Activists say issues of abortion rights and racial justice are intertwined. Black abortion rights leaders say reproductive justice and racial justice are inextricably connected.

On Juneteenth weekend, Black activists march for abortion rights

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AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Black women and other people of color seek abortions at higher rates than white women. Advocates say the reasons are tied to larger issues of racial and social injustice. This Juneteenth weekend, a coalition of groups led by Black women marched through Washington, D.C., vowing not to give up the fight for abortion rights even if Roe v. Wade is overturned as expected. Here's NPR's Sarah McCammon.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: As activists gathered in a park just a short walk from the U.S. Supreme Court, Loretta Ross remembered the days before the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide.

LORETTA ROSS: Fifty-two years ago, when I was a first-year student at Howard University, I had an abortion.

MCCAMMON: Until the landmark abortion rights decision in 1973, the procedure was legal only in a handful of places, including D.C. Ross says she's watched the movement come full circle as many people struggle to get access to abortion.

ROSS: And it was easier then to go to the Washington Hospital Center and have an abortion than it is right now for our first-year students at Howard University.

MCCAMMON: Ross is among the founders of what's known as the Reproductive Justice Movement, which links abortion rights to issues of racial and economic inequality. Activists say access to abortion is essential for the well-being of Black women, who face higher rates of both poverty and maternal mortality. Kenya Martin is with We Testify, a group of advocates who publicly share their experiences.

KENYA MARTIN: I needed every single one of my abortions. In 2015, I had a life-threatening pregnancy, and it tried to take me out, y'all.

MCCAMMON: Martin says an abortion saved her life, and the experience motivated her to become an activist. Some conservative Black women say they're concerned about the disproportionate abortion rates among communities of color. Catherine Davis is president of The Restoration Project, a group focusing on policy issues affecting Black Americans. Davis opposes abortion and says she believes it's too often promoted as a solution for women struggling to make ends meet.

CATHERINE DAVIS: Yes, they may be struggling, but not to the extent that they need to take the life of their child.

MCCAMMON: At the abortion rights rally, Leslie Grant-Spann of New York held a handmade sign that said, my human rights include my right to choose. She says reproductive justice is partly about giving people the resources they need to make truly free choices about having children.

LESLIE GRANT-SPANN: Many folks are living in communities where they don't have access to housing, gainful employment, safe environmental conditions. And so they are oftentimes faced with having to choose between their own livelihood and the prospect of bringing a life into this world that they cannot sustain and help thrive.

MCCAMMON: Data from the Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control suggest that Black patients account for roughly 1 in 3 abortions in the U.S.. Hispanic women also are overrepresented.

KENYA JARRA-PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish). Hola. My name is Kenya Jarra-Perez, and I'm here on behalf of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.

MCCAMMON: She worries that as states enact laws criminalizing abortion, people of color also will be disproportionately targeted for prosecution.

JARRA-PEREZ: Because when abortion care is criminalized, it is our communities of color that have been targeted and at risk of being investigated, having their children taken from them, losing their livelihoods and being imprisoned.

MCCAMMON: With the Supreme Court poised to issue a decision that could soon ban abortion in some two dozen states, reproductive justice leaders say they're preparing to do whatever is necessary to help people of color access abortion. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.

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