Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a roundtable conversation at a “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour stop at Fountain Street Church, Thursday, February 22, 2024, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Seated alongside Vice President Harris are Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), left, and Rep. Hillary Scholten (D-MI). (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

 

By DELA CARTY

for Black Women Unmuted 

ATLANTA – With reproductive rights high on the nation’s election-year agenda,  Democrats are courting women voters with a strong message in favor of preserving access to abortion and improving maternal health. 

These issues resonate especially with Black women, who make up a large share of the Democratic Party’s base and who polls suggest would be more likely to support candidates who are pro-reproductive rights. A recent poll by Higher Heights Leadership Fund revealed that abortion remains a key concern for Black women voters, with nearly 80% worried about restricted access. The Democrats’ messaging strategy comes as comprehensive reproductive freedom emerged as an important election issue in Georgia, a key battleground state, and as a ban on all abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy took effect in neighboring Florida.   

“It’s bigger than an abortion issue. This is our democracy at stake,” said state Rep. Kim Schofield, a Democrat representing District 63 in Fulton County, Georgia. “When you remove a person’s right to choose, it takes away the power to be a part of their decision making.” 

Schofield introduced the Right of Reproductive Freedom Resolution, also known as HR 836, in Georgia’s legislature on Jan. 23. The legislation sought to guarantee women a fundamental right to decide all aspects of pregnancy, including prenatal care, childbirth, contraception, abortion care and fertility care. 

Schofield’s resolution did not receive a hearing and was still pending in the House Rules Committee when this year’s legislative session ended. Despite that, her proposal’s focus on reproductive freedom as “a fundamental right,” galvanized Black women voters in Georgia, many of whom are alarmed by the state’s current ban on abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy. 

“Women’s rights are exactly what they are –  women’s rights!” Peggy Timberlake, 71, said during an interview outside the Publix supermarket in Midtown Atlanta. “You can’t tell them what to do. 

“Taking away our reproductive rights is taking away our safety and power over our own bodies,” she added. 

Democrats are banking on this surge in women voters’ concern over access to safe, legal abortions to help President Joe Biden gain a swing-state advantage over former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman to hold that office, has taken the lead, most recently advocating passionately for a Nevada ballot measure aimed at enshrining abortion access in the state’s constitution. During an April 15 campaign stop, Harris directly blamed Trump for the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson that took away women’s right to abortion, saying “he will sign a national abortion ban” if he regains the presidency. 

In March, the vice president visited a Minnesota clinic that provides abortion services and reproductive care, becoming the first president or vice president to do so. She began her national “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour in Wisconsin on Jan. 22, the 51st anniversary of the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that gave a woman the constitutional right to choose.

“We have to be a nation that trusts women,” she said. 

As the debate over reproductive rights intensifies, Harris’ tour highlights the challenges facing women’s reproductive choices at both the federal and state levels. On a March 8 visit to Phoenix,  the fifth stop on her tour, Harris told supporters at the South Mountain Community Center that her fight for reproductive freedom was inspired by her best friend from high school who was a victim of molestation.  

“In states across our nation, extremists have proposed and passed laws that criminalize doctors and punish women,” Harris said. “Laws that threaten doctors and nurses with prison time, even for life, simply for providing health care.” 

During March 26th oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices expressed uncertainty about a proposed nationwide ban or additional restrictions on mifepristone, the primary drug used in abortions. Harris highlighted the consequences of this ruling during her campaign speech in Phoenix, specifically mentioning the clinics in Arizona that were compelled to postpone IVF treatments due to the high court’s decision. 

“On the one hand, these extremists tell women they do not have the freedom to end an unwanted pregnancy, and on the other hand, these extremists tell women they don’t have the freedom to start a family,” Harris said. “Let us all agree one does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held beliefs to agree the government should not be telling her what to do with her body.”

 

According to Higher Heights’ poll results, Black women are more likely to engage in elections when candidates support reproductive rights. Their findings indicate that 59% of educated Black women are more inclined to vote for a candidate who advocates for pro-choice policies. This can be due to the inadequate medical care that leaves Black women at a disadvantage compared to other women in America. 

 

During the 2024 elections, candidates should expect to see Black women across the country take their concerns about issues like health care and reproductive rights to the voting booth – in droves. 

“When you fire up a Black Woman or give her the tools she needs, she doesn’t go to the polls alone,” Higher Heights President and CEO Glynda C. Carr said. “She brings her house, her block, her church, her sorority, and her union.”  

 

Studies conducted by Research America and the Woodruff Health Sciences Center at Emory University also found that 65% of Georgians believe the healthcare system is biased toward people of certain ethnic backgrounds, and 49% of African Americans believe racism is a significant obstacle to achieving adequate healthcare, especially when it comes to pregnancy-related complications. Black women are nearly three times more likely to die from complications related to pregnancy than White women, according to research by BioMed Central Public Health. 

“Too many women’s lives are in danger when they can’t get healthy medical care or when they decide to end a pregnancy or continue a pregnancy,” Schofield said. 

Terrance Woodbury, chief executive officer and founding partner of the social science research firm HIT Strategies,  said 76% of Black women perceive their votes as powerful, and  81% of Black women voters believe that Black female elected officials have the ability to bring about change in their communities. 

Woodbury participated in a March 6 press briefing hosted by the Higher Heights Leadership Fund at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to discuss their poll findings about Black women voters.  He pointed out striking differences between Black women and other racial groups in the polling data and recalled predictions Black women made about the 2020 presidential election. 

“Before the 2020 election, a majority of Black women said they expected that the 2020 election would end in violence ” he  said. “That was double what any other group in America was saying.” 

Given that the 2020 presidential election ended with an attack on the U.S. Capitol Building by extremists attempting to overturn the results, it’s safe to say that Black women’s predictions became reality. 

“They are saying that again in focus groups, and I think we need to pay attention to it,” Woodbury said.

 

Some predict Black voters will play a crucial role in the outcome of the 2024 election. According to research found by the Pew Research Center, Georgia has one of the largest numbers of Black eligible voters in the country, standing at 33%. In the 2020 election, Black voters in Georgia overwhelmingly supported Biden by a margin of 77 points, according to exit polls. Biden secured victory in Georgia by a narrow margin of less than one point, becoming the first Democrat to win the state in a presidential election since Bill Clinton in 1992. 

Recent poll findings from Kaiser Family Foundation indicate that Black women make up 24% of the demographic profile of voters who prioritize abortion as the most significant issue influencing their vote and that 48% of abortion supporters would vote for Biden in the 2024 presidential election. These findings indicate that abortion is a big topic for the Democratic Party, as it shows the greatest concerns supporters have for voting in the 2024 presidential election. 

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