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Why Racism is a Public Health Issue

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As health care experts, we know racism is a public health crisis. Public health is built on the principle of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. Police violence against communities of color is antithetical to that mission.

Multiple Public Health Crises

As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, the public health crisis of racism must also be addressed. COVID-19 is disproportionately ravaging the health and economic stability of the Black community.

  • The country’s underinvestment in Black and Latinx communities has led to less access to health care and dramatic health care disparities.
  • The effects of these disparities can be heard loud and clear amid the pandemic: Economic inequality, structural racism, and public health failures have translated to dramatically higher COVID-19 infection and death rates in the Black and Latinx communities.
  • Discrimination creates a barrier to health, both inside and outside the doctor’s office. The stresses of anti-Black racism, microaggressions, and discrimination take a toll on the health of Black people.

Systemic inequities that block Black people’s access to basic health care are, in turn, intensified by violence inflicted under the badge of government authority.

Standing Up for Bodily Autonomy and Reproductive Freedom

Planned Parenthood fiercely values bodily autonomy. Full bodily autonomy is the ability to live without the threat of over-policing and without the fear of state-sanctioned violence or murder — and it’s the freedom to make personal decisions about your body without judgment or persecution.

Systemic Racism in Public Policies and Institutions

The policing of Black bodies in the United States extends beyond the police to all of the country’s public institutions — including not only the health care system, but also laws that restrict access to sexual and reproductive health care.

The same politicians who use racial oppression as a tool of control against Black people also push policies that take away Black people’s reproductive rights. For example, many of the states with abortion bans have higher-than-average-sized Black populations. These states also have higher rates of voter suppression, gerrymandering, stand-your-ground laws, and anti-immigration legislation.

Bodily Autonomy for Black People

Black women have long been denied control over their own bodies — whether being raped during slavery, not having access to affordable health services, or being punished for terminating a pregnancy or making other reproductive care decisions.

Black people deserve to live lives free of violence; and Black women can and should be able to make their own decisions about their health. State control of Black bodies makes the promise of reproductive freedom unattainable for Black people.

Intersecting Identities

It’s also important to note that structural discrimination also targets people who are immigrants, LGBTQ+, and part of other marginalized groups — and especially those whose identities intersect. Planned Parenthood will not rest until all those who are disproportionately affected by restrictions on health care get the access they deserve.

Lawmakers: Prioritize Public Health Approaches Over Further Investment in Policing

It’s unacceptable that Black people disproportionately suffer from state violence and killings. That’s why Planned Parenthood is committed to advocating for policies that will dismantle the system of white supremacy and oppression of communities of color — including policies to defund the police and end police violence.

  • Specifically, we’re calling on public officials at all levels of government to work together to adopt four key proposals: holding police officers and departments accountable, divesting from police budgets, investing in community-based solutions, and ensuring peaceful neighborhoods.
  • We support calls from Movement for Black Lives and other social justice partners to defund the police. Here’s what that means: Instead of investing in police forces that brutalize Black communities, we demand that elected officials prioritize public-health approaches that strengthen Black communities. Excessive and discriminatory policing must be replaced with a model that promotes community support, connects individuals to available services, and actually creates safe and sustainable environments.

In determining exactly how to defund the police, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Thankfully, examples of successful efforts to defund the police demonstrate what’s worked. And one thing is certain: True reform requires community participation.

Get Involved

We are working with organizations and communities to build a future where Black people have the right to live their daily lives without the fear of violence; make choices about their bodies without fear of persecution; and access sexual and reproductive health care without entrenched barriers.

Join us in calling for justice and freedom.

Get involved in defunding the police, creating safer communities and defending Black lives.


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Hi! We’re America’s most trusted provider of reproductive health care, and we think we look pretty good for nearly 100 years old.

Hi! We’re America’s most trusted provider of reproductive health care, and we think we look pretty good for nearly 100 years old.

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