For only the second time in House of Representatives history, a committee boasts women Members of Congress in both the Chair and Ranking Member leadership roles. In fact, the chair of this committee will be Representative Marsha Blackburn from my own home state of Tennessee. So why am I not celebrating this watershed moment forwomen in Congressional leadership? Because the committee in question happens to be the newly-created select committee on Planned Parenthood, charged to carry out the latest round of anti-choice political theatre by attempting todiscredit and ultimately defund Planned Parenthood.
The reason Congress needed a special new committee for this task? Pick one, because every two to three years or so, there is yet another reason. Let me take creative license and choose one for you – Black babies. Since Roe v. Wade, Black women and girls’ wombs have been caught in the crosshairs of conservative politics and progressive angst, while our reproductive health needs have been marginalized and our voices silenced. Nevertheless, taxpayers’ money is being wasted, once again, on trying to defund vital reproductive health providers that, for Black women and girls in the South, are often our only means of getting affirming and non-shaming care.
Nationally, Black women are more likely to die during childbirth, with a maternal morbidity rate approximately four times that of other demographic groups, according to a 2008 report by the CDC, while their babies experience lower birth weights (contributing to infant mortality) than any other ethnic group.
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Specific to cervical and breast cancers, Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer, even though they are less likely to develop it, and are twice as likely to develop triple-negative breast cancer, a more aggressive and harderto treat form of breast cancer. Cervical cancer mirrors these disturbing patterns: 40 percent of Black women diagnosed with this largely treatable disease die from it.
As lawmakers continue on their witch hunt to defund Planned Parenthood, claiming all the while that they are “standing up for life,” many of the states they represent, like Tennessee, have failed to expand Medicaid or offer a comparable option, leaving many of their vulnerable residents without health care. Women of color, particularly
Black women and girls, are not a priority in prevention and intervention specific to HIV/AIDS. Black women continueto contract HIV at the highest rate among all women. Black women living with HIV are more likely to progress to AIDS and twice as likely to die of its complications compared with white women living with HIV. In Tennessee, 13 percent of the total population remain uninsured. Another 280,000 people remain in the “coverage gap” left by our legislators’ refusal to expand Medicaid. Though African-Americans only represent 17 percent of the entire Tennessee population, that percentage still amounts to 186,000 uninsured African-American Tennesseans aged 19-65. It is irresponsible of Congress not to make the connections between economic and reproductive health disparities poor families face – especially during an administration that has made great strides to guarantee jobs, but has lacked the support from both parties to ensure those jobs offer a living wage. Many Black women in the South depend on low-income jobs to take care of themselves and their families, but struggle to make ends meet, despite working long hours.
Keeping what I have shared in mind, imagine seeing anti-abortion billboards erected in Memphis targeting Black women and girls. Billboards designed to pit Black fathers and mothers against each other. Since the inception of this insidious campaign in 2005, when the first anti-abortion billboards were erected in Atlanta, Georgia, and then throughout major Black metropolises across the country, these pro-fetus disciples and their supporters in Congress have made one thing clear: Black women’s lives do not matter – unless it means tokenizing us to move a political agenda which does not have our best interests at its center.
Black women’s wombs have fueled this nation’s economy since our ancestors were brought to what we now call the United States, leaving Black families at a deficit to maintain our familial infrastructure and receive necessary social supports, the same supports our slave labor made accessible for most Americans to enjoy.
It is no coincidence that while members of Congress try to shift our focus to discredited allegations about Planned Parenthood, federal and state-level legislative attacks on health care, wage decreases, pregnancy discrimination andcuts in medical leave, mental health and behavioral health services continue. While touting their concern for women, conservative lawmakers have allowed – and even ensured – that comprehensive reproductive and sexual health education, abortion funding, funding for education and housing programs, a living wage and protections fromdiscrimination for women and LGBTQ people are all being stripped away faster than the progressive left can counter the attacks.
I can only see this inhumane objective to defund Planned Parenthood, which the conservatives deem as “humanitarian,” as a red herring. It’s a cowardly move of the privileged, not to focus on the reproductive health care of Black women and girls, but instead inflict violent and extreme legislation on our bodies, thwarting our agency and reproductive autonomy by defunding a provider Black women and girls of all incomes rely on for quality, affordable health care, including abortion.
Not only is the GOP’s charade disingenuous, it is dangerous to the survival of Black women and girls. It threatens thesurvival of our families and our communities in a country that owes us access to the same quality of life as any other American.