The Texas Reproductive Justice Organization Centering Black Women

The Texas Reproductive Justice Organization Centering Black Women
By Benjamin Salinas

Last October The Afiya Center in Dallas officially celebrated its fifteenth anniversary. It’s a milestone Executive Director Marsha Jones wasn’t sure the center would reach. And not because of a lack of dedication from the health professionals and caregivers that comprise the Afiya Center’s staff, but because of the very unique nature of the center’s work.

At the moment, the Afiya Center is the only reproductive justice organization in North Texas that is founded by, and primarily serves, Black women. The fact that they “unapologetically serve Black women” is something Jones wears with pride in a conversation she had with Texas Signal.

The Afiya Center was originally founded in 2008 to address the large health disparities that existed for Black women and girls who had contracted HIV, and the lack of support and programming they received. Now, the Afiya Center continues its work with HIV treatment and prevention, but also offers services as diverse as getting patients into contact with doulas, providing contraception, and even working in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to its work in the reproductive space, the Afiya Center had to shift gears after Senate Bill 8 was signed into law in 2021. The near total abortion ban obviously impacted the Afiya Center, but Jones emphasizes that their work had to continue. “While things did change for us, we didn’t have the luxury of wringing our hands trying to wait and see,” she said. “What we absolutely did know [was] that the needs of Black women would not stop.”

The Afiya Center continues to work with patients who are seeking reproductive care out of the state. They are a member of the Trust. Respect. Access., a coalition of organizations and leaders committed to supporting abortion access and reproductive care in Texas. Jones is a huge proponent of coalitions but sees the inclusion of the Afiya Center in the coalition as absolutely necessary. “There’s very unique things that are going to happen with Black women in these spaces so it’s important that there is a voice that can continue to lift up what seeking abortions means.”

According to Jones, the Afiya Center is constantly fielding questions from patients about what is and isn’t legal in the state. Many callers believe that leaving the state for reproductive care, in say New Mexico or Colorado, is illegal. Same with purchasing certain forms of contraception. Many of the current anti-abortion laws in Texas have created an environment of fear and disinformation that the Afiya Center must constantly navigate.

Alongside this work in the reproductive justice space, the Afiya Center has also taken up the mantle of being the foremost expert on Black maternal care in the state. Currently, Texas has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the country. And Black women are three to four times as likely to die post-childbirth than their peers in the state.

Eight years ago the Afiya Center began producing a biannual booklet, The State of Black Womxn in Texas, which provides a comprehensive overview of a demographic that is often overlooked in the state. In 2022, the booklet offered key statistics and figures on a range of topics including health care, intimate partner violence, and police brutality. This year, the booklet will be released in May to coincide with the Afiya Center’s Reproductive Justice Summit.

Jones has plenty of ideas of how the state of Texas can improve the lives of Black women. At the top of the list though is simply expanding Medicaid. While that particular cause may yet remain out of reach in the next legislative session, the work of the Afiya Center will continue. “We are truly an organization that’s here to serve the community we serve.”