Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin hosted a panel Wednesday to discuss the prevalence of racism in women’s reproductive healthcare.

The goal of the panel was to give voice to the unique experiences of black women and highlight the shortcomings of the healthcare system to meet their needs in comparison to their white counterparts, as well as identify solutions to these issues.

Sarah Noble, founder of the healing and wellness organization BeNoble Group, defined reproductive justice as the combination of reproductive rights, reproductive health and social justice. She said every woman has the right to have a child if she wants, to not have a child if she wants, and to parent the children she has.

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“Reproductive justice says it that we have full control of our own bodies and we get to decide whether or not we do or do not have a child,” Noble said. “We should also be able to have children if we want to, and that applies to every single family-whatever that family looks like.”

Data shows that black women experience a higher burden of STIs than white women, and the HIV incidence rate of black women was 20 times greater than that of white women as of 2010. Black women are also more likely to have delayed HIV treatment compared to women of other races.

Black babies born in Wisconsin die before the age of one at a higher rate than any other state in the nation — a rate nearly three times as high as white babies — according to a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The history of systemic racism in the administration of healthcare makes African American women more vulnerable to disparate sexual and reproductive health outcomes. The panelists all shared similar experiences of not being told all of their options or not having their needs met or their children’s needs met by their healthcare providers.

Micaela Berry, Executive Director of Harambee Village Doulas, a community-based program that provides reproductive healthcare to women in South Central Wisconsin, said in her experience, especially in Madison, she has had to stand up for herself to healthcare providers significantly more than a white woman would, despite her accomplishments and qualifications.  

According to the panel of experts, a way that society can combat the systemic racism preventing black women from attaining the healthcare they need is to advocate for them.

Founder and director of The Progress Center Sabrina Madison said the way to advocate for black women is not just with “hashtags,” but with action.

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“I think sometimes when [people] say ‘stand with black women,’ we sort of only show up in hashtags or t-shirts,” Madison said. “Folks don’t figure out how to translate that into the action part of it. For black women and black mothers in particular, they are dealing with these heavy traumas. How are you being the person who alleviates it, whether you are the resource yourself, you’ve offered a resource, or you stick around until the issue is resolved?”

Berry said it is necessary to have black women at the table helping draft the regulations governing their health because they are the ones who are suffering the most in the state.

Executive Board Member of The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness Adrian Jones advised black women not to take no for an answer. She encouraged women of color to do their research, challenge their healthcare providers and advocate strongly for themselves.

Understanding both individual and structural racism is important in advocating for oneself in the healthcare system, Noble said. 

“There is lots of work to be done,” Noble said. “At this stage, it needs to go beyond the hashtags, it needs to go beyond having a set of information to an understanding that will move you to be different, do different, to show up in different places.”