“We Should All Be Planning For The Possibility That Roe v. Wade Is Overturned”
How community organizing, Christian voters, and Black voices could change the dire future of women and abortion access.
This is the third of a three-part series THE PUBLIC is doing on reproductive justice in America. Read the first article about the dangerous stronghold of Catholicism and the second article about why SB8 in TX gives the anti-choice movement free license “to do whatever they want” right here.
I n late September, Public Rights Project filed an Amicus Brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on behalf of 29 local governments across the country — arguing the perils of abortion bans — urging the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade.
Without Roe, 22 states are poised to severely restrict or totally ban abortion which will disproportionately harm women of color and low-income women, as well as prevent local governments from bridging these disparities in healthcare.
“Conservative states have been testing the bounds of Roe v. Wade for years, trying to erode the constitutional protection of abortion, but they have never had the votes to eradicate Roe entirely,” explains Marissa Roy,” a staff attorney with PRP.
Roy says that with the rushed confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, states are now emboldened to challenge Roe directly.
“Mississippi’s framing of the question in Dobbs makes it clear that the state’s aim is not to settle a dispute about its 15-week abortion ban, but rather to call into question the very basis for a constitutional right to a pre-viability abortion.”
In short, Dobbs will ask — and answer — the biggest question on reproductive rights the nation has contended within nearly five decades. Will the right to an abortion be given constitutional protection?
“If the Supreme Court decides to reverse Roe,” Roy continues, “there will be no federal protection for an abortion and states will be free to pass harsh restrictions on that right.”
“We should all be planning for the possibility that Roe is overturned and be calling for federal statutory protection of the right to an abortion. Unfortunately, the Court may not be relied upon to protect the rights of pregnant persons, so we need to plan for alternative protections.”
One of the vital organizations pushing back, planning, and fostering the protections Roy is talking about is the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable (MSBWR) — a civic engagement network that intersects race, gender, reproductive health and economic justice on behalf of Black women and girls — headed up by Deborah Robinson and Cassandra Welchin.
MSBWR is one of about ten organizations that recently collaborated on the launch of the Mississippi Access Coalition, which aims to keep abortion safe and legal in the state. A long-time organizer and activist, Welchin understands Dobb’s importance in the landscape of reproductive rights.
Stripping women of the right to abortion dovetails sharply with MSBWR’s mission which combats the economic insecurity, education and health disparities that perpetuate systemic, multi-generational poverty for Black women, families and communities.
Abortion gets to “the pocketbook of women,” says Welchin.
“It’s a healthcare issue and it’s an economic issue — we understand that it intersects. Women overall in Mississippi make 75 cents on the dollar and Black women make 56 cents on the dollar. And we don’t have access to healthcare. Women fall into that coverage gap.”
If women don’t have enough money to make ends meet at their kitchen table then they aren’t in control of their own lives, their future, or their family’s fate.
Mississippi holds the dubious honor of having one of the worst wage gaps in the country for Black women. According to a 2018 report, “the disparity means a Black woman could make $830,800 less than the average white man over the course of a 40-year career.”
Women occupy more than 70% of the workforce in tipped jobs in Mississippi — whose employers can pay them a mere $2.13 per hour — and Black women make up almost one-third of these workers.
“No one has the right to tell her what to do with her body,” says Welchin, “but abortion access is also an economic security issue.” Money means having a choice.
Welchin is quick to recognize that religion plays a huge role in Mississippi’s policymaking and voting history; she explains that MSBWR is dedicated to holding what seems like a disparity between God’s will and women’s bodily autonomy.
“I’m a Christian and I love the lord! But this issue is beyond just abortion. God doesn’t make people do things, so why are we? If he gave us free will to choose then we don’t have a right to go in and tell her what to do and scrutinize her vagina!
If you take away the rights of a woman to choose, what else are you going to take away? This could open the door that would be even more detrimental to democracy.”
Welchin says MSBWR works alongside the church to help foster the belief that you can believe in life and in women having control over their own bodies.
“We are in the bible belt, and the buckle is the hard part for Mississippi. There are some religious ideologies and philosophies and beliefs that go against what we know the bible says — like take care of your poor. But we can go back to those church leaders and the lawmakers and say, ‘we want to hold you accountable and have you on board when you’re talking to this congregation.
If you love the poor and justice, we need you to go and have a conversation with other leaders and churchgoers to help move the needle. It gives leaders the chance to stand up and say, ‘I’m a woman and a Christian and I still believe it’s my choice.’”
Mississippi’s 5th circuit is one of the most conservative in the nation, but one of the ironies of living in a historically conservative place is that it builds resilience and an arsenal of tools for pushing back.
“When Trump was elected, people were like, this is gonna be a hard four years. But what my colleagues and I said was, ‘welcome to the South and welcome to Mississippi!’ We’ve built a muscle around that kind of policymaking and politics.
We really understand strategy. How to speak truth to power without losing your base. How to make relationships with unusual allies which push a particular advocacy issue across the line.”
Welchin says MSBWR does year-round civic engagement so they don’t lose the momentum from one election to the next.
“Black women have shouldered this country when it comes to labor and we haven’t gotten paid the way we need to. We are standing strong, opening doors and building a leadership pipeline for long-term work — shifting power at the voting booth and policymaking. These issues need consistent and philanthropic investment across Mississippi and the south to help organizations continue to bend that arc of justice.”
HOW TO HELP: ON THE GROUND AND WITH YOUR DOLLARS
“When the racial protests happened with George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, there was so much conviction and people wanting to put money into organizations to help Black people, and they gave those resources.
But we’ve been in the trenches for a long time — there’s been harm done for generations, so there has to be a long-term investment financially in places like Mississippi and across the South. It can’t just happen when big tragic things happen, it has to happen consistently. It will take us generations to get us out.
If Dobbs doesn’t go the way of choice, people are gearing up to put some additional things in place. We’re putting resources together for an abortion fund so folks can go to other places.”
HELP BUILD CAPACITY
“There are gaps that exist here on the ground. We need institutions to say, ‘hey, we have a data collection here! We’d love to be able to partner and help you all.’ But people in the south have to lead that and partner strategically to help us. If there are resources in institutions to provide fellowships and internships in communications departments, that is vital in helping visibility.
When the water crisis happened here in Mississippi — people were getting snow to flush their toilets! — but we were forgotten about until regular people started posting about how they didn’t have water. It wasn’t until people on the ground started elevating their stories.
National media needs to stay on local politics and lift up leaders and everyday people that are making it work. Lift up what our women are doing — build our capacity so we can keep moving.”
CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES, SERIOUSLY
“The Supreme Court views itself as a non-political entity and thus not democratically accountable to the people,” says PRP’s Marissa Roy.
“We must be prepared for the conservative Justices to issue an opinion based on their narrow interpretation of the Constitution rather than the people’s call to protect fundamental rights.
At that point it will be important to focus on calling on Congress, state legislatures, and local governments to enact policies that protect the right to an abortion. If Congress passed a federal statute protecting the right to an abortion, that would preempt states from limiting that right. And scrutiny on state legislatures and focus on electing legislators who will not limit choice can mitigate any state action.”