SCOTUS Abortion Case Could Take Us Back To Our Mothers' Experiences

In one fell swoop, the Court could set rights back a generation and I could turn into my mother.

At a certain age, many women realize that they are turning into their mothers. The key question then being how and whether to embrace that. For me, this realization came through in high definition when the U.S. Supreme Court took up the most significant abortion rights case in a generation, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, this term. This case could literally take me back in time to my mother’s experience, and the experience of many women from a certain era, for whom the word “choice” meant lack thereof. And for so many in communities of color, the experience persists today. 

Let me be more specific here, especially to ensure I do not offend any mothers, because I too am a mother of three – two daughters and a son I had as a teenager. Soon, when the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the Whole Woman’s Health, the Court has not only an opportunity to reaffirm the decided law of the land of more than 40 years, but also a chance to ensure that all of our daughters and future generations of women have equal access and ability to make their own decisions about their health and families. 

The case centers around a 2013 Texas law, often referred to as HB2, which has forced more than half of Texas’ clinics to close their doors to women in need of services. If the Texas law were allowed to be fully implemented, only nine clinics would remain to meet the needs of more than 5.4 million women of reproductive age – with a disproportionate impact on the state’s 725,000 Black women within that category.   

Between 2011 and 2015, state legislatures across the nation have enacted 288 restrictions on abortion access.

I am not a Texan, but I am a Black woman who has had an abortion. So I understand firsthand what is at stake in this case and how in one fell swoop, the Court could set rights back a generation and I could turn into my mother. As I recently recounted in a historic amicus brief, as a young African-American woman growing up in the Bronx – one of the poorest counties in our country – the ability to decide for myself whether and when I would become a teenage mother was not only empowering, it allowed me the basic dignity of having control over my own future. I am confident that if I did not have that choice or the ability to exercise it, my life would have been substantially different than it is today. It is at least in part because of those decisions that I was able to complete high school and college and fulfill my childhood goal of becoming a lawyer.

It’s a reality that for decades past, economic hardship, inflexible work schedules, and extensive family obligations have been facts of life for many African-American women living in Texas. The hurdles the law was designed and able to create – like longer wait times, increased travel and financial costs, and other factors like childcare – have made abortion all but impossible for many women. As a number of Black women’s reproductive justice organizations explained in an amicus brief, this law “dramatically heighten[s] the already significant barriers to obtaining quality reproductive healthcare” faced by Black women in the state.

These laws are not just impacting women in Texas. Between 2011 and 2015, state legislatures across the nation have enacted 288 restrictions on abortion access. Like Texas, five additional states enacted laws requiring abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers (MI, MO, PA, VA, TX) and another nine require physician admitting privileges (AL, KS, MO, MI, OK, TN, LA, ND, TX, WI). If HB2 is upheld, these restrictions could be affirmed and dozens of states seeking to restrict abortion access will likely follow suit.

“Choice” is a term that my mom, and women in her generation, particularly in the Black community, did not know. Instead, my mother often reminds me that when she was growing up, only certain women had access to abortion services. Even then, those abortions occurred in the shadows with potentially life-changing consequences, such as sterility. Granted I was born 38 years after my mother and two years after Roe v. Wade was decided, but it seems pretty clear to me – America cannot be the land of opportunity for all, but then impose unreasonable restrictions on how women achieve their version of success and equal citizenship.  

After the intentional and successive attacks on women and their reproductive choice, I knew I needed to make my voice heard on this issue. So I joined the board of Planned Parenthood NYC Votes to support candidates in New York City and New York State who are leaders on sexual and reproductive health issues. I’m speaking out now because one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and it is important to me that my daughters don’t wake up and realize that they too have prematurely turned into their grandmothers without a choice.  These young ladies, and their peers, should not have fewer rights than their mother or grandmothers. We cannot go back to abortions in the shadows; the Supreme Court must reaffirm our nation’s commitment to this most basic of rights by striking down the Texas law.  

DeNora M. Getachew serves as Campaign Manager and Legislative Counsel for NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, where she manages advocacy initiatives aimed at improving our nation’s democracy and voting system. She is a mother of three. 

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