A 2017 demonstration in support of Roe v. Wade’s anniversary outside of the former CHOICES clinic location. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of the landmark and vulnerable Roe v. Wade decision, which gave people a constitutional right to abortion nationwide.

A 2021 national poll shows that nearly 60% of Americans say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. But given recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, it looks like conservative justices may not let this precedent make it to 50, so MLK50: Justice Through Journalism is looking back at some of our reproductive rights coverage.

(In case it’s not clear, MLK50 as a publication is pro-choice. Our vision is of a nation where all residents have enough resources to thrive, and where public and private policy supports their success. Those policies include abortion rights.)

1. Did you know Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was pro-choice? In 1966, Planned Parenthood Federation of America honored him with its inaugural Margaret Sanger award, named for the organization’s founder. Coretta Scott King accepted the award on her husband’s behalf. Read his speech here.

“For the Negro, therefore, intelligent guides of family planning are a profoundly important ingredient in his quest for security and a decent life.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1966 acceptance speech for Planned Parenthood Federation of America Margaret Sanger Award

2. One of MLK50’s “Unsung, Unbowed, Unstoppable” honorees is Nikia Grayson, a certified nurse midwife and director of clinical services at CHOICES, a Memphis clinic for reproductive health care, including abortions.

Nikia Grayson, a certified nurse midwife and director of clinical services at CHOICES. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

3.  In September, Texas passed one of the nation’s most restrictive and outrageous abortion laws, banning abortions as soon as cardiac activity is detected. That can be around six weeks of gestation, before people often know they’re pregnant. It also lets individuals sue abortion providers and clinic staff, plus anyone who helps others get abortions after six weeks.

After the law was passed, local clinics started to see more patients from Texas. (On Thursday, the Supreme Court decided to again let this law stand.)

An abortion doula comforts a patient who had to travel from Mississippi to Arkansas in 2019 to receive services. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

4. Unfortunately, Republican state legislators have been laying the groundwork to dismantle abortion access for a while. In 2019, Gov. Bill Lee signed a “trigger ban” law that would make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

YouTube video
SisterReach’s CEO Cherisse Scott opposing the “trigger ban” before the state legislature in 2019. Her microphone was cut off before she could finish her remarks.

5. Memphis’ abortion rights history has its own complicated past. In this 2017 guest column, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi CEO Ashley Coffield acknowledged and apologized for the organization’s troubled history, especially racist pamphlets from the 1960s that I found in library archives while researching a story.

A Facebook post of a page in a 1960s-era booklet published by Memphis’ Planned Parenthood. The organization warned of the financial costs of illegitimacy and the certainty of “unwanted” children becoming indigent adults.

Wendi C. Thomas is the founding editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at wendicthomas@mlk50.com.

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