Abortion Punishments Would Be Bad For Black Women

by Joseph D. Lyons

Donald Trump's comments on abortion are unbelievable. And his proposal that the procedure should be made illegal and that women should be punished for having it is just terrible. It would create injustice for every woman in America, but it's even worse than you realize. That's because Trump's abortion ban wouldn't affect every woman equally, assuming that abortion trends continue as they do today. The same way that America's discriminatory drug laws have unfairly targeted black men, such a ban would likely send a disproportionate number of black women to prison, furthering our country's problem of mass incarceration of minority citizens.

As Jamil Smith, a senior national correspondent at MTV News, tweeted, race is a necessary lens through which America must look at Trump's argument. According to the CDC, black women currently have the highest abortion rate in the country, at about 28 per 1,000 women. That's way higher than non-Hispanic white women, who only account for about eight per 1,000. Hispanic women also see a higher rate — about 15 per 1,000. So if minority women keep having abortions at higher rates than white women, they would probably be "punished" at a higher rate as well — especially when you consider that minorities are already prosecuted at higher rates than whites for the same crimes.

The reasons for the disparities in abortion rates are many, according to experts. Christine Dehlendorf, a professor who specializes in reproductive health research at the University of California, San Francisco tells The Atlantic that it's about inequality — particularly money. "Structural determinants" like income inequality, racism, and differences in opportunity all play a role.

In addition to economic factors, studies show that black and Latina women receive less comprehensive sexual health education than their white peers do — even within the same income brackets. There's also a mistrust of some contraceptives due to historical experiments designed to limit minority births. Sterilization abuse of black women and Latinas by the medical establishment occurred many times in the 20th century — and happened as recently as 2010 in California prisons.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

These reasons and probably more could explain the difference in the abortion rate (which actually has decreased on the whole in recent years). But no matter the reason, making abortions illegal is not the answer (as some black pro-life groups argue), and imprisoning women for having the procedure would be reprehensible. Mass incarceration has already devastated communities around the country, and adding to the prison population will not help anything.

In a time in which past injustices are finally being discussed in the media and on the campaign trail thanks to organizations like Black Lives Matter, it's important to condemn Trump's rhetoric against both women and minorities. In this case, his comments intersect to specifically hurt minority women — a group that simply can't afford to be maligned any more.