It seems like yesterday that I remember walking to my dorm room in shock. My roommate was sleeping as I quietly removed my gray Chicago sweatshirt and ripped jeans. I grabbed my shower caddy, pushed through the doors of our communal shower, closed the white shower curtain and scrubbed my skin for an hour, attempting to remove the violation.
I found myself a survivor of sexual assault. Despite the trauma and mental anguish, there was some relief that I was not pregnant. But if I were living in the new home of the strictest abortion laws in the country, what would my choices have been if I had conceived a child?
The Alabama state Senate’s abortion ban for women, including those who conceive a child from rape or incest, will gravely affect black women more than any other race in the state. The law, which allows exceptions only to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother, seems to ignore the fact that pregnant blacks have a consistent documented health risk. Black women are 243 percent more likely to die of pregnancy or childbirth than white women.
According to the Alabama Public Health Department, although African-Americans make up just 27 percent of the total population in Alabama, black women account for 63 percent of abortions in the state. Although the reason behind the high rate of abortions is not reported, medical research supports the possibility that some abortions are due to the health challenges black women face during pregnancy and childbirth, including fibroids, which are benign tumors on the uterus, and deadly complications from high blood pressure.
Congresswoman Lauren Underwood and Congresswoman Alma Adams implemented the Black Maternal Health Caucus to assist in developing policies to address the alarming maternal difficulties black women face across the nation.
In 2017, Shalon Irving an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps died three weeks after giving birth to her child. According to her mother, Irving suffered from uterine fibroids and other health issues that made her pregnancy extremely complicated. Despite her daughter’s screening for postpartum pre-eclampsia returning negative, and visits to her doctor complaining of swelling and rapid weight gain, she was given a prescription for hypertension and sent home. That same night she was rushed to the hospital for cardiac arrest and sadly died.
Stories like Irving’s are not isolated. Kira Johnson died at just 36-years-old after giving birth. Her husband says he noticed his wife’s health rapidly deteriorating, but his pleas for help went ignored by medical staff for several hours. Johnson died from a hemorrhage; her husband is now suing the hospital for malpractice.
Even the rich and famous suffer the same plight. Serena Williams and singer Beyoncé shared their life-threatening moments during pregnancy, proving that regardless of socioeconomic status, even fame is no remedy to the complex issues black women endure after conception.
While Alabama’s proposed law allows the doctor to perform abortions if a woman’s life is in danger, that decision could ultimately land that doctor in prison for 99 years. What’s more important, a woman’s health or a doctor’s risk of imprisonment? That is the decision before us.
This urgent health emergency obviously means very little to the Alabama Senate members who did not take any medical research into consideration, nor did they approve provisions for rape, which black women disproportionately fall victim too as well. So, whether it’s by medical history or a crime, the lives of black women, and girls, do not matter in the state of Alabama.
Criminalizing abortion will not stop it. Ignoring the medical and criminal disparities against black women shows the careless attitude of the Alabama Senate. We are at a point where black women face an unfortunate crossroad; do they give life and lose their own?