Coretta Scott King cautioned us that, "Freedom is never really won; you earn it and win it in every generation."
During this heavy time, with the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, we feel these words ring loudly at the core of our being. We need to remind Minnesotans that women, girls and gender-expansive people must be centered and valued, and that they are fully capable of making their own life choices in order to thrive.
The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is a devastating throwback to a time before the founding of our organization, the Women's Foundation of Minnesota (WFMN). This decision has taken away a basic human right for women, girls and all birthing people. It doesn't end there — it will also lead to other human rights being rolled back.
At a time when there is so much work to be done to build community power for systemic change, this decision lays the groundwork to take away our collective power and freedoms.
Says Sandy Vargas, trustee of WFMN: "As one of the founding mothers along with Mary Lee Dayton, who made the first $1 million gift to any women's fund anywhere, I remember distinctly that WFMN was created to meet a moment such as this. From the very beginning, the board envisioned a world with freedom to choose, equitable health and breakthrough prosperity. We knew that only with these freedoms and opportunities would women and girls be able to support themselves and their families, and be able to contribute to their communities. Roe v. Wade created that pathway toward a more just world."
Even with Roe, reproductive rights which include abortion access have not been a reality for many who are already at the margins — those who are Black, Indigenous, rural, immigrant, LGBTQ+ and other communities of color. From accessing comprehensive reproductive health care, sex education and contraceptives, the barriers for them will be even more devastating and dangerous.
Among the world's developed nations, the U.S. has the highest maternal death rate, with more than 700 pregnant people dying each year. Looking at WFMN's 2022 Status of Women and Girls in Minnesota, we know that Native American birthing people are four times more likely and Black birthing people are 2.3 times more likely to die of pregnancy or childbirth-related causes than white birthing people in our state, with 60% of those deaths being completely preventable.
Additionally, the data on economic mobility from the Institute for Women's Policy Research reported that forcing childbirth on pregnant people not only risks their lives but forces families into generations of poverty. With wages for women parents dropping at least 30% and costing state economies more than $105 billion annually, it's clear that disparities will further widen.
In our role as a women-centered foundation, WFMN will continue to focus our investments on supporting birthing people who experience the greatest barriers to safe and accessible reproductive health care. Just as we did in the generation before us, we will harness our collective power in this struggle for the freedom, safety and economic opportunity of women, girls and gender-expansive people.
Soon we'll see Minnesota become a haven for those in neighboring states who need abortion access and other reproductive services. We call on our allies to support our impacted communities who are now facing unprecedented limitations to their right to bodily autonomy. Here's what we can do right now:
- Invest in service providers leading on the front lines. Organizations exist in our state and around the country that have decades of experience in caring for the health and safety of the people they serve. Through our Community Response Fund, the Women's Foundation of Minnesota supports these organizations as they meet increased demands for reproductive services.
- Trust, value and protect the bodily autonomy of all birthing people and the decisions they make about their lives and self-determination.
- Stand with communities leading reproductive justice. We believe in the leadership and advocacy of our partner organizations, leaders and the movement for reproductive justice, and invite others to join us.
- Dismantle the stigma around pregnancy and reproductive rights. Share our stories and increase access to all forms of reproductive care in rural Minnesota and other marginalized communities.
To live up to our promise as a society that cares for the well-being of all people, it must include all birthing people who are still living with us today. We must work together to create safe, affordable health care and outcomes for everyone. In this moment, we are called to learn from our past and be on the right side of history. When we trust and pay attention to the stories and leadership of our most impacted communities and medical professionals working on the front lines, we can build a future that's better than turning back to our past.
Gloria Perez is president and CEO of the Women's Foundation of Minnesota.