Arkansas Outlaws Reproductive Autonomy – Black and Brown Communities Among Most Affected

Black and Brown communities in Arkansas bear the burden of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

By Pamela Acosta

Black and Brown communities in Arkansas will bear the brunt of the present and generational impact of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the subsequent certification of Act 180 in the state of Arkansas, according to advocates, statistics analyzed by The Associated Press, and data analyses from KFF. 

In a public statement for Insider, Lupe M. Rodriguez, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice executive director, said, “We know that when abortion is criminalized, it is our communities—Latinas/x’s, Black people, immigrants—who are most likely to be targeted and imprisoned.”

Even for states that will not prosecute a person for terminating their pregnancy, restrictive legislation disproportionately affects minorities; a brief released by KFF stated women of color make up 43% of women between ages 18-49 living in states where abortion has become or will likely become illegal. This same data analysis shows women of color in this same age range comprise around 31% of the population, but 56% of women receive abortions. 

These are the same communities that, even under Roe’s protection, did not have equal access to healthcare, reproductive services, or contraception, as stated and studied by Kimala Price, a professor of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University. For example, according to the Guttmacher Institute, in Arkansas, 77% of women lived in the 97% of counties that had no clinics that provided abortions, and there were requirements such as state-mandated counseling and a 72-hour waiting period.

Black people with uteri are particularly impacted by the restriction of reproductive autonomy and justice. In the past 20 years, maternal mortality has increased after a 68% decline between 1969 and 1998, with Black women being 2.4 times more at risk than White women, according to a study published in the  International Journal of Maternal and Child Health and AIDS authored by Gopal K. Singh, Ph.D., MS, MSc. Leading causes of maternal death include hypertension, infection, hemorrhage, embolism, and chronic conditions. Also, according to some health experts, per a July Bloomberg article, due to the lack of a clear definition for “medical emergency,” obstetricians and hospital attorneys fear the legal gray area and may not intervene until a patient’s life is actively threatened.

Considering Arkansas has the fifth-highest maternal mortality rate in the country, according to the World Population Review, this new confusion is only an added danger to women of color who already face inequities in healthcare. Systemic racism, bias, and discrimination make Black women more likely to die from chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, etc.  Moreover, studies from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showing that even with equal care, socioeconomic levels, and education, Black women still experienced higher maternal deaths.  A 2021 study by Amanda Jean Stevenson, a sociologist who studies the impact of abortion and family planning policy, estimated that with the overruling of Roe v. Wade, maternal deaths would increase by 21% in subsequent years in general, but Black people with uteri would experience a 33% increase.

Furthermore, both Justice Alito’s and Governor Hutchinson’s claims that contraception is widely available as one of their arguments to support the abortion ban falls short in light of research which shows young people of color tend to live in “contraception deserts ”, as defined in a joint 2019 study by Jennifer S. Barber, Elizabeth Ela, Heather Gatny, Yasamin Kusunoki, Souhiela Fakih, Peter Batra, and Karen Farrisd, where they have less access to contraception or real family planning than their white counterparts leading to a higher risk of unintended pregnancy.

In general, due to historical racist practices, dismissive treatment, stereotyping by physicians, and inattention to medical conditions experienced by women of color, White women’s contraception use is 69%, while Black and Brown women’s is 61%. Moreover, studies laid out in The Best Intentions: Unintended Pregnancy and the Well-Being of Children and Families from the Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Unintended Pregnancy show unintended pregnancies result in physical and psychological health issues and negative economic and social outcomes. 

Finally, according to the CDC, in a 2019 report on legal induced abortions, Black women are five times more likely to get an abortion while Latinas are two times more likely to seek an induced pregnancy termination than White women.  Rather than addressing the underlying factors, unequal healthcare and access to contraceptives, and combating the stigmatization and penalization faced by women of color, these statistics are instead cited to justify bans under the guise of opposing discrimination.

As the news that the Supreme Court overturned the landmark case Roe v. Wade broke worldwide, millions of women and people with uteri decried the impact of the historic decision and took to the streets in protests across the country. 

The ruling, as explained in a 78-page opinion issued by Justice Samuel Alito, was reached based on the belief that the Constitution does not inherently establish the right to privacy or personal autonomy, and Roe v. Wade, as well as any subsequent reaffirming decisions, were “damaging” and “amounted to an abuse of judicial authority.”

The overturn does not enact nationwide restrictions on reproductive health but instead returns the decision to each individual state. People with uteri in states with prohibitory legislation can no longer challenge these regulations before the higher court. States are now free to ban abortion for any reason thought to protect “legitimate state interests.” 

Governor Asa Hutchinson celebrated the decision in a press release issued June 24, 2022, stating, “I have fought a number of decades for greater protections of the unborn for my entire political life.” 

In the same vein, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge certified Act 180, titled the Arkansas Human Life Protection Act, which passed in 2019 and includes a provision to activate the law in the event Roe v Wade was ever overturned, effectively outlawing abortion in the state except in cases of medical emergencies where the pregnant person’s life is in danger. There are no exceptions for cases of incest or rape, even for children.

As the fight for reproductive justice continues, Kimala Price, through an analysis in The Washington Post, urges Americans “to remember the most vulnerable in our society — people who have always faced the most obstacles to abortion and reproductive-health services and are most likely to be targeted by punitive public policies.”