Despite the short notice on Friday, women and men of the SouthCoast gathered at the intersection of County and Union Streets to decry the decision of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Car and truck horns blared loudly joining in the outrage. The Supreme Court unleashed nearly half the states to ban or severely restrict abortion.  

To be clear, in these states a woman’s right to control her own body will no longer legally be her right. Importantly, however, despite the Court’s decision, abortions will not prevented by the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Women, especially low-income women, will be forced to have illegal and potentially dangerous abortions. Women and mothers, sisters and daughters will die as a result of this ruling. The United States already records a more than double maternal mortality rate compared to other high-income peer nations. 

As with the deadly COVID pandemic, the court’s monumental decision will disproportionately affect Black and Latinx women. The racial impact of this decision is undeniable; the maternal mortality rate for Black mothers is nearly three times that of white mothers. More Black and Latinx women lack access to health care than white women, and more lack the money, time, and child care to travel to states where abortion remains legal. 

The Roe v. Wade decision portends the likelihood that other rights and freedoms will be challenged. Justice Alito wrote that “Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” Justice Thomas, however, called for a reconsideration of other substantive due process precedents: the right to purchase and use contraception, the right to same-sex relationships, and the right to marriage equality.

Outrage takes many forms. How can the Roe v. Wade decision serve as a catalyst for your action? SouthCoast’s leading voices for equity call out how we can turn this decision into a crucible for change.

Jeanne Costa, a New Bedford resident and lifelong community activist, shared her insights: “The deaths and maiming of women of color and low-income women in the years before Roe v. Wade through back-alley abortions were immeasurable. We need to face the facts and understand that this isn’t about the life of a baby; it is about controlling women’s lives and their bodies.”

Racheal Kolb, also a New Bedford resident and pro-choice supporter, called for those outraged by the Roe v. Wade decision to vote in every election — whether local, state or national. She decried, “More than any other action, a vote has the most impact on our future.”

Bettina Borders, Women’s Fund founder and current board president, also emphasized the critical role of active citizenship: “I see today as a referendum for the upcoming elections. We must insist that every national, state, and local candidate we work for pledges to codify Roe, greater equality for women, and the right to privacy.”

Carole Ferguson of Dartmouth, a pediatric nurse practitioner, shared how this personal issue became a lifelong commitment to advocate for a woman’s right to control her body. Carole had an abortion at age 20 when she became pregnant from her first intercourse during her third year of college. She enumerated the societal changes that anti-choice groups now must provide to meet the increased demands on the health care delivery system required by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Among her demands are “free labor and delivery hospital costs, free NICU costs, free excellent infant and child care, free early childhood programs at age 3, six months of paid maternity leave, and full medical and prescription care for all.”

Neal Weiss, founder of New Bedford’s Fiber Optic Center, shared the essential role and responsibility that men contribute to this movement: “The fight for choice and women’s health needs to be as much a men’s movement as women’s. It matters to all of us, and all of us have to do more, one way or another.”

And, Makenzie Lennington, 33, who has worked for years to ensure a pro-choice future for all women, encourages concerned citizens to donate to local abortion funds that are providing treatment, transportation, and recovery care. “Donations to regional resources help to remove financial and logistical barriers to those living in communities where their rights are threatened. We have to act now. People’s lives are at risk.”

Today is the time to make your voice known.

Joanne Murray is executive director of the Women’s Fund SouthCoast.