Race and Roe: Black Women Talk Effects of Court Decision

Global HR

​Many Black women have expressed shock and outrage over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed access to abortion throughout the country. Michelle Webb, chief communications officer of awareness organization Black Women’s Health Imperative in Atlanta, said that her company is “disheartened and angered” by the news.

“Though we resist the ‘angry’ Black woman stereotype—now, we truly have cause to be,” Webb said. “Overturning Roe, putting the ability to restrict access to abortions in the hands of state governments, is just the latest in a long history of attacks on rights that disproportionately impact Black women.”

Black women are often characterized as “superwomen” due to perceived obligations to present an image of strength, suppress their emotions and resist being vulnerable to others. But Webb said that they are one of the U.S.’s most vulnerable populations, routinely dealing with workplace racism and stress that results in health problems.

“And now this Roe overturn attacks our hard-fought bodily autonomy, too,” she said.

The news of Roe’s reversal has added another layer of stress, partly due to the history of Black women, pregnancy and abortion with which many business leaders are unfamiliar.

Accessing Abortions Could Be More Difficult for Black Women

A disproportionately high percentage of abortions occur within the Black community, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: In 2019, the abortion rate was 23.8 per 1,000 Black women compared with 6.6 per 1,000 white women. The data was reported by 29 states and Washington, D.C.

The data is more staggering in the south: In Tennessee, Black women accounted for about half of the 8,727 abortions in 2019, according to state records analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation. That year, Black women had two-thirds of the abortions in Alabama and Georgia.

The Roe reversal has led to more states either prohibiting or restricting abortion in some capacity, including many southern states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

“Given that Black women tend to live in states hostile to reproductive health care, Roe’s overturn directly endangers Black women’s lives by exacerbating pre-existing access restrictions,” Webb said.

Black women are already more than three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications and twice as likely to lose an infant to premature death, according to the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland. Black women historically have had less access to family planning services, resulting in poor health as well as lagging education and economic outcomes.

“Make no mistake: Roe’s overturn will absolutely put Black women at greater risk of carrying potentially dangerous pregnancies to term—increasing their risk of developing serious complications or dying as a result,” she said.

A complete abortion ban could increase Black maternal deaths by 33 percent, according to a 2021 study released by Duke University.

How Employers Can Help

Many experts attribute the higher rates of abortion among Black women to systemic problems driven by a lack of access to and effective use of contraceptives, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights organization in New York City. Webb said making abortion more difficult to access can have lingering effects on Black families.

“Poverty and existing economic hardship are two of the foremost reasons women choose to get an abortion,” Webb explained. “But being denied an abortion increases the risk of living below the federal poverty line by 400 percent, and the ripple effects of living in poverty extend beyond Black women themselves to their families and communities—and can last for generations.”

Since Roe’s reversal, many companies in states that are banning abortions are offering to cover travel expenses for employees seeking abortions. But Lola Bakare, a Philadelphia-based inclusive marketing strategist and chief marketing officer advisor, said organizations need to do more for Black women.

“Because the racial disparities around reproductive health needs and standards of care are part of the national conversation, Black women employees are likely to be going through a particularly emotional time right now,” she said. “Your empathy as an employer is critical to cultivating psychological safety.”

Bakare offered a few tips for companies to consider, including:

  • Engage openly when Black team members come to you with personal or professional issues.
  • Listen to understand, not to respond. Do not force conversations.
  • Share statements of solidarity that are grounded in truth and action.

She also implored business leaders to resist the urge to talk about “everyone’s right to an opinion,” how “there are good people on both sides” or how your company doesn’t comment on politics.

“These are well-recognized silencing/gaslighting tactics that tell your women employees, especially those of color, that the risk of their pain is not the risk you care to prioritize,” Bakare said.

Octavia Goredema, a Los Angeles-based career coach who authored Prep, Push, Pivot: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women (Wiley, 2022), noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had already created a tumultuous period where women of color have been pushed out of the workforce at higher rates. Roe‘s reversal only complicates an already difficult situation for many Black women.

“Restricting access to reproductive health care makes it even harder for women to determine their futures, stay in the workforce, pursue job opportunities or continue higher education,” Goredema said. “We are facing an uncertain and truly frightening future.”

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