We won’t secure reproductive freedom for Black women until we reform the Supreme Court

OPINION: All options must be on the table to address the damage done by overturning Roe v. Wade — and that includes a plan to expand the Supreme Court.

Demonstrators hold signs during a rally to defend abortion access and codify Roe v Wade into law, in Foley Square in New York City on October 8, 2022. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP) (Photo by BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)

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

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning the right to abortion, voters across the country mobilized to fight back: electing pro-choice Democrats in key races, defeating abortion bans at the ballot box and making clear the majority of us who support the right to abortion is not backing down.

Now, we are entering a new year — and approaching the first anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision since this Supreme Court ended its promise of a constitutional right to abortion. This year’s anniversary would have marked the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. And now more than ever, we need to revisit our long-term plan to protect abortion rights, especially Black people who face compounded systemic barriers to care, leaving Black women with poor and grave outcomes.

Not surprisingly, Black women are disproportionately at risk in the aftermath of the court’s decision —– because in the wealthiest nation in the world, there is a Black maternal health crisis taking too many mothers from our communities because criminalization hits Black communities hardest, because too many Black people live in states where abortion bans are already in effect, and because voter suppression (enabled by the same extremist Supreme Court) makes it harder for Black voters to fight back at the ballot box. 

To begin to turn around any of this, we must deal with the Supreme Court. There are other important steps: fighting abortion bans on the state level is critical, and when Democrats take back power, they must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, codifying the right to abortion for all Americans. 

But with six far-right justices in charge of the Supreme Court, even if the WHPA were passed, there’s a huge risk it would be chipped away or overturned entirely, just like Roe v. Wade and key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

I am all in for fighting abortion bans at the state level and for passing a bill protecting abortion nationwide. These are non-negotiable. But our plan to restore reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy also has to include a plan to reform the Supreme Court.

Pro-choice activists protest at the federal building plaza on December 01, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

There’s already a bill to restore balance to the court that’s clearly constitutional and already picking up support in Congress. The Judiciary Act would add four seats to the Supreme Court, letting President Biden appoint four justices who will actually respect our rights and restore balance to a court that’s gone too far to the extreme right. The bill is supported by more than 60 members of Congress, including my old boss, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

While there are other good proposals to reform the court that should be considered as well, only expansion immediately deals with the problem at hand. Term limits and ethics reform are great ideas, but neither would immediately change the makeup of the court in the way we need.

We can’t pretend that we got here overnight. Anti-abortion crusaders spent decades waging a political war on reproductive freedom —– under the pretense that this was about religion. A quick Google search can tell you faster than I can that the evangelical nationalist argument against abortion is not about religion —– it’s about control and oppression. As a matter of fact, it’s deeply rooted in segregation. So it’s not at all surprising that reproductive justice groups like All* Above All, which has been on the cutting edge of warning us about what was coming for abortion rights, now support expanding the court to restore our rights. Many more progressive organizations and leaders have signed on to the calls for court expansion.

And for Black people, there’s more than just reproductive freedom at stake, though those alone would be more than enough to necessitate action. From racist gerrymandering to gun violence and police brutality to declining worker power, so many of the biggest problems facing our communities can ultimately be traced back to a Supreme Court that is doing the bidding of an extreme wing of the Republican Party. 

I know this bill is not going to get passed right now with Republicans in control of the House. But it’s time for more Democrats and those of us dedicated to reproductive freedom to decide what we’re going to do when we regain power. That means all options must be on the table to fix the mess that we’re in. And that means a plan to expand the Supreme Court.


Alencia Johnson is a social impact strategist, senior adviser to Demand Justice and political commentator who has worked for Planned Parenthood and President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign.

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