Although it may seem like the fight for abortion rights is bigger than ever under the new administration, it has always been an uphill battle. As Black History Month comes to a close, we want to honor three African American women who’ve served as abortion activists – whether in the spotlight or behind-the-scenes – their work is still felt today.
Known to many as “Flo”, Florynce Kennedy was the author of “Abortion Rap”, and called the biggest, loudest, and the rudest activist by People magazine in 1974. She was an American lawyer, feminist, civil rights advocate, lecturer and activist from Kansas City, Missouri.
She moved to New York City so she could attend the Columbia University School of General Studies and majored in pre-law. In her autobiography, she wrote about being refused admission to the law school, not because she was black, but because she was a woman. When she threatened to sue the university, she was admitted and later became one of the first black women to graduate from Columbia Law School.
Less than 20 years after graduating, she sued the Roman Catholic Church for interference with abortion. A year later, she organized a group of feminist lawyers to challenge the constitutionality of New York State’s abortion law, which was credited with helping influence the Legislature to liberalize abortion in 1970.
Byllye Avery served as a lifelong activist, and was the founder of several organizations for women’s health, including the National Black Women’s Health Project in 1983 (today, it’s the Black Women’s Health Imperative), the Gainesville Women’s Health Center in 1974, and she cofounded Birthplace, an alternative birthing center. She was also a leader in the underground abortion referral network in Florida.
In 2002, she founded The Avery Institute for Social Change – a non-profit organization based in Harlem, NY that is committed to quality health care for all. Currently she is a clinical professor at Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University and an advisor to the National Institutes of Health.
Dorothy Roberts is a University of Pennsylvania Professor, and has been a pioneer in the reproductive justice movement.
Although birth control, the morning-after pill, and abortions were available while Roberts was in college, she recognized the struggle women faced in other communities in order to access abortion.
For her, abortion has never been controversial, and she has always been surprised to see backlash from the decision in Roe v. Wade. She believed so much that women should have the right to reproductive healthcare that she became a lawyer.
Roberts has talked to the press about her belief that access to reproductive health means that all women are given the same access – and laws such as the Hyde Amendment, which denies federal funding for women who cannot afford an abortion – do not allow for all women to have equal access.