increase!) with little to no impact on white women. (It should be noted that both of these studies are by white men.) Furthermore, the negative stigma surrounding Black teenage pregnancy has everything to do with the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Harmful tropes like “welfare queen” have been and are used to further justify policies to relegate Black women and girls to minimal rights and low-wage work

If abortion access and reproductive rights are among the few levers of economic mobility for Black women and girls, keeping Roe v. Wade alive would mean believing that Black women and girls are human in the first place. And therein lies the problem: The reversal of Roe v. Wade is a continuation of human rights abuses, especially against Black women and girls. Abuses that force mothers who are already at high risk of dying from childbirth to die anyway. Abuses that require Black women to work jobs lacking paid maternity and family leave. Abuses that begin with Black disabled persons and extend to the rest of us. Abuses that have allowed the powerful to profit off our bodies while our humanity lies in the balance. It’s all connected.

In the past, I have argued, alongside my contemporaries, that America’s best begins with Black Women Best. The latter is a framework, coined by Janelle Jones, the first Black woman chief economist of the Department of Labor, that centers the needs of Black women in an effort to help achieve a more equitable society. In a phrase, the best outcome for Black women is a better outcome for everyone else. Protecting reproductive rights and abortion access for Black women and girls yields the best outcome for everyone. Ensuring that we have the resources and tools to navigate difficult pregnancies and postpartum is the best outcome for everyone. 

Moving forward, organizations and leaders must support Black-women-led organizations such as the Black Mamas Matter Alliance as noted by Monica R. McLemore, professor of Nursing at the University of California-San Francisco. The alliance is an intergenerational network of doulas, lawyers, nurses, midwives, physicians, policy experts and more. Other organizations include Health in Her Hue, a digital platform that connects Black women and women of color with health professionals from diverse backgrounds. Individuals looking to support marginalized pregnant persons should also seek out grassroots-level organizations and initiatives.

As a young Black woman in America, I am faced with one all-consuming question that follows a decision made without my input or life in mind: What is the price I pay for becoming pregnant if my life is the check I must cash, and what happens when that alone is not enough to justify my humanity? 

Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman is an award-winning Ghanaian-American researcher, entrepreneur,
and writer. Her new book, The Black Agenda: Bold Solutions for a Broken System, is the first
collection to exclusively feature Black scholars and experts across economics, education,
health, climate, criminal justice, and technology. She graduated from the University of Maryland,
Baltimore County in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and a minor in Economics.
Currently, she is a graduate student at Harvard Kennedy School studying public policy and
economics. Her advocacy, research, and commentary are featured widely by media outlets such
as Bloomberg, NPR, Teen Vogue, Slate, and The New York Times.

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