Politics

Rep. Ayanna Pressley calls on Biden to declare public health emergency over abortion rights

"We must act urgently as if lives depend on it because they do."

T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times

Rep. Ayanna Pressley is calling on President Joe Biden to declare a nationwide public health crisis in response to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade

Abortion in Massachusetts remains legal, despite the court’s Friday decision. But the Massachusetts congresswoman and other members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation are pledging to continue the fight for reproductive health protections. 

And it’s not just the state’s Democratic leaders moving to action. On Friday, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order to “further preserve” abortion rights in Massachusetts and protect providers in the state. 

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In a statement, Pressley called the court’s decision “a devastating confirmation of what Black and brown reproductive justice organizers have been sounding the alarms about for years.”

“This Court will stop at nothing to strip away our reproductive freedom and our fundamental human right to bodily autonomy,” Pressley said. “By obliterating the right to abortion across the nation, this extreme decision will push legal abortion care out of reach for our most vulnerable and exacerbate multiple public health crises, like the Black maternal mortality crisis.

“Let me be clear: by restricting abortion access, this Court is putting the health of the most vulnerable people at risk and we must use every tool, at every level of government, to protect reproductive rights and save lives,” she added.

Before the court’s decision was released, Pressley, who is chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus’s Abortion Rights and Access Task Force, on Friday morning sent a letter to Biden alongside other Black congresswomen urging action, noting that “any day now” the Supreme Court was expected to overturn abortion protections. 

In fact, the court’s decision came just hours later. 

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“We write as Black women lawmakers, proud members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and on behalf of the more than 21 million Black women in America to urge you to use every tool at your disposal to protect fundamental reproductive rights and abortion access across this country—including by declaring a public health and national emergency in response to the unprecedented and dangerous attacks on abortion care,” the congresswomen wrote. 

Pressley and her colleagues noted that there is already a maternal health crisis in the country that is “disproportionately harming Black women due to the racist and discriminatory legacies of our medical and health care systems.”

Black women and pregnant people already face “significant systemic barriers” when trying to access time-sensitive and essential reproductive health care, the politicians told Biden.

“These systemic barriers have led to stark racial health and economic disparities that have only been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote. “Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that the maternal mortality rate for Black women increased significantly between 2019 and 2020, and in the first six months of the pandemic alone, Black women experienced a 2.3 year drop in life expectancy. Research also indicates that the compounding crises of maternal health and access to abortion care may worsen, not prevent, fatal intimate partner violence. A recent study found that homicide is a leading cause of death for pregnant and post-partum people, with Black pregnant women at the greatest risk.”

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Further restricting abortion care will only continue to disproportionately endanger the lives of Black women and pregnant people, they wrote, stressing that with many southern states poised to enact abortion bans criminalizing the reproductive care, Black women in particular will be vulnerable to potential investigations for pregnancy losses. 

One study pointed to by the congresswomen estimated that banning abortions across the United States would result in an about 21 percent increase in maternal deaths across all races, with an increase of about 33 percent in maternal deaths for Black individuals. 

“President Biden must recognize this as the public health emergency that it is and commit to utilizing every executive authority necessary to protect abortion access, including expanding access to medication abortion and over-the-counter-birth control, and protect the safety of those seeking and providing abortion care,” Pressley said Friday. “States including Massachusetts have taken steps to become havens for those seeking necessary abortion care and I encourage other states to follow suit.”

The congresswoman and her colleagues called the moment “unprecedented.”

“We must act urgently as if lives depend on it because they do,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Read their full letter below:

2022.06.23 Women of the CBC Letter on Roe President Biden VF_0 by dialynn dwyer on Scribd

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