AP NEWS

With Roe at Risk, so Are Marginalized Women

August 2, 2018

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh the Supreme Court has resulted in much debate about the future of Roe v. Wade. There are legal arguments about his extreme record and what it could mean, but for me this is personal.

The iconic image of a coat hanger did not happen by accident. Women drank household chemicals or tried to use a sharp item like a coat hanger. Before Roe and the ability for women to get safe, abortion care, every large municipal hospital in the country had a “septic ward” filled with women suffering from infections from improperly performed abortions and an estimated 5,000 women died every year. As is often the case, women already living on the margins with the least access to care who were already struggling to get by were hit hardest. The mortality rate for black and Hispanic women was 12 times higher than the mortality rate for white women.

Women died alone in hotel and dorm rooms or suffered in silence with complications that resulted in permanent injuries because they were afraid to ask for help. This is what we could face again, and I know who will be hurt most. Women with money have always been able to get an abortion if they need one. Before Roe, they could find a trained physician or travel to a country where abortion was available. People without means don’t have that option, and undocumented women would not be able to do so not only for financial reasons, but also the threat of trying to cross borders and being detained and separated from their families.

What is clear to me is that it is women living on the margins who face the greatest risk if we allow the clock to be turned back by an extremist Supreme Court that does not support the right to privacy and the critical right to seek safe, legal abortion care.

Overturning Roe would also risk the health and dignity of pregnant people and fuel the mass incarceration of women of color. If abortion is a crime, then doctors who want to be there for their patients would be punished, but so could women who seek care or who are even suspected of trying to end a pregnancy. We have seen in recent years what this kind of pregnancy criminalization looks like.

Purvi Patel was jailed after she had a miscarriage. Bei Bei Shuai was charged with murder when she attempted to take her life, which resulted in the loss of her pregnancy. Women have been jailed for refusing a C-section or for using drugs while pregnant. Hundreds of women in the United States have been arrested, forced to undergo unwanted medical procedures, and locked up in jails or psychiatric institutions, because they were pregnant.

In these cases, a court or lawmakers or hospital officials have decided that they get to tell pregnant women what to do. This is the consequence of a political climate where the rights of women are up for debate and under constant threat of harmful, misguided agendas.

In a post-Roe era, it is women of color whose bodies would be increasingly surveilled, policed and criminalized and it is women of color who would experience an almost immediate loss of any access to safe, legal abortion care. People want to say that the nomination of Kavanaugh does not pose that great a risk. They talk about the loss of constitutional protection to the right to abortion as sending it “back to the states.”

Let’s be clear. What we are really talking about is sending marginalized women back into the alleys and hospital wards, into jail cells, and into harmful and desperate circumstances. The women in my community simply cannot afford to stand by and watch as a nominee is pushed through who would overturn hard-fought and essential rights. After all, our lives are on the line.

Karla Gonzales Garcia, an immigrant from Peru, is the policy director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR).

AP RADIO
Update hourly