In her 1974 essay In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Alice Walker wrote:
Did you have a genius of a great-grandmother who died under some ignorant and depraved overseer’s lash? Or was she required to bake biscuits for a lazy backwater tramp, when she cried out in her soul to paint watercolors of sunsets…or was her body broken and forced to bear children (who were more often than not sold away from her)—eight , ten, fifteen, twenty children—when her one joy was the thought of modeling heroic figures of rebellion, in stone or clay? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood.
Walker’s words resonate powerfully as the Supreme Court is a penstroke away from gutting Roe vs. Wade this summer. Her narrative evokes the brutal history of institutionalized rape and forced childbearing inflicted on enslaved Black women. She skewers the American as apple pie terrorism that shaped racial capitalism and enriched white supremacist wealth and theft on the backs of Black women “breeders”. For decades, pro-abortion Black feminists have unapologetically stood for Roe and on-demand access to abortion as a human right. We’ve publicly hailed the liberating effect our own abortions had on our lives, economic independence, mobility, and right to self-determination free from state violence. We’ve slammed the escalation of white supremacist Christian nationalism since well before the Reagan-Bush years when Black women were being savaged as “welfare queens”. We’ve insisted that Black women’s leadership in reproductive justice and economic justice resistance and discourse be foregrounded as a counterweight to the narrow “pro-choice” agenda advanced by privileged white middle-class feminists pushing back against “pro-life” propaganda.
Let’s be clear—there has never been anything remotely “pro-life” about so-called pro-life anti-abortion theocracy. From terrorist attacks on clinics, doctors and patients, to the creation of sham “crisis” pregnancy centers—the escalation of right-wing religious attacks on reproductive justice reinforces poverty and segregation in communities of color. While 59 countries across the globe have actually expanded abortion protections since 1994 (most notably in Catholic strongholds Colombia, Mexico, and Argentina), the U.S. continues to reveal its true authoritarian colors. The Christian fascist supermajority on the Supreme Court is saying fuck you to women and LGBTQ folks with a bloody coat hanger. They’re spewing the toxic sanctimony of “Christian morals” while shutting down equitable access to health care, living wages, job protections, universal child care, voting rights, anti-racist education, and decarceration. In Texas and Florida, their lieutenants are terrorizing trans and nonbinary children with legislation that seeks to recriminalize queer identity, witch hunt LGBTQ+ families who support their kids, and muzzle teachers who buck straight white heteronormative colonialist history.
This perfect storm of domestic terrorism also drives the theft of decades of multigenerational wealth in communities of color. As abortion rights hang by a thread, Black and Latinx women still only have a penny to the dollar of white women in wealth, while Black, Latinx, and Indigenous women make a piddling 64 cents and 57 cents respectively on the dollar of white men. Draconian restrictions on abortion in Latin America, Central America, and Asia have always gone hand in hand with imperialist power and control of women’s labor, earnings, and wealth. In this regard, the Catholic church’s opposition to abortion, birth control, LGBTQ+ rights and bodily autonomy are not only flagrant human rights violations but an affront to economic justice. Time and again, organized Catholicism has endorsed and institutionalized misogynist and homophobic rape culture through barbaric laws and cultural propaganda that use God as a bludgeon. By the same token, American theocracy’s pro-death regime doesn’t want a freethinking, unbought and unbossed working class because it relies on “pro-life” lies to victim blame and shame women of color and poor white women into moral submission.
We know that these anti-abortion bills are most prevalent in states that have some of the worst health and poverty indices for women of color and children in the nation. For example, Georgia has the second-highest black maternal mortality rate in the country. Alabama ranks forty-ninth in infant outcomes, with scores of Alabama children living below the poverty line.
Claiming “God” as their compass, the theocrats are driving more working-class children into abject poverty. They are forcing people seeking abortions to travel to out-of-state clinics that are already tapped out due to rising demand. Valiant OB-GYNs and nurses on the frontlines of this crisis have to turn away desperate patients who are already juggling work, childcare, and health challenges. Unable to receive abortions, women with ectopic pregnancies and fatal fetal abnormalities are in jeopardy. Two decades ago, when I had abortions at Planned Parenthood centers in Los Angeles and New Haven, CT, lone white male Operation Rescue types were stationed outside waving bloody fetus replicas. For many Black women, there is a clear through-line between these men and the slave catchers of the antebellum. Their white entitlement to terrorize women’s spaces evoke a regime of endless policing, criminalization, and surveillance.
White state legislators who wield abortion bans like bibles are intimately tied to this heritage. Theocratic abortion bans should be viewed as a form of state violence. They come from the same legacy of theft and terrorism that pillaged Indigenous lands and forced women like my great grandmothers to bear umpteen children when they dreamed of being poets, artists, and writers. It is nightmarish that the U.S. is slouching back to that era, ground down under the bootheels of fascists masquerading as beacons of democracy. That said, we won’t retreat or soft-pedal on the fight for abortion on demand, out, proud, without apology and indebted to “genius” great grandmothers for whom bodily autonomy was like sci-fi from the future.
International Women’s Day 2022 speech at RiseUp4AbortionRights rally in Downtown Los Angeles