TIMELINE OF ABORTION RESTRICTIONS IN TEXAS
Texas is facing an all-out attack on abortion access. Because of Senate Bill 8, a near-total abortion ban passed in September 2021, Texas had been living in a post-Roe world long before the Supreme Court’s official overturn of Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women Health Organization decision in June 2022. The Dobbs ruling triggered Texas’ total abortion ban that was in place before Roe and a 2021 law that took effect on August 25, 2022, increasing civil, criminal, and professional penalities for abortion providers who violate it.
These laws harm all Texans, but have a profound impact on communities of color and other systemically marginalized communities who are less likely to have the ability to travel out of state for abortion care.
For a full history of abortion restrictions in Texas, view the timeline below.
THE NATIONAL FIGHT AGAINST SYSTEMIC RACISM IN REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE
Our fight is not new. Black women have had our bodily autonomy stolen from us since our arrival in the U.S., and as modern medicine developed, we were forced into brutal, unjust experiments for medical advances that shaped gynecology and reproductive health as we know it. Today, Black people are still demanding real reproductive freedom and full bodily autonomy from our government, as politicians have denied us the right to make decisions about our bodies.
This fight requires us to address the racism rooted in our systems—including our medical and governing systems. The anti-Blackness inherent in the development of these structures continues to oppress us—and further restrictions to our bodily autonomy, like abortion bans, hurt everyone. So we must continue to fight back together. It takes all of us.
The “father of modern gynecology,” Dr. James Marion Sims, began his horrific gynecological experiments in 1844 on enslaved Black women. These atrocities led to the invention of surgical methods and modern gynecological tools like the speculum. Operating under the racist notion that Black people were unable to feel pain, he performed these experiments likely against his “patients'” will and without anesthesia or pain relief.
While these appalling events took place, Black women across the nation were using their voice to speak out against anti-Blackness. In 1851, abolitionist and human rights activist, Sojourner Truth gave a speech titled, “Ain’t I a Woman?” which included the horrors and injustices Black enslaved women experienced, as their captors sold their children from them and denied our ancestors the right to raise their children as their own. She spoke out against oppression in all facets of her life, highlighting the oppression she experienced over her own body and future.
During the Civil War era, reproductive health care was primarily performed by Black, Indigenous, and white midwives. After the Civil War, white men wanted to control this medical field, and saw midwives as a threat to their business. Black midwives, in particular, were looked down upon by white men and viewed as unfit to administer reproductive care. Dr. Joseph DeLee, along with many white male gynecologists, discredited midwifery using racist and misogynist tactics, claiming Black midwives were “a relic of barbarism.” These stereotypes were explicit efforts to destroy Black midwifery, and were used to promote white male dominance in the field.
Despite being disparaged by the developing medical community, Black women continued to care for each other and formed the Black Women’s Health Network in the 1940s. Even though they faced intense pushback from law enforcement, Black women in the network offered safe spaces for people in their communitites to get abortions and other forms of reproductive care. These networks and safe havens allowed pregnant people to practice reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy.
There is no progress without pushback. As we made our own space for bodily autonomy, our government systems continued to hold us back. Congress passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976, three years after Roe v. Wade granted federal protections for abortion. It remains in place today, blocking the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion unless the life of the pregnant person is at risk. It is racist, sexist, and classist, and disproportionately impacts communities of color who predominantly rely on Medicaid, including 30% of Black women and 24% of Latina women.
Black women kept speaking out against reproductive injustices, moving to a more national stage. In 1989,16 women signed a brochure called We Remember, the first collective statement advocating for equal access to abortion for Black women, with notable signatures from U.S. Representative Shirley Chisholm to civil rights activist Dorothy Height.
By 1994, the reproductive rights movement, primarily led by middle class and wealthy white women, still did not encompass the needs of Black women and other marginalized communities. It was time for a new framework. The Women of African Descent of Reproductive Justice coined the term Reproductive Justice (RJ), combining reproductive rights and social justice. RJ’s core belief establishes that all birthing people have the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to nurture the children we have in a safe and healthy environment.
The Reproductive Justice movement gained traction into the 21st century, and Black women continued to demand more for ourselves within our government. In 2016 the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls was founded and led by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, in partnership Congresswomen Robin Kelly and Yvette D. Clarke. This caucus was ignited to prioritize Black women and girls’ “wellbeing,” and speaks out against restrictions to our bodily autonomy. In response to the leaked Supreme Court opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the caucus issued a statement, calling the decision an “assault on women’s reproductive rights and freedoms.”
Though we’ve spent centuries demanding rights to our bodies and health, the U.S. still leads the developing world in maternal and infant mortality rates. Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white women. And with overly policed communities, abortion bans and restrictions mean we are more likely to be criminalized for our pregnancy outcomes. From increased risk of criminalization to systemic medical racism, as Black people, our lives are at risk whether or not we want to be pregnant.
We cannot neglect the role white supremacy has played and continues to play in our reproductive health. That’s why, as a coalition, and with the support of our communities, we won’t stop fighting until reproductive care is accessible in every corner of our state and each part of our country.