On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, reversed fifty years of established precedent by overturning of Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to control their reproductive healthcare. I feel compelled to speak to you about the dangerous implications of this decision for our society and community. This decision essentially means that women are not entitled to control their own bodies. The decision stands in the face of public sentiment indicating that more than two-thirds of women support the upholding of Roe v. Wade, and therefore, the right to choose whether and when they will carry life into this world. This decision has devastating implications for all women, especially Black women and women living in poverty, who in many of the states set to outlaw abortion, are major users of those health services.
Let me state clearly that my stance is not based on having resolved in any definitive way the moral or scientific questions that swirl in this debate. I start and end with the premise that everyone has the right to control their own bodies. I believe that to remove the right to choose is to make women subordinate to the views held predominately by men and supported by an undeniable culture still vested in patriarchy and male privilege.
I feel compelled to speak here as the president of the only historically Black college singularly devoted to the education of men and one of three all-male undergraduate colleges remaining in the United States. Morehouse was founded in 1867 on the principles of equality and social justice. Our very founding was motivated by the need to address the vestiges of the legal disenfranchisement and vicious control of Black male and female bodies. Each of us is entitled to find our own positions on the moral and scientific questions of the day, but legally mandating the control of another’s person body should never be allowed.
This cannot be seen or treated as a “women’s issue.” Where reproductive rights and freedoms are denied, communities, families and all their members are affected.
There is a further caution in this new reality. This decision marks the first time we have taken away individual rights once given in the context of our laws. Justice Clarence Thomas offered in his majority concurring opinion that the courts should not stop at Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights, explicitly citing the cases of contraception and same-sex marriage. The list of rights that could be attacked is much longer than he listed.
I believe we stand at a pivotal moment for our society, and most important, for our democracy. The reality is that the current generation of young people will determine the direction in which our society moves. This weekend, streets were filled with protesters – most younger than 40. I hope this turns into permanent mobilization that uses the tools of non-violence and democracy to set a course that makes our world better.
Men of Morehouse and graduates of the last twenty years, this is your time. We need your voice and your presence building coalitions with others who seek to make a more just society.