MD Says Anti-Abortion Laws are Inherently Racist

“When abortion was illegal in the United States, before Roe v Wade recognized abortion as a woman’s right, the toll taken by forcing women into the hands of back-alley abortionists was exorbitant. Before 1973 when abortion was legalized, an estimated 5,000 women each year in the US died from illegal abortions. With legal abortion performed in clinics or hospitals, abortion is 6 to 10 times safer than childbirth. In New York City, in the first year after the abortion law was liberalized, maternal mortality dropped from 61 to 15 per 100,000, proof that illegal abortions were contributing to maternal mortality.

What is seldom commented upon or acknowledged is that non-white and minority women were affected disproportionately by making abortion a crime. Data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute* revealed that in the 1950’s and 1960’s an estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed each year in the US. In 1965, illegal abortion accounted for 17% of deaths from pregnancy and childbirth.

For minority women the situation was particularly dire. In 1962 nearly 1,600 women were admitted to the Harlem Hospital with incomplete abortions (a common complication of illegal abortion), which was one abortion-related hospital admission for every 42 deliveries at the hospital that year. In the early 1960’s in New York City one in four childbirth related deaths among white women was due to abortion. Among non-white and Puerto Rican women it was one in two. In 1968, at the Los Angeles County Medical Center, another large public facility serving primarily indigent patients, 701 women with septic abortions were admitted to hospital, one admission for every 14 deliveries.

Even in the early 1970s, a legal abortion was simply out of reach for many. Wealthy women could always obtain safe abortions, even if they had to fly to another country to do so.

Minority women were not so fortunate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 1972 alone, 130,000 women obtained illegal or self-induced procedures, 39 of whom died. From 1972 to 1974, the mortality rate due to illegal abortion for nonwhite women was 12 times that for white women, a horrifying statistic.

So make no mistake about it. Laws criminalizing abortion are inherently racist. Women will die, and minority women will die more often.”


Barbara Roberts, MD, comment on abortion and women’s rights under attack:
“A popular medical dictionary defines disease as ‘literally, a lack of ease’ and venereal disease as one ‘usually acquired through sexual intercourse.’ It is apparent therefore that unwanted pregnancy is a very common venereal disease. It is associated with immense physical, mental, social and economic suffering. In seeking to be cured of this disease, women, throughout history, have risked pain, mutilation and death, in numbers that stagger the imagination.

Many young people cannot remember what it was like before Jan. 22, 973, when the Supreme Court recognized that abortion was a woman’s right. But I was a medical student and young doctor in the late 60’s and early 70’s and what I saw before abortion was legalized was forever branded in my memory. In those days a woman was forced to place herself in the hands of unskilled and often unscrupulous abortionists when she was faced with a pregnancy she could not continue. I saw women brought into emergency rooms in septic shock, with perforated wombs, even disemboweled by incompetent butchers because their own physicians were prohibited by law from helping them. These experiences radicalized me and I joined the fight to legalize abortion.

Today, the right to safe, legal abortion is under attack by vicious right-wing fanatics who would return women to a state of reproductive slavery. They claim that abortion is murder because they believe that from the moment of conception a fetus is a human being. Well a fetus is no more a human being than an acorn is an oak. But even if the fetus, or the embryo, or to use the old Catholic teaching the sperm itself were defined as human, abortion should still be legal because the rights which anti-abortion laws give to the fetus are far in excess of the rights enjoyed by any human being in this society. No human being’s right to life includes the right to use another person’s body, or any part of it, without that person’s consent – not his kidney, his cornea, a graft of his skin or a pint of his blood. Yet anti-abortion laws give a fetus the right to occupy an unwilling person’s abdomen and to use not just her uterus but every major organ system in her body, without her consent. Forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is one of the vilest forms of sexual abuse.
We must inform the ignorant among legislators that forcing a woman to be pregnant is as repulsive as forcing her to have sex. Margaret Sanger, the birth control pioneer said that ‘no woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.’ The real issue is not viability, the real issue is not whether fetal life is human life. The real issue is shall women have the right to control their own bodies. Our answer must be a loud and resounding YES! We will never return to the days of back alley, coat hanger abortions. We will vote against legislators who would restrict the right to abortion. We will demonstrate, we will march, we will lobby and we will be victorious.”

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