Racism permeates every aspect of life in the United States, so much so that women of color encounter racism when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health, a situation exacerbated by gender and class discrimination.
In a submission to the United Nations in advance of its review of US compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Human Rights Watch and our partners laid out three key areas in which racial discrimination thrives in the US and perpetuates health inequities, with particularly devastating impacts on Black women.
First, abortion. Since the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional protection for abortion access, over half the country’s states have made nearly all abortion illegal or are poised to do so. Yet abortion is a form of health care needed more frequently by women of color, especially Black women, than white women in the US. Abortion restrictions compound economic, social, and geographic barriers to health care, including contraception, disproportionately impacting Black women’s ability to access the care we need.
Second, the US allows the shackling of pregnant prisoners during labor, delivery, and post-partum recovery. Such shackling is a clear human rights violation as recognized by UN bodies. Black women are almost twice as likely to be incarcerated as white women and we are disproportionately affected by this barbaric practice and the related negative health impacts.
Third, Black women are almost twice as likely to die from cervical cancer as white women in the US. This despite cervical cancer being highly preventable and treatable.
Compounding racism and discrimination, which are rampant in the healthcare field, women of color are more likely to be uninsured and lack access to affordable and comprehensive healthcare coverage in the US. Twelve US states, including many in the US South, where the majority of Black people live, haven’t expanded Medicaid, a government healthcare program, to extend affordable healthcare coverage to more low-income people.
The US federal government is not doing enough to address and eliminate structural racism and discrimination in the US, and the impact on the health of Black women is clear. To help correct this, the government should enact concrete measures to protect and promote the rights to equality under the law, nondiscrimination, information, and health, including reproductive health care, for all people.