The Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade has shaken up women across the country, as Blavity previously reported. The conversations centering on women losing rights to their bodies and access to safe abortions have caused some eyebrow-raising among communities of color, particularly Black women, who have historically been denied access to safe medical procedures and more throughout the history of America.

Turning the decision to allow abortions over to the states can cause issues across the board, but it will impact Black women at a higher rate. Blavity sat down with Dr. Pierre Johnson, a Chicago-based board-certified OB/GYN to discuss the ways the recent ruling will affect Black women specifically.

The doctor versus the political agenda

Dr. Pierre Johnson not only works as a women’s healthcare professional, but he also utilizes his social media platform to inform women of their power to choose the types of procedures they have, especially as it relates to fibroid removal. Given his moral compass around patient choice, he has been frustrated with the recent Supreme Court decision that essentially removes this type of power from most women in the country.

“It’s a political agenda that’s not very well thought out,” Dr. Johnson told Blavity. “There’s a lack of input from actual medical professionals who actually deal with patients. I just think it’s an agenda-driven decision that’s going to harm women, specifically our community of Black women. I’m shocked by it, but in these days and times, what can be shocking anymore? It’s definitely a jaw-dropping, eye-opening decision for me.”

Dr. Johnson recently took to his Instagram account to explain how the decision will impact women on a much larger scale than just essentially forcing them to have babies, and the primary issue is the ways abortion is classified.

The way abortion is classified will make things difficult

Dr. Johnson explained that the literal definition of abortion is to remove embryologic tissue from the body. This means that any procedure to remove such tissue, living or dead, can be an abortion.

“So when a woman has what we call an incomplete abortion or a spontaneous abortion, which means that the body kinda naturally selects to terminate a pregnancy before it ever comes to fruition, you remove that tissue or if that tissue spontaneously removes itself or if you have to manually remove it, that’s abortion, right?” he said.

“It has multitudes of different examples of what abortions are, but the premise or the definition remains the same. And that’s why creating a law that is blanketed like that is so problematic because abortion has such a large umbrella. It becomes very difficult when you have lawmakers that are not in tune with medicine or well versed with medicine, trying to make policies that are medically driven.”

Dr. Johnson said that politicians have used false examples of late-term abortion to push this agenda.

“You know, just like we had the past president of the United States basically saying that no one should be aborting or taking away full-term infants or fetuses, right? That doesn’t happen anywhere — you don’t abort at nine months, so that shows you the ignorance of your policymakers and that starts from the top. When you start to make those types of policies with minimal input from medical professionals, that’s when people get hurt.”

The Black maternal death rate will rise

The CDC reported maternal death rates had risen during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, this increase did not impact non-Black women at significant rates. According to the report, in 2020, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is 2.9 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women.

Dr. Johnson believes that through the states’ various reactions to the Court’s decision, this death rate will rise.

“You are taking more options away from people that already don’t have resources,” Dr. Johnson said. “We already have a lack of options as is, so now you’re putting another barrier and hurdle for people that don’t have the access.”

But the potential increase in Black maternal death rates is not the only looming concern. Dr. Johnson said this decision impacts Black women in several ways. 

“Just from an equitable standpoint, we don’t have the resources,” he said. “Just me personally, where I’m at in Chicago, they’ve closed down another major hospital on the Southside, which is all Black. So women don’t have access to healthcare, they don’t have access to prenatal care and they don’t really necessarily have access to reliable contraception. So when you have all of those things and you don’t have adequate contraception to provide these women, yeah, they’re gonna get pregnant. So when they have these children, it’s a grim thing because they can’t take care of some of these children because we don’t have the resources for it.”

While Dr. Johnson does not exactly compare abortion to birth control, he does point to limited resources as access concerns.

“It’s really taking the right away from someone that is not equipped to bring life into the world,” he said.

Banning abortions not only removes a woman’s right to choose but also pegs doctors’ backs against walls when they are unable to legally save a patient’s life who needs to terminate a pregnancy to increase survival chances.  

“From a medical standpoint, you also put doctors in the quandary because everything is not black and white — there’s a lot of gray areas,” he said. “Everybody thinks ectopic pregnancy means only in the fallopian tube but within ectopic pregnancy, you either have to remove the tube or evacuate. Uterine cornual pregnancies, or what about cervical pregnancies — when you see those on ultrasound, they actually will look viable and some of them have opportunities to actually move into a normal pregnancy depending on how the growth of this new embryo goes, but they also have a significant risk for evolving into a surgical emergency where it outgrows the space that it’s in. It can rupture and a woman bleeds and have all types of problems. So if you’re putting a doctor in the situation where they have to make a medical decision and can actually lose their license or lose their livelihood by making a decision that they think is medically appropriate, you’re going to have a lot of people not wanting to make those medical decisions.”

Traveling to other states isn't exactly a viable option

A popular social media post uses the word camping to signify places where abortion is expected to remain legal. The idea is that women can have access by traveling to other states that allow the medical procedure.

“If you have resources to travel, yeah, you can travel, but what about those people that cannot, that don’t have the resources to travel, right? What do they do?” Dr. Johnson said. “I got people right now that need surgeries and can’t get insurance coverage and are having problems. How are women who don’t have resources gonna afford to travel and even more so pay for these procedures in other places? Now they’re gonna have to pay for it — their insurance is not gonna cover it. So you’re putting up barriers for women all around that are just extremely unfair.”

However, the barrier of access isn’t the only thing that makes this a non-viable option. Doctors in several states can also be prosecuted for performing abortions on women who have traveled from states where it is illegal.

“There are also laws that are saying if you are a physician and you are in knowledge of someone coming from an area where it is against the law to perform the procedure, and you then perform said procedure, you can be liable,” he said. “You can actually do jail time for performing that procedure when someone is coming from one of these states. So now you’re putting the physicians at extreme risk. There’s gonna be problems all around.”

"The Handmaid's Tale" comparison is a micro aggression

The idea of women being forced to give birth or any of the things that we’ve heard about happening to Black women and other non-white women actually occurred in our history. However, there are groups of women who think that we’re in a new time and have been making comparisons to the popular show, The Handmaid’s Tale

“It’s not a new time. It goes back to the major problems with our country not being honest about our history and being accountable for our history,” Dr. Johnson said. “It is a fact that Black women were held down and raped. They were held down to have surgeries and other barbaric procedures performed on them, which is how modern gynecologic medicine came about.”

A 2017 History article on James Marion Sims, who is known as the father of modern gynecology, explores the ways he forcibly practiced medical experiments on enslaved Black women.

“It really came out on the backs of slaves, in our early Black women that had no choice but to accept whatever fate was put onto their bodies,” Dr. Johnson said. “So now in 2022, you are again telling these women what they can and cannot do with their body, which is the hugest smack in the face ever. There should never be anybody, especially not a white male, that can tell a Black woman what to do and what she can and cannot do with her body.”

Protest, boycott and vote

Dr. Johnson said that like all great political shifts in America, people need to fight back through protests, boycotts and voting.

“We really have to fight. We have to stand up and that definitely starts with voting,” he said. “It also starts with power with numbers. When you start impacting the bottom line, that’s when changes start to happen. If we still continue to be consumers of every product that the majority owns, then things won’t happen. When you start to actually make their bottom line be impacted, then they have to change. If they don’t listen to us by our mouth, they got to listen to our actions. When people can’t send their kids to college because of your decisions, that’s when the things that you want start happening.”

Dr. Johnson will continue to share information on his Instagram page.