Thursday, May 12, 2022
Michele Goodwin, The New Jane Crow, The Atlantic
With the Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion access for tens of millions of women and girls across the nation may soon be a matter of the past. For many women of means, who can travel and pay for child care, the loss of Roe will be disruptive. For many poor women—particularly poor women of color—the loss will be deadly. This is the coming of the new Jane Crow.
Certain aspects of the era of the new Jane Crow are already predictable. First, high rates of maternal mortality will persist, and Black and brown women will disproportionately experience the blow and brunt of these deaths. Medicaid will not be expanded in anti-abortion states, nor will welfare benefits increase to meet families’ needs.
Second, states will turn to civil and criminal punishments of women and girls who seek abortions through medication or by traveling out of state. Even now, before Roe has fallen, lawmakers are working on such legislation. Third, just as the Jim Crow era sanctioned racism and racial profiling, the Jane Crow era will be marked by greater surveillance of pregnant women and the curation of laws, practices, and policies to justify stalking, watching, and policing women’s bodies. That is our near future.
Already today, we know how dangerous pregnancy and delivery can be. An American woman is 14 times more likely to die by carrying a pregnancy to term than by having an abortion—a fact the Supreme Court itself acknowledged in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt just six years ago. In Louisiana, giving birth is roughly 57 times more dangerous for women than having an abortion. For Black women, the risk of death is especially dire—and especially in states eager to ban abortions. For example, according to the Mississippi Department of Health’s most recent investigation of maternal health and mortality, Black women accounted for “nearly 80% of pregnancy-related cardiac deaths” in that state; they also suffered from far greater rates of gestational diabetes, sepsis, and hemorrhaging. Black women in Mississippi are 118 times more likely to die from giving birth than from having an abortion. To be Black and pregnant in America is a deadly combination.
Some of this devastation is the result of the anti-abortion movement itself, and in particular its white, male champions in statehouses across the South. These legislatures have targeted abortion providers for decades, stripping them of their ability to provide essential health-care services for poor women, including pap smears, cancer screenings, and contraception. Their efforts have contributed to the United States being the deadliest country in the developed world to be pregnant.
Surely Justice Samuel Alito and the four justices who, according to Politico, voted to sign on to his draft opinion are aware of this. But do they find such data relevant? Seemingly not, as the draft opinion barely acknowledges maternal deaths—and does so only in reference to 1973, not 2022.