by Monica Simpson
Last week, a panel of mostly straight, white, cisgender male members of Congress tried to tell a queer Black woman that abortion is bad for the Black community. Fortunately, she wasn’t having it, and responded by explaining that Black families need abortion services to be available and covered by health insurance. It’s shocking to me that we still have to have this conversation.
Today, on September 30th, the Hyde Amendment, one of the harshest barriers to abortion access—and one that specifically targets and harms Black folks—will mark 40 years. The policy has been used by politicians in Congress for four decades to deny abortion coverage for cisgender women, transgender men, and non-binary people who are enrolled in Medicaid and seek abortions. Sadly, but not surprisingly, more than half of those subject to the burdens of the Hyde Amendment are women of color. While we need more data to fully understand the impact of this policy on trans men and non-binary people, we know that any policy that makes health coverage inaccessible will disproportionately impact queer, trans, and non-binary people of color.
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When I think about the injustices Black women face in this country—incarceration, maternal mortality, police violence, environmental racism, and denial of reproductive health care—I am increasingly convinced that a root cause of this suffering is a deficit of love for Black women. If this nation loved Black women, we wouldn’t be dying in childbirth at many times the rate of white women, we wouldn’t be paid 63 cents on the dollar compared to white men, we would not be burying so many children killed by law enforcement, and we would be able to get affordable contraception and access abortion care when we need it.
I know it may seem strange to be talking about love in the context of violent, entrenched white supremacy. Deep down, I know that our oppressors will never love us, but I am still compelled to imagine what it might look like if love for Black women was the cultural norm.
The Hyde Amendment is one of the ugliest manifestations of this deficit of love. One in four poor women seeking abortion is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will cuts deep for me. It echoes the days when slaveholders would force Black women to bear children to build up the “master’s” human property for profit. It comes as no surprise, either, that for the four decades of Hyde’s shameful legacy, Black women have consistently been among the strongest and most outspoken opponents of bans on abortion coverage. Representative Shirley Chisholm, who broke race and gender barriers in her bid for the U.S. Presidency in 1972, boldly spoke out about the struggles of poor women seeking abortion, saying, “No matter what men think, abortion is a fact of life. Women have always had them; they always have and they always will. Are they going to have good ones or bad ones? Will the good ones be reserved for the rich, while the poor women go to quacks?”
Today, it is Representative Barbara Lee from California who is leading the charge in Congress to end the Hyde Amendment with her elegantly-named EACH Woman Act— a bill that restores coverage for abortion for low-income people, military service members and their families, and many more. She is joined by more than 120 members of Congress in supporting this bill.
As Black women, we have learned that we must lead ourselves to liberation. Because not only do politicians use policies like the Hyde Amendment to take away our decisions, they sometimes even do so in our names. We’ve seen many examples just this year of politicians voting to restrict abortion while claiming disingenuously to care about Black children, or while blatantly demonizing Black mothers.
I could go on about the harms of punishing poor women who seek abortion, about the connections between the dismantling of the safety net and increasing control of Black women’s reproductive decisions. Instead, I’m going to use the opportunity presented by the 40th year of a violent and racist policy to proclaim louder than ever my love for Black women.
I love Black women unconditionally: however much money she makes, wherever she lives, and whether she decides to parent or not. I love the Black women who have had to bury their sons, daughters, husbands, and loved ones stolen by police violence. I love the Black women struggling in hostile Southern states that seem determined to take away our reproductive and voting rights. I love the Black women leaders in Congress who work in one of the most white- and male-dominated institutions in the country and who fight every day for our communities. I love the queer and trans sisters here in my hometown of Atlanta, who are on their grind day in and day out just to survive. I love our brilliance and resilience, I love our tenderness and vulnerability, I love all the complexities that make us, in a word, human.
Because despite the pain and terror and 400 hundred years of trying to destroy us, the fire of Black women’s resilience cannot be put out by even the most vicious tidal wave of oppression. I trust Black women: I trust that not only will we continue to survive and thrive in the midst of oppression, I trust that Black women’s voices and Black women’s leadership will be the ones to turn the tide, ending the Hyde Amendment and eventually all the policies and systems that keep us from flourishing to our greatest potential.
Monica Raye Simpson is the Executive Director of SisterSong, the National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Monica has organized extensively against human rights violations, the prison industrial complex, racism, and violence. She was also recently named a New Civil Rights Leader by Essence Magazine.