What SCOTUS Justice Kennedy’s Retirement Could Mean for Reproductive Health of Low-Income Women of Color

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the State of California could not require that anti-abortion ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ disclose comprehensive care options to women accessing services. A couple of days later, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement has triggered calls to further limit women’s rights to full reproductive care (beyond ongoing and widespread efforts) by appointing a justice who will not protect a woman’s right to choose.

Implications of the Upcoming Justice Changeover

Safe and affordable abortion access is a necessary component  for women’s broader control over their own health. Abortion could be a best-choice for women for any number of reasons. The constitutional baseline, per Roe v. Wade, is that women make decisions for themselves regarding their own bodies and families. Unfortunately, even with Roe v. Wade, marginalized women’s legal right to abortion ‘does not translate to access.’

Research shows that the Hyde Amendment, for example, has deprived ‘millions of women’ of their reproductive autonomy in choosing if and when to have a child – in particular, low-income women and women of color. Passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court, the policy specifically restricted Medicaid coverage of abortion – deliberately blocking low-income women and women of color’s access to that particular option for care. Funding consequences of the Hyde amendment have cut off resources for abortion coverage for non-Medicaid enrollees, too – women insured by the Indian Health Service, who live in D.C., who are incarcerated, and others.

Various systemic disadvantages for women of color persist: such as racism and discrimination, economic injustice, lack of access to comprehensive and consistent health care (including contraceptives), language and cultural barriers, and fear on the part of undocumented women. Such barriers compound other challenges in access to services and coverage.

Knowing all of this, it’s no surprise that some policymakers – including the President – support policies that punish women for seeking an abortion: whether through criminal liability or even capital punishment.

What’s Next?

If Roe v. Wade were to be rescinded, the impact would be immediate and devastating. An attack on women’s right to choose would be nothing less than a discriminatory overhaul that would further endanger women’s health due to age, race and ethnicity, geographical location and other indicators of marginalization.

Policy and strained state funding should address root problems around improving access to reproductive care in a way that is patient-centered and upholds reproductive justice. Reproductive justice accounts for the complex and intersecting factors – factors including treatment, housing, education and employment – in a given person’s life as she strives to decide if, when and how to create and sustain a family with dignity, free from discrimination, coercion or violence.

Feel free to check out the following links:

ACCESS Women’s Health Justice

Black Women for Reproductive Justice

Black Women for Wellness

Center for Reproductive Rights

Groundswell Fund

In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda

Lilith Fund

NARAL Pro-Choice America

National Advocates for Pregnant Women

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

National Women’s Law Center

Planned Parenthood

SisterSong