For Black women, and specifically descendants of enslaved people, abortion has never been just about court cases and protests. It has been about the lack of agency over our Black bodies. During slavery, women resorted to extreme measures to avoid the harsh realities of captivity. These included ending the lives of our unborn and born children. It is an integral part of slavery’s inescapable trauma.
The right to make decisions about our bodies is once again on trial. The Mississippi case now before the U.S. Supreme Court challenges Roe v. Wade in the harshest terms ever and before a conservative court with justices hostile to the current law of the land. The fact that the last two assaults on woman’s constitutional right to choose has come from Southern states dredges up an ugly past for Black woman who were subjected to rape, unwanted pregnancies and forced sterilizations.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization comes on the heels of two Texas laws recently passed that further restrict a woman’s right to end a pregnancy. One bans abortion after seven weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest. It also made it a felony crime to send abortion-inducing medication through the mail.
It should come as no surprise that it is a white man bringing the lawsuit on behalf of Mississippi to bring down Roe v. Wade. Thomas Dobbs is the state health office at the Department of Health. He’s back up by Governor Tate Reeves who has already publicly stated many times that “there’s no guaranteed right to an abortion” in the U.S. Constitution. Either Reeves doesn’t know the Constitution or is exerting the continuum of racist rogue governance in spite of the law - or both.
The fact that the last two assaults on woman’s constitutional right to choose has come from Southern states dredges up an ugly past for Black woman who were subjected to rape, unwanted pregnancies and forced sterilizations.
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization is currently the sole provider of abortions in the entire state. It has been a target of vandalism, incessant lawsuits and death threats. It is located in Jackson, a predominantly Black city.
Mississippi’s long and ruthless history of disregarding the rights and liberties of Black folks is well documented. The state is a leader in recorded lynchings in the U.S. including the most infamous and heinous murder of young Emmett Till in 1955.
According to Jill Jefferson, founder of Julian, a civil rights organization, lynchings in Mississippi have never stopped. Lynchings are not some ancient relic of the past; they have continued into the twenty-first century. Said Jefferson, “The evil bastards just stopped taking photographs and passing them around like baseball cards.”
When it came to Black folks’ struggle for voting rights and public accommodations, Black citizens were met with vicious attacks. The schoolhouse became the battleground to preserve white supremacy and deny African Americans their basic and fundamental human rights to education. Mississippi mooned Brown v. Kansas Board of Education and continued its hyper segregation in education on all levels.
James Meredith risked his life to enroll in the University of Mississippi, resulting in the Ole Miss riot of 1962. It was only a few years ago that Cleveland Central High School desegregated after years of wasting taxpayers’ dollars on litigation. In many other towns, white supremacy is still the order of the day regardless of the law.
Mississippi has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. In spite of this and racial health disparities, the state has refused Medicaid Expansion. Doing so would give more than 200,000 people healthcare coverage and save the state about $800,000 million in the first two years due to funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. The state has never been interested in the health and well-being of all its citizens, including white poor folks.
In 2021, Mississippi is no shining example of humanity. Instead of standing down and reflecting on its inhumane past and present, the state continues to move forward with its racist, anti-Black legacy. The white patriarchal system’s unrelenting challenge to equality, justice and democracy must be met with an equal force of those truly committed to a new South. That movement must be prepared to fight and win every battle. Women’s bodies is the latest battleground.