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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

Black women will bear the most impact if Roe v. Wade is overturned

abortion rights supporter
Teran Powell
An abortion rights supporter holds a sign at a rally in Milwaukee.

The fate of the landmark case, Roe v. Wade, that legalized abortion in 1973 is at risk of being overturned. In May, a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion showed that a majority of the justices support overturning the case. However, that decision is not yet final.

Experts say if Roe is overturned, women of color, Black women especially, will bear the brunt of the impact.

Black women experience the highest levels of unintended pregnancies. As a result, they’re three times more likely than white women to seek abortion services. And Hispanic women are two times more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy than white women. This is according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that backs reproductive rights.

Systemic factors such as racism, unequal access to family planning services, distrust of the medical system and economic disadvantages create disparate conditions for women of color seeking health care.

Sarah Noble is former executive director of the Reproductive Justice Collective in Milwaukee. She says these disparities will only worsen if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

That decision would leave regulating abortion up to the states. In Wisconsin, a law from 1849 that bans abortions could take effect. And, women might have to travel to other states to obtain an abortion.

"So, add it to the barrier of not being able to afford, for example, an abortion will be the cost of and the access to transportation," Noble explains.  

She continues, "For some finding childcare; possibly paying for overnight accommodations; if, you know, folks have to travel and wait out some time before they can receive abortion care; getting time off work; and of course, you know, loss of pay for people who may even be able to get the time off. So, I don't think, you know, it requires us to have to think hard and long about all of the other conditions that we're already experiencing from issues around poverty and lack of good housing and lack of you know access to health care to, you know, high rates of unemployment, access to, you know, quality education. You know the list goes on and on."

She says we don't need more. 

Teran Powell's extended conversation with Sarah Noble.

Noble says while Roe legalized abortion, the law didn't go far enough. "It made abortion legal, but it's never enough to have the right when there are barriers to accessing that right. So, like not having money to pay for it. So, the work must continue beyond keeping abortion safe and legal to ensure that every person can receive the abortion care that they need."

She says it's important for people to know that abortion is still legal in Wisconsin, but the threat to care is real, so people can reach out to their representatives to make their voices heard.

"The expected Supreme Court decision may soon mean an end to the right to safe and legal abortion in Wisconsin. Here is an opportunity for people, in addition to all of the various options you know people will be you know just paying attention, they will know that there are a lot of actions taking place across Wisconsin and across the country. And here in our state people have the opportunity to call the Wisconsin Legislature and tell the individual legislators what we want to happen which is to repeal that 173-year-old ban on abortion. They can do the right thing and it's on us to demand that."

That 173-year-old Wisconsin law makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion no matter the circumstances of the pregnancy — unless to save the mother's life.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has called a special session for Wednesday to repeal the dormant law.

Republicans who control the Legislature are not obligated to take any action, and it appears they won’t.

In a statement after Evers called the special session, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu accused Evers of holding “an extreme and abhorrent view on the taking of innocent life.”

LeMahieu said the Senate won’t take any action in what he calls “another blatantly political special session from this partisan governor.”

GOP lawmakers did not act in other special sessions Evers has called, including one on gun control.

A final decision on the fate of Roe v. Wade is expected any day.

Do you have a question about race in Milwaukee that you'd like WUWM's Teran Powell to explore? Submit it below. 


Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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