Commentary: Tennessee’s sweeping abortion ban will kill Black women and girls

A woman stands beside the empty pedestal where a statue of J. Marion Sims, a surgeon celebrated by many as the father of modern gynecology, was taken down from its pedestal at Central Park and East 103rd Street on April 17, 2018 in New York City. A New York City panel decided to move the controversial statue after groups demanded its removal as many of Sims medical breakthroughs came from experimenting on black slaves without anesthesia. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A woman stands beside the empty pedestal where a statue of J. Marion Sims, a surgeon celebrated by many as the father of modern gynecology, was taken down from its pedestal at Central Park and East 103rd Street on April 17, 2018 in New York City. A New York City panel decided to move the controversial statue after groups demanded its removal as many of Sims medical breakthroughs came from experimenting on black slaves without anesthesia. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

I went to bed the night before Juneteenth ready to wake up and commemorate the freedom of African people in America from chattel slavery. I was anticipating celebrating how far we’ve come despite our intersectional oppression. I wanted to remember the history of African women during the slave trade, who were tragically abused and robbed of their autonomy. I was excited to commemorate their freedom from the confederacy.

However, in the middle of the night, the Tennessee state legislature passed one of the most extreme abortion bills in recent history. This racist, classist bill comes as we wait for the Supreme Court to issue a decision in a critical abortion case that could make matters even worse.

The significance of this abortion ban amid the current national anti-racist uprising is not lost on me — a Black woman and mother and someone who has personally been victimized by conservative politician’s anti-Black agenda. Less than a year ago, I was the only Black woman to testify against a nearly identical abortion ban, only to have my mic cut by white, male lawmakers when I began to speak on the white supremacy inherent to bills like this. They and their anti-choice supporters have tokenized Black wombs and babies to forward a disingenuous agenda to ‘save us,’ while they craft policies that perpetuate the opposite outcome. They were disinterested in hearing my Black voice share recommendations for healthier Black sexual health outcomes.

Black women continue to be treated as secondary citizens. Our bodies and self-determination remain controlled by white men’s capitalistic interests that drove the slave trade.

Over and over, we are left behind, as the state would rather abandon us than ensure we have the necessary social supports to actually reduce the amount of abortions we need. Bills like this do nothing to address the struggles and needs of the Black women, women of color, and marginalized folks we serve at SisterReach, an organization I founded to advocate reproductive justice in my state and ensure the people we serve can actualize their human and sacred rights.

Governor Lee’s administration has done nothing to address the disproportionately high rates of poverty, lack of access to health care and sexual violence Black women and girls continue to face as a result of systemic racism and political abandonment. Being denied abortion care has been proven to worsen someone’s economic situation, and increase their risk of experiencing domestic abuse, among other detriments. The same day the bill passed, Gov. Lee came to Memphis to pose with Black clergy, exploiting the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic that he deprioritized for greed. When asked by a Black woman in the crowd about the abortion bill, he ignored her question and justified his legislative violence. Bottom line — these politicians don’t give a damn about poor and marginalized people, especially if they are Black.

Comparing the world before Juneteenth to this current moment has only reminded me that in regard to our reproductive freedom, Black women continue to be treated as secondary citizens. Our bodies and self-determination remain controlled by white men’s capitalistic interests that drove the slave trade. Our needs and voices remain ignored. Our acts of resistance and fight to preserve our autonomy and protect our children won’t stop. We would die to save them, and ourselves.