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20 Black Congresswomen Urge Biden to Declare Abortion Rights Health Emergency

“The effects of this decision on the lives and health of Black women and pregnant people will be devastating.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley attends a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on December 10, 2021.

A group of Black women in Congress are urging President Joe Biden to take urgent action to protect abortion rights, as the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and seizes abortion access from millions of people across the country.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) led 20 lawmakers in sending a letter to Biden on Thursday, asking him “to use every tool at your disposal” to protect reproductive rights, including “declaring a public health and national emergency” to combat attacks on abortion access. The letter was signed by progressives like Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and was first reported by USA Today.

Friday’s decision “will obliterate legal abortion rights across the nation and exacerbate multiple public health crises disproportionately impacting Black communities,” the lawmakers wote. “The effects of this decision on the lives and health of Black women and pregnant people will be devastating and require an urgent and whole-of-government response.”

Anti-abortion movements have been rooted in anti-Black racism and hatred throughout their long history. The lawmakers noted in their letter that Black communities are especially vulnerable to maternal health problems; research has found that Black people are over three times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy and three times more likely to get an abortion than white people.

Roughly 26 states will either certainly or are likely to quickly ban abortions now that Roe is gone, which will have devastating effects on public health, especially among the most vulnerable communities. With a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court, only Congress or the Biden administration can act to protect abortion rights on the federal level — and Congress has already failed to pass its abortion rights bill thanks to conservatives in the Senate.

Meanwhile, far right politicians are already gearing up to pass a nationwide abortion ban in the case that they continue to consolidate their power in Congress or the White House.

As a result of the Roe overturn, mental health and economic crises will also be exacerbated. In a country that already perpetuates the highest incarceration rates in the world, criminalization will see yet another uptick, compounding socioeconomic issues that disproportionately affect Black people.

“These unprecedented and calculated attacks on our bodily autonomy are a direct affront to the lives and freedom of Black women,” the letter reads. “In the midst of a Black maternal mortality crisis already robbing us of the lives of Black women three to four times the rate of white women, restricting access to abortion care will disproportionately endanger the lives of Black women and pregnant people.”

The lawmakers said that declaring an emergency over the abortion rights crisis will give the administration flexibility over unilateral pro-abortion actions.

Senate Democrats have also highlighted steps that Biden can take to protect abortion rights, including directing the federal government to create a national plan to retake abortion rights from the hands of white christofascists in the Supreme Court, Congress and state legislatures. They argue that Biden has “unique power” over the federal government to organize a response.

Though Biden has criticized the Supreme Court for ending Roe, activists say that he hasn’t done enough to protect abortion rights. His administration had claimed that it was waiting for the Roe decision to come out before announcing an action plan, but activists contend that Biden could have acted before the consequential decision came down to explore every option possible to protect abortion rights.

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