This is a fight for the unborn and for all women | Maya Angelou

The position that women should not be allowed to decide for themselves whether to continue a pregnancy is why so many women still cannot access safe, legal abortion, and they shouldn’t have to wait

The position that women should not be allowed to decide for themselves whether to continue a pregnancy is why so many women still cannot access safe, legal abortion, and they shouldn’t have to wait for the law to catch up to them

As an athlete, it is reassuring to know that I can decide whether or not to continue a pregnancy. As a feminist, it is frustrating to have to wait for the law to catch up to me.

For example, it’s been legal for women to access abortion for the past 25 years. But in 2013, a clinic for high-risk pregnancies, which is exactly what a reproductive health center is, was forced to close because the hospital that hosted it – Vail’s Bennett Memorial Hospital – went to court and demanded the clinic’s licence be revoked, because the clinic refuses to fund pregnancies that take place after 20 weeks. Luckily, the medical board that oversees abortion-related services chose not to restore the clinic’s licence.

Another harmful piece of legislation, the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act, was also passed in 2012. The bill allows insurers to discriminate in health-care decisions. If any of you have managed to get private insurance, you’ll remember the hospital that now refuses to cover contraception. But for women who lack health insurance, that’s a whole other story.

The fact that low-income women in particular continue to be caught in this net has made reproductive rights activism something of a proxy war, with women, especially black women, being mired in the debate about women’s rights – racialized arguments about white women versus women of color and old fashioned notions about women’s worth – because of our relative economic fragility.

Black women live in poverty rates exceeding 15% and at far higher rates of violent crime and crime against women. The economic power that women of color have, which is a great beginning, is still really only scratching the surface. “Black and Latino women had jobs and sub-minimum wage wages in roughly equal measure during recession years in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s,” finds a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Blacks have been forced into the middle class and disproportionately through immigration, so in some cases, they may have greater economic leverage than white people. But even then, other people still question their worth. It’s because of this economic and racial inequality that some have argued that women of color should be given something away instead of abortion rights.

But the fact that so many black women, including Dr Maya Angelou, continue to go to the Supreme Court and to numerous other venues is a testament to the strength of their convictions. It is more than likely that many women will have another choice by the time the court rules on the issue: if the women of color marching, speaking out, and proving themselves and their allies will stop a wall from being built up that looks to punish people for being their race.

The president of the College Women’s Association of Columbia, which recently opened, told Woman’s Day:

This [born] into an abusive home, I really struggle daily with: ‘Am I going to live here? Am I going to love my community?’ I feel completely, utterly free because I’m not afraid to speak my mind.

A man imprisoned for second-degree murder without the benefit of a jury trial, when he killed my friend; another student whose academic life was held in question because of her sexuality, and whose moral principles were exposed for all to see; and a child who endured unrelenting sexual abuse when her mother was working long hours, hiding from her abuser at all costs. These experiences teach me that strong women still lead the way. I have worked with many more experienced athletes, who are much stronger and more independent than I was – a strength of being that I hope will act as a model for others.

My hope is that young people will be free to make choices about their bodies, after both high school and college and, before you ever think of a marriage. Women will no longer have to fight for access to basic protections like legal abortion and access to health-care services that protect their mental and physical health. I hope other political parties realize that what truly matters is that women themselves should make decisions about their reproductive health. That’s why we can’t settle.

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