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Reproductive Health

Advocates Launch ‘Abortion Bans Are Racist’ Campaign

Organizers at Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity say their goal is to improve reproductive rights for people of color.

Members of The Boston Red Cloaks carry signs in Boston protesting abortion bans. A reproductive rights group wants to ensure that conversations about abortion focus on people of color. (Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A reproductive rights group wants Georgia lawmakers to know that the state’s tough abortion laws disproportionately harmed people of color.

Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity — or URGE — a Washington, D.C.-based group that focuses its advocacy on reproductive justice, launched a campaign on Martin Luther King Jr. Day called “Abortion Bans Are Racist.” The goal of the initiative is to educate residents on the state’s current ban and threats of criminalization for people seeking abortions, and to encourage locals to reach out to lawmakers and advocate for more reproductive rights. All of which, organizers say, disproportionately affects Black people in the state.

Kaelea Lucas, the Georgia organizer for URGE, says she wants to make sure that abortions are just a fraction of the conversation about what bans can do to people of color. 

“We aren’t just strictly coming from a lens of what’s happening with our wombs or with our uterus,” said Lucas. “[Abortion bans] have a trickle-down effect. People with low income have to bring in another child that they can’t afford. The point of the ‘Abortion Bans are Racist’ campaign is to make sure the conversation isn’t just about abortion … but how does this further create disparities within our communities?” 

The campaign — and the challenges organizers hope to address with their messaging — come at a crucial time. Georgia is one of many states in the Southeast that has stringent abortion laws. Last year, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state was allowed to enforce HB 481, which banned abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy — before most realize they’re pregnant. The state law followed the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, the court case that had guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion.

Last November, a Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled that HB 481, passed in 2019, was unconstitutional since it was passed while Roe v. Wade was still in effect. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled to temporarily keep HB 481 in place.

“Abortion Bans are Racist” initially started as a tagline written on an URGE poster the group held up at a rally outside the Supreme Court in protest of the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade. Once the ruling came down, the communications team at URGE began discussing how it could bring the phrase “abortion bans are racist” to life. 

Now, the campaign consists of two billboards — one near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and another in Dunwoody. The campaign also includes posters and ads on social media. The messaging encourages residents to reject bans and urge lawmakers to consider more abortion rights legislation. Lucas also says that more work will be done to get the word out at the organization’s college chapters. 

Toni Watkins, the integrated voter engagement director for URGE, said she hopes that with the campaign, people will shift their focus to the disproportionate impact that abortion bans are likely having on Black women. Black people receive 65% of abortions in Georgia, despite being a third of the population.

“A lot of times, the arching conversation is reduced to white wombs, so we really wanted to uplift that,” Watkins said. “Even from the leadership to the messaging, to being in rooms where people are saying we don’t need to include Black folks because they’re not enough of the vulnerable population … I think in many ways, it’s very overt.” 

Researchers also predict that with more people forced to carry out their pregnancy, there will be increased risks for bad maternal health outcomes in a state where Black women are already three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. 

Organizers also say they hope the campaign will bring attention to all pillars of reproductive justice: the right to have a child, the right to not have a child, and the right to raise families in safe and sustainable communities. 

“Abortion bans not only marginalize people who may seek abortion, but it further marginalizes people who are already underserved in health care,” said Quasheba Allen, an URGE fellow and public health graduate student at Emory University. 

Allen also noted that the South’s tendency to be restrictive on abortion can impact someone’s feeling of safety. They pointed to the visible contempt for abortion in Georgia compared to the culture in Washington, D.C., while they were attending Howard University. 

“I do come across messaging and protests that are against abortion, and have seen a lot of triggering content displayed on their signs,” Allen said. “When abortion bans came about, I definitely was aware of heightened anxiety amongst many people I’m in network with and that I’m in community with.”

Soon, the campaign will be seen more on the college campuses where URGE is present, including Columbus State University, Emory University, and Mercer University. Wherever the group’s mission takes them, the message will be the same, says Lucas.

“The decision of what somebody does with their body and whether or not they are going to get an abortion ultimately should be between that person, family, and maybe a medical provider if that’s what feels comfortable to them,” she said. “But who should not be involved is the government. There should be no political reasoning for anything like abortion bans.”