Roe v. Wade is history; abortion is not a constitutional right. The Supreme Court sent the question of abortion back to the states to be decided by the people and their elected representatives.

And so it begins: the incantation to change Black women — especially poor Black women — into mascots for abortion rights.  

Many newspaper articles and TV interviews conjure up the availability of abortion as a cure-all for the sufferings of poor Black women. I am not bewitched by the spell although I know the chant. How could I not? I have heard one variation or another of it for more than 20 years. 

“Poor Black women are disproportionately impacted,” they say. “The maternal mortality rate of Black women is higher than that of white women. Abortion is safer than childbirth. Poor Black women cannot travel to get safe abortions like rich white women. The Hyde Amendment must end so taxpayer dollars can pay for these poor Black women’s abortions. They need abortion to live.”

And on and on and on.

We’ve been told that rich white women can easily get abortions regardless of the law, therefore providing taxpayer funding for abortion means equality. Black women’s equality depends on having the same access to abortion as affluent white women, they say.

Every positive indicator of well-being in which we are not on par with white women is used as a reason for why we need abortion on demand. Maternal mortality, pregnancy-related complications, lack of insurance, diabetes, hypertension — whatever ails us is a reason to make sure we can get abortions.  

I reject these arguments. Abortion is not a cure-all.

A Black woman who is poor and gets an abortion will still be poor, still live in a food desert, still lack insurance. After an abortion, she will still be in the circumstances that abortion advocates claim make motherhood too burdensome. According to all indicators, Black women have had plenty of abortions, and yet we are still poorer, sicker and more economically distressed than white women. We have had the abortions prescribed as a curative, and they have not been healing but toxic.  

And when have Black women ever not faced difficulty in the history of this country? Have our indicators of well-being ever been on par with that of white women, in particular those who are well-off? How does abortion cure any of our ills? Our unborn children are not the root cause of the poverty, the food deserts, the unclean water, the underfunded schools or anything else that corresponds with poor outcomes.

So why is abortion framed as the solution? Why are people saying Black women must be able to get abortions or else we will die? The framing is off. Why don’t we deserve real solutions that don’t involve ending the lives of our progeny? Killing the poor is not a solution for poverty.

Our well-being should not be measured by our access to abortion, but rather by the things affluent people take for granted: access to wholesome food and clean water, safe and affordable housing, good schools, good jobs, spouses with good jobs, clean air, everything.

Ask poor Black women what they want and need, and abortion access doesn’t even come up because their basic living conditions are the problem, not their fecundity. For example, residents of a Washington, D.C., housing project recently gave a handwritten note to the mayor outlining the unsafe conditions in which they live. In the letter, the residents said they have been conditioned to accept less, and that is why so many of them have not spoken up about the mold, roaches, leaks and a host of other unacceptable and unsafe conditions.  They need clean, safe, and affordable housing. The overemphasis on abortion for this community deflects from their actual needs.

Have we been similarly conditioned to see abortion as the solution for poor Black women so we don’t see the necessity of removing the concrete obstacles to safe, sanitary and affordable housing? The necessity of providing low-cost health care for mothers and a good education for their children? Are we so conditioned to see abortion as the solution for poor Black women that we are blind regarding their concrete material needs?

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Professor Charles Camosy of Creighton University has written about the community surrounding Fordham University in the Bronx where the abortion rate outside the campus was around 50%. He wrote:

“This is one of the poorest parts of the country, with very high percentages of Black and brown residents who are structurally coerced into having abortions: They often face poor access to housing, child care and health care. They often lack support for being a mother of multiple children (most women who have abortions already have one or more children) in the workplace.”

He also examines the data on who supports abortion:

“For those in households making under $40,000 per year, only 30% want … abortion … legal in all cases. For those in households making over $100,000 per year, those who want unlimited abortion rises to 39%. Those who are most likely to oppose abortion are the very folks more likely to be structurally coerced into abortion.”

In other words, the very women being used as mascots for abortion rights are the women who do not want abortion. This overemphasis on abortion while ignoring what these women want and need is reproductive coercion. The failure to meet their actual material needs while eagerly providing abortion does not provide what poor Black women and their families need. Their conditions will never improve by removing the unborn children from the community instead of removing the substandard conditions from the community.

So, the next time you hear someone say that Black women were hurt by the recent Supreme Court decision to return abortion to the states, remember that killing the children of the poor is not a solution to poverty. Maybe now with Roe behind us, we can start talking about what we can do to improve the circumstances and health of Black women and their families instead.

Gloria Purvis (@gloria_purvis on Twitter) is the host of The Gloria Purvis Podcast in collaboration with America Media. She has appeared in various media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, PBS Newshour, Catholic Answers Live, EWTN News Nightly, NPR’s “Here and Now,” and hosted “Morning Glory,” an international radio show.