Platinum Middleton, a 22-year-old Black woman and New York native, has had two abortions in her lifetime. Because of the conditions she was living in at the time, she felt it was necessary to do so.
“I had an abortion in November of 2021. I never thought that this was a choice I’d have to make. My mother had just passed away, I was fighting to get custody of my sister, trying to secure housing, not to mention just leaving a relationship and being a newly single mom to the two children I already had,” says Middleton.
Middleton’s second abortion was a year later, and her circumstances had not changed much.
“Having a kid in that moment wouldn’t have been viable. I would have been struggling. I had to think about the long-term effects. Either I have this baby, now having a total of three kids at 22, and deal with having to take care of them all for a lifelong period. Or I could have an abortion, which could also have me living with ‘what ifs’ for the rest of my life. I had to weigh the options. Which was better? Which wasn’t going to mess me up overall? I had to make a decision, a tough one. And I did,” she says.
Shirley Brown, a Black woman whose story resembles to Middleton’s, faced similar challenges twenty years ago when she was 35.
“When I got pregnant in 1999, I had my first abortion. I already had two kids at that point, and I wasn’t in a good relationship at the time. I just knew I couldn’t have that baby, so I made the decision not to,” shares Brown.
“I got pregnant again the same year my mother passed away in 2000. I felt like I was in a deep depression because of the loss of my mother and knew I was not in space to have another child. I couldn’t bring another child into this world knowing I was not ready for one; it wouldn’t have been fair to the baby, and I probably would have resented it. Or it could have resented me,” she says.
Middleton and Brown got abortions because they thought it was the right choice for them. However, now, many women in the United States are being told that abortions are never the right choice. In certain states, they are not allowed to make the choice at all because of Dobbs v. Jackson (2022), a Supreme Court decision that has sent women back decades with their abortion rights.
Roe v. Wade (1973) was a historic landmark case in the United States. Through this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the United States Constitution gives pregnant women the freedom to have an abortion. However, in 1992, the Supreme Court made another decision about abortion through Planned Parent Hood V. Casey. While they upheld their decision in Roe v. Wade, they also decided that states could place restrictions on abortion rights if they did not place “undue burden” on the women seeking them.
In 2022, through the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court overturned the two previous decisions. Their ruling that the United States Constitution does not give women the right to abortion left the issue in the hands of individual states. Studies by the Guttmacher Institute show that as of January 2023, at least 24 states have placed restrictions on abortion.
This is not the first time we have seen a pattern like this regarding changing opinions on abortion rights. “When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973,” written by historian, Leslie J. Reagan, explains the history of the legality and illegality of abortion in the United States.
Reagan revealed that prior to 1857, abortion was widely accepted in the United States, regardless of political party or religion, up until about four months. However, the American Medical Association started a campaign to make abortion illegal at every stage of pregnancy to gain more control over medical practices and professional power. By 1880, all states implemented abortion restrictions.
For the next few decades, people were not only obtaining illegal and life-threatening abortions, but also fighting for abortion rights. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Women’s Liberation Movement grew, and the issue of reproductive freedom was pushed to the forefront of the movement. Eventually, women were able to get health care providers and the legal community on their side, and many states repealed their bans and legalized abortions. This led to their breakthrough with Roe v. Wade in 1973.
However, 49 years later, those rights were once lost again with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health organization, and the fight continues.
“This back and forth with access to abortion can’t be explained any differently than just a strive for power,” says Elanie Dash, a women and gender studies minor at Lehman College. “Access to abortion offers autonomy, and people in the highest ranks of power will always strive to control that as they see fit and do what they feel will guarantee their power.”
Middleton has an idea of who these people striving for control are. For both Middleton and Dash, the heart of this issue boils down to sex, politics, and power.
“This is men trying to find another source of power over women, not allowing them to even make choices of their own without their consent and approval,” says Middleton.
“I truly believe that some Christians, who are typically Republicans, like to push their beliefs and agendas aggressively onto other people and have no problem doing that in politics, which is why we’re going through this again,” she continues.
There is truth to Middleton’s statement. Abortion was not a religious or politically polarizing issue until the 1970s. After abortions became more widely available through the passing of Roe v. Wade, Christians became more vocal about their opposition to the procedure. In 1976, Republicans who were usually focused on business related issues shifted their focus to social issues. The party embraced an anti-abortion stance with their platform, politicizing abortion further and gaining the party more Christian votes.
This intertwine of religion and politics continues to affect the reproductive rights of women. Dash sees it as the reason the Supreme Court decided to overturn Roe V. Wade with Dobbs v. Jackson.
“This cycle continues to happen as it’s a display of a power struggle and the adoption of political interests that seem beneficial for specific groups at the time,” says Dash. “It’s not for this goal of ‘protecting life.’ It’s the protection of political interests.”