The Gutting of ‘Roe’ isn’t About Religion, it’s a Product of White Terror

Image: Joshua Guerra/The Daily Texan

Abortion is the best f**king thing to happen to you.

These words were uttered by the Black female protagonist of my play White Nights, Black Paradise, a Black feminist reimagining of Peoples Temple and the 1978 Jonestown massacre. When the character’s sister has an abortion a few years after the passage of Roe v. Wade, both women exult in her decision. The exchange between them intentionally lampoons Christian fascist propaganda vilifying abortion as “baby killing” by highlighting how abortion has been an essential lifesaver for generations of Black women. 

Last week, the Supreme Court effectively upheld Texas’ SB 8 (dubbed the “Heartbeat Act”), which not only bans abortions after six weeks, but allows private citizens to weaponize Christian fascist thug tactics to sue individuals who provide assistance to women seeking abortions. The new law draws from Jim Crow-era policies that “deputize” private citizens as law enforcement. Those of us who have fought back against the reign of white anti-abortion terror are gutted and enraged by SB 8. 

For decades, pro-abortion Black feminists have unapologetically stood for Roe and on-demand access to abortion as a human right. We’ve publicly hailed the liberating effect our own abortions had on our lives, economic independence, mobility, and right to self-determination free from state violence. We’ve slammed the escalation of white supremacist Christian nationalism since the Reagan-Bush years. We’ve insisted that Black women’s leadership in reproductive justice and economic justice resistance and discourse be foregrounded as a counterweight to the narrow “pro-choice” agenda advanced by privileged white middle-class feminists. 

Pro-death, anti-abortion public policy and protest are a form of race, class and gender warfare disguised as religious morality crusades to “protect” innocent “babies.” Challenging the abortion-as-“Black genocide” billboard campaign mounted by right wing foundations in 2011, founding reproductive justice activist Loretta Ross said

“We decided to have abortions. We invited Margaret Sanger to place clinics in Black neighborhoods. We are part of the civil and human rights movement. We protected the future of Black children, not our opponents.” 

Despite their high levels of religiosity, a solid majority of African Americans support safe and legal access to abortion. And African American women have the highest rate of abortion amongst all groups of American women. The reasons are not mysterious—Black women are disproportionately poor, under-employed, single and living in highly segregated communities with limited health care access which have borne the brunt of the economic depression. Due to slavery and the violent legacy of Jim Crow, Black women have a history of coercive control over their reproduction. 

It’s important to contextualize the assault on abortion as part and parcel of the white supremacist backlash against voting rights, workers’ rights, LGBTQI+ equity, climate change, and secular freedoms. The Supreme Court’s Christian Nationalist agenda underscores the devastating public health and safety threat that white supremacy poses. Not only will draconian restrictions on abortion further destabilize the lives of poor and working class women of color with no safety net but they will widen the multigenerational wealth gap in communities disrupted by the pandemic. 

Nationwide, Black and Latinx essential women workers continue to experience the brunt of pandemic shutdowns, downsizing, and lack of child care. And, as many have pointed out, SB 8’s sanction of Orwellian surveillance, vigilantism, and lawsuits against folks who assist with abortion access will reestablish the back-alley culture that existed before Roe

Just as this recent SCOTUS decision exemplified the theocratic authority of cisgendered white men, the gutting of Roe is a product of grassroots white patriarchal terror—the long heinous campaign of abortion clinic blockades, bombings, stalking, and physician murders that laid the groundwork for Texas and has its corollary in the January 6th terrorist attack on the Capitol.

In the wake of the SB 8, reproductive health providers have suggested that ordinary women speak more candidly about the transformative effect of abortion. 

In a 2014 article entitled “Thank God For Abortion,” I wrote: 

At each of the two clinics where I gratefully got abortions in the 1990’s lone white men were stationed outside with bloody signs of fetal apocalypse. As white men protesting in predominantly black and brown communities their presence was unchallenged, their bodies unhindered by the policing and criminal surveillance that all people of color in the public sphere face. 

This was the high water mark of Operation Rescue, the radical anti-abortion group which laid the groundwork for the current wave of anti-abortion militancy. Then, as now, mainstream pro-choice activists ceded the moral high ground to the anti-abortion regime, wavering between framing abortion as a matter of personal choice or as an inalienable right. It’s a legacy that has had grave consequences for intersectionality as the “post-feminist” trope of sluttish immoral women recklessly using birth control and abortion has become legion in American political discourse.

The Justice Department is challenging the Texas law and mobilizing to provide reproductive health protections for pregnant women in states where the procedure has been criminalized. In addition, providers across the Midwest and the South are extending reproductive health care coverage to women from Texas, and House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi has announced legislation that would enshrine women’s right to abortion. As always, challenges to the law must be accompanied by vigorous public discourse to change the narrative around abortion. Simply put, abortion is life and beating back the public health menace of white terror is paramount.