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The Fall of ‘Roe’ Was Driven by This Country’s Original Sin: Anti-Blackness

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For more on the power grab for your rights, check out our special edition.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court quietly, in the dead of night, overturned legal protections for abortion rights in Texas. In the coming months, the justices will have another opportunity when they hear oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case in which the state of Mississippi has asked the Court to essentially overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationally. While many across the nation—and the world—are wondering how we got here, we think the answer is quite simple: anti-Blackness.

The harsh reality is that an utter disregard for the reality of Black women’s lives—and, by extension, all Indigenous people, people of color, queer and trans folks, and disabled people—has led us to this moment, in which Mississippi, a state with the largest percentage of Black residents, is seeking to again criminalize abortion. And because of its own internal racism, the reproductive rights movement is ill-equipped to meet the challenge of this moment.

Compared to the millennia-long history of abortion itself, restrictions on the service are relatively modern. The first criminal laws emerged in the mid-1800s as U.S. medicine needed to distinguish itself from the “quackery” of midwifery and apprentice-trained healers. Specifically, white gynecologists sought to make a name for themselves, in service of a white collective capitalist project, by legitimizing medical control of the Black female body.

Following the country’s ban on importing new enslaved Africans, U.S. medicine became concerned with the health of the existing enslaved population, whose reproduction was the only legal means of obtaining new people to enslave; it was from this concern that modern gynecology was born.

This burgeoning new field would force midwives—many of whom were Black, Indigenous, or immigrants, and who largely cornered the realm of pregnancy and labor medicine—out of the field entirely. Because white gynecologists tended to experiment on Black and brown enslaved women, mutilating their bodies and leaving some to die, white women—and the law—did not concern themselves with their reproductive freedoms and bodily autonomy.


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