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Supreme Court Abortion Oriaku Njoku Interview

An Abortion Fund Codirector on What the Latest Supreme Court Victory Really Means

UNITED STATES - MARCH 4: Pro-choice abortion activists protest during a demonstration outside the Supreme Court in Washington on March 4, 2020, as the Court hears oral arguments regarding a Louisiana law about abortion access on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court narrowly confirmed Louisianans right to accessible reproductive care in a five-to-four vote on Monday, reinforcing the right to abortion access in the United States. The case was heard despite a nearly identical Supreme Court judgement from 2016 that ruled requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges was unnecessary, on the grounds that it placed undue burden on patients seeking care. After earning what feels like a repeated victory, some pro-choice advocates are describing this latest Supreme Court ruling as bittersweet, with past decisions — including ones with significant precedent, like Roe v. Wade — suddenly up for debate with increasing frequency in the courts.

We spoke to one such leader in the pro-choice movement, Oriaku Njoku, about the latest Supreme Court decision. Njoku is the co-founder and co-director of Access Reproductive Care — Southeast, a regional abortion fund that Njoku describes as providing "logistical support to Southerners who are trying to access reproductive healthcare," all while working toward the abolition of stigma and restoration of "dignity and justice, especially in communities of color that have been impacted by all sorts of reproductive oppression." Read on for Njoku's take on the implications of this Supreme Court ruling.

POPSUGAR: What were your first thoughts on the Supreme Court ruling? Were you surprised?

Oriaku Njoku: My unfiltered version of the outcome of this is just, 'Thank you for doing your job.' The court did exactly what it was supposed to do. And it's upholding the past decisions that we've had that just came through four years ago [in the Whole Women's Health vs Hellerstedt case]. It felt like because it's been this targeted attack in states towards people being able to make decisions around what's best for themselves and their families, and using our bodies as what feels like political pawns, any other decision besides the one they made today would have felt like it was not coming from an unbiased or just place. It would have felt like it was obviously politically motivated, because that's what a lot of these [anti-abortion] attacks are doing on the state-level. I'm very pleased, and at the same time, we still have lots of work to do to make sure that in another two or four years we're not doing the same thing again.

PS: What do you think this second win against required hospital admitting privileges at abortion clinics means for the people your organization helps in rural areas, in the Southeast and elsewhere?

ON: Roe v. Wade made abortion legal, but it didn't necessarily make it accessible for a lot of people that need to access care. A lot of folks are traveling hours — hundreds of miles — to access abortion care. They're even crossing state lines to do so. So for folks that live in rural communities, especially in Louisiana, this [Supreme Court ruling] means that even though there are unfortunately only three clinics right now that are independent clinics providing abortion care in the state of Louisiana, it reduces the necessity for people to have to travel out of state and to figure out the logistics of getting across state lines to access basic healthcare. That's really, really encouraging.

PS: We spoke to the now-President of Planned Parenthood about how COVID and reproductive justice intersect last month, but a whole lot has changed in the world since then. I'd love to hear from you how you think about this ruling in the context of COVID-19 as well as protests against police brutality, and if you see a connection between the three.

"I feel like when folks talk about admitting privileges, it's under the guise of increased safety, when the reality is abortion care is safe. It's one of the most safe procedures that you can have."
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ON: I think the common thread with all of this is the impact of systemic anti-Blackness on the ability of our people in our community to be able to thrive, and to live without shame or fear or stigma — or without the threat of dying or being murdered by the state. At one point, it was reported in April that 80 percent of people who were in hospitals [with COVID-19 in Georgia] were Black. And so when you're thinking about the impact of the medical industrial complex and people of color — especially Black people — trying to access care, we think about [systemic racism] when it comes to abortion access at the same time. Even in the '60s and '70s, when you were hearing about some of these old stories, white women were still able to get their abortions. They'd be like, "Oh, I'm taking a trip. I'm going to Mexico, I'm going to Puerto Rico, I'm going to New York." That wasn't necessarily the case for Black folks in the South or Black folks in the Midwest trying to access care. And unfortunately it goes back to the idea that yes, Roe v. Wade is legal, but it's not fairly accessible.

When we're thinking about surviving under systems that were never actually intended for us to thrive, this is actually a time to say, "If we're making demands around one of the basic tenets of reproductive justice — which is to be able to raise your children and your families in communities that are sustainable, where you can thrive; when you think about that piece and think about just the basic human right of being able to have access to things like clean water, health care, clean air, food, and thinking about how the systems have kept us from being able to thrive — my hope is that with the uprisings, with the heightened awareness of [injustice] that people have in this moment, that this will actually be a catalyst for some positive change and not just [surface-level] change. Like, "Oh, we're going to "do better" and now start to celebrate Juneteenth as an organization even though this has been a holiday for 155 years, you know?" Not that kind of thing. But what are some actionable steps that we can make in this moment that are systemic and actually going to benefit all of us?

PS: Can you talk about what the sticking point is [for anti-choice leaders] with abortion clinics and admitting privileges? Why has that been such a particular area of contention?

ON: I'm definitely not a lawyer, but I feel like if the opposition had a starter pack for shenanigans, this would be one of the things that would be, like, "What's something we can do that's so outlandish that would stop people from getting care?" I feel like when folks talk about admitting privileges, it's under the guise of increased safety, when the reality is abortion care is safe. It's one of the safest procedures that you can have. And so perpetuating this idea of stigma and fear and [of abortion] not being safe is actually so far from the truth and reality of abortion, that making doctors [have admitting privileges] into an ER hospital [is a distraction.] If the ER hospital nearby is a Catholic hospital and they are against abortion, you're not going to get admitting privileges at that hospital. If you are a traveling doctor who has to come in-and-out of state because [you work in] a state that maybe only has one, two, three, or four abortion clinics, then there may be some reluctancy to give admitting privileges to people who are able to provide that care. It's just nit-picking at things to really target abortion providers. Because abortion is legal, [anti-choice people] are making it as hard to access as possible.

PS: Is there any action that you would want our readers to take to get involved today? One thing you'd ask them to get started on right away?

ON:Outside of making some contributions to the actual groups in Louisiana who put a ton of sweat and tears into this fight — Women With a Vision and New Orleans Abortion Fund, the independent abortion funds that are in Louisiana — they want to have more of a local impact wherever they are. Going to the National Network of Abortions Funds website and looking up abortion funds in their own state. Hopefully people can get tapped into that and make contributions to some of those organizations so we can keep eliminating barriers to abortion.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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