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Against Tough Odds, Black Women Legislators Push for Reproductive Freedom in the States

February 2020

Abortion restrictions pull in the headlines, but Black women legislators continue to steadily work toward legislation that would make a positive difference in the lives of their constituents.

Columbia, SC — As extremist state legislators continue to introduce legislation intended to control women’s bodies and push abortion completely out of reach, Black women state legislators have focused on enacting a vision where each person can make their own decisions about reproductive health, pregnancy, and parenting, free from political interference.

“More Black women are serving in state legislatures than ever before — 4.3% compared to 2.3% in 1999,” said Sophia Kerby, State Innovation Exchange’s (SiX) Director of Reproductive Rights. “While we have a ways to go before we reach more equitable political representation, what we see now is Black women legislators excelling and leading on intersectional issues affecting the lives of Black women and girls, including reproductive freedom. As Black History Month winds down and Women’s History Month moves closer, now is an opportune moment to lift up the proactive legislation of some of these champions.” 

“Black women and girls face structural health disparities in the fight for reproductive health and rights,” said South Carolina State Senator Mia McLeod. “Too many Black women die during pregnancy and childbirth. Too many Black women experience restrictions to accessing health care, including abortion. And too many Black women endure pay discrimination which means Black women and their families have less money to support themselves and often must choose between paying for essential services like housing, education, health care, and child care.” 

The following are a sampling of some of the visionary legislation being introduced or co-sponsored by Black women state legislators. 

  • Kentucky State Representative Attica Scott, Kentucky’s only Black woman legislator, proposed the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies Act (HB138) which would provide additional oversight for infant mortalities, require additional implicit bias training, and expand Medicaid to be able to cover Doula services.
  • Tennessee State Representative London Lamar, the only woman of reproductive age in the Tennessee legislature, introduced a measure that would designate pregnancy as an approved medical leave of absence for receiving the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship (HB 379).
  • South Carolina Senator Mia McLeod, introduced the Pro-Birth Accountability Bill (SB 928) this year in response to her Republican colleagues’ push for a 6-week abortion ban. McLeod’s bill reasons that if the state wants to ban abortion and force women to give birth against their will, then the state should compensate women for living, legal, medical, psychological, and psychiatric expenses relating to parenting.
  • Georgia State Representative Dar’shun Kendrick introduced a bill that strikes against medically unnecessary, inaccurate information, and added economic and time burdens of accessing abortion. The bill, the “Women’s Right to Immediate Access Act” (HB 746), would allow patients to bypass the state’s 24-hour forced waiting period, mandated ultrasound, and state-approved anti-choice counseling.

Media interested in talking with these state legislators on their bills or the larger reproductive health, rights, and justice battles being waged in the states should contact eme@stateinnovation.org.