In an interview with theGrio, Pressley echoes concerns about what impact abortion bans will have on Black girls and children.
Hours before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its controversial ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade and revoke a nearly 50-year-old constitutional right to an abortion, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) led an organized congressional call of action to President Joe Biden.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, (D-MA) said the implications of Roe v. Wade being overturned are “a matter of life and death.” (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
Pressley and 19 other Black female members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to Biden, urging the president to declare a national and public health emergency in anticipation of the court’s ruling and the deadly impact on Black women and pregnant people.
“This is not a drill,” Pressley told theGrio during a recent sit-down interview. The progressive congresswoman, who has co-sponsored several bills addressing the Black maternal health crisis in the United States, said the implications of Roe being overturned are “a matter of life and death.”
“Not only do we live in a country that does not have universal child care or paid leave, not only are we on the heels of a baby formula shortage, but there is a Black maternal morbidity crisis in this country,” said Pressley, who cited CDC data that shows that Black women are three times more likely to die of childbirth than white women. She also noted the findings of another study that indicated there could be a 33% increase in Black maternal morbidity if abortion was outlawed in the United States.
“The burden of it will be disproportionately borne by our most marginalized communities, including and especially Black women,” she asserted.
Pressley said Biden’s declaring a public health emergency “will allow the administration greater flexibility and resources to address” what she described as a crisis happening in real-time.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, (D-MA) said she is “emboldened” to fight for all women, girls and people impacted by the U.S Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling — especially her daughter, who has been alongside her in the fight for various social justice issues. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The move, she said, would allow the administration to preserve and expand access to medication abortion and over-the-counter contraception, ensure that providers and patients are not criminalized, as well as provide “resources that could support those in need.”
Linda Goler Blount, CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative, echoed the dangers of Roe’s reversal and its impact on Black women and pregnant people. Blount told theGrio that given the data of increased Black maternal morbidity and death, whether Biden declares it or not, the country is already witnessing a public health emergency.
Blount noted that the impact of the illegality of abortion or heavy restrictions in states across the country will have not only negative health outcomes but also financial ones.
“Black women, but any woman, [who] makes this decision to have abortion care, she’s more likely to have children and she’s doing it because she can’t afford to have the child,” said Blount. “So now we’re talking impacting hundreds of thousands of lives.”
She added, “Anything in science that is going to adversely impact the health or environmental issues or social issues that will adversely impact the health of significant percentages of a population is a public health emergency.”
Linda Goler Blount, CEO/President, Black Women’s Health Imperative, on a panel for TV One and the National Urban League’s televised town hall taping at The Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Both Blount and Pressley agree that the change in the law on abortion will have a particular impact on young girls and children. As the stepmother to a young daughter, Pressley said the fight to protect abortion is deeply personal.
When asked by theGrio what the Supreme Court’s decision to end the constitutional right to an abortion means to her as a mom, Pressley admitted, “It’s hard for me to maintain my composure on that one.”
The 48-year-old lawmaker, visibly emotional, recalled being at her daughter’s eighth-grade graduation on the day Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson case was leaked in May.
“I woke up that morning, in spite of the many crises and unprecedented challenges we’re facing as a nation, feeling hopeful and a sense of promise for our country and for our daughter,” said Pressley.
But later that day, she said, “I just felt burdened by betrayal and fear and all the stages of grief.”
“My daughter could be navigating a world where she would have fewer rights than I have had when I was her age and growing up,” Pressley lamented.
Still, the congresswoman said she is “emboldened” to fight for all women, girls and people impacted by the court’s ruling — especially her daughter, who has been alongside her in the fight for various social justice issues. The congresswoman noted, “She makes sacrifices right along with me in order for me to do those things.”
An abortion rights demonstrator raises a fist, painted in red, while yelling during a rally on June 25, 2022 in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, a day after the court released a decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, striking down the constitutional right to an abortion. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)
“I’ve told her so many times when she’s been with me in organizing spaces and she’s wondering why we march, why we protest, why we lobby, why we advocate,” said Pressley. “She’s heard us say when we fight, we win. And so I don’t want to be a liar to my child. And I have to keep fighting until we win.”
Blount, who said she is of the generation of women “who’ve only ever sort of known Roe,” said in addition to their physical health, she worried about the psychological harm that the court’s ruling will have on adolescent girls in states where abortion is banned or restricted.
State officials will “send a very clear message to them that they’re not worthy,” she said. “That they can’t be trusted to make the most basic health care decisions for themselves and that these people need to make the decisions for them.”
Blount said she fears that the repercussions of the Dobbs case will internalize racism, gender discrimination, devaluation and create “traumatized” adults. “They’re going to be living with this trauma [and] with this constant refrain of you’re not good enough. You’re not worthy,” she explained. “I don’t know what this is going to do to them. But I know the trauma that I see now.”
Things may get worse, Blount warned. “It breaks my heart to think about what we’re going to do and what will happen to this next generation of girls,” she said.
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