May 11, 2022 - News

SCOTUS abortion ruling would endanger Black women

Illustration of glass lockbox with red cross inside.
Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Black women in Michigan already dealing with across-the-board health care inequities would especially suffer if Roe v. Wade is struck down, health care experts say.

Why it matters: It's a matter of life and death. Restricted abortion access in Michigan would endanger Black women's lives because they are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.

  • "The disproportionate effect on Black women is due to their disproportionately higher risk of dying if they stay pregnant," Amanda Stevenson, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, tells Axios.
  • Stevenson authored a 2021 study that found a nationwide abortion ban would cause a 33% increase in deaths tied to pregnancy among Black women.

State of play: The study's findings apply to Michigan because the state has a 1931 trigger law criminalizing abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe. In that case, those in Michigan seeking an abortion would have to travel out of state to access legal abortions.

Yes, but: Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, Attorney General Dana Nessel and other county prosecutors have said they will not enforce the 1931 law.

What they're saying: "People who have the means will still have abortions," Danielle Atkinson of Mothering Justice, a Detroit-based nonprofit, tells Axios. "It's the woman who doesn't have the money to put gas in her tank to cross the (Ambassador) Bridge or go through the tunnel (to Canada) who will be left without care."

Between the lines It's not just about access to health care. Even when Black women have access, structural racism within the medical community affects the care they receive.

  • "We're not believed, we are rendered invisible and people don't believe our pain," Ijeoma Nnodim Opara, an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Wayne State University, tells Axios.

What's next: In Detroit, a safety net of community health care workers, midwives, doulas and social workers is bracing for a greater demand for help if abortion rights are curtailed.

  • "I wholly expect that if this is truly going to be overturned, we're going to see an increase in negative outcomes for women in this demographic," Kimberly Farrow, president and CEO of community provider Central City Integrated Health, tells Axios.
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