They May Ballyhoo, We’ll Stay Focused on Black Women

This February, billboards that read “black children are an endangered species” were plastered across Atlanta. They were sponsored by anti-abortion groups Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) and the Radiance Foundation, and they were meant to imply that abortion-rights activists target pregnant black women for eugenics reasons.

I know firsthand that it’s easy for the unwary to be seduced–or at least shaken–by these arguments. I watched bits and pieces of the slickly produced 2009 documentary Maafa 21, the foundation for these kind of  billboards, which alleges a “black genocide” perpetrated by the likes of Planned Parenthood, and I admit it threw me. I had no idea that Planned Parenthood, in its original incarnation as the American Birth Control League, was helmed by Margaret Sanger, who made many questionable assertions about race in her lifetime.

But in times of ballyhoo, it is always sage to revisit the facts.

Fact: Yes, a black woman is almost four times as likely as a white woman to have an abortion, but that is due to a higher rate of unintended pregnancy among African American women.

Fact: In 2002, about 15 percent of black women who were at risk for unintended pregnancy were not practicing contraception, compared to 12 percent of Latino and 9 percent of white women. But …

Fact: Black women are disproportionately low income and many contraceptives have exorbitant upfront costs; therefore, black woman are less able to afford prescription birth control methods or have access to highly effective contraception over extended periods of time.

Fact: When we are told to view issues of reproductive rights as separate from the larger narrative of public health, we must be skeptical.

Following the display of these billboards, legislation was introduced in the Georgia Legislature–House Bill 1155, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act–that would criminalize providers who solicit abortion “with racial intent.” While this sounds reasonable in theory, Loretta Ross, national coordinator of the Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, explains that this bill could require health-care providers to ask patients why they are seeking abortions. Getting an abortion is already a stigmatized experience in our society without seekers having to undergo an inquisition. Ross also notes that the bill does not define what constitutes “solicitation,” meaning that its actual effect could be to create an abortion ban in Georgia by using incensed African Americans who may not have otherwise supported the cause.

Even though the bill has moved through the subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Ross remains hopeful that it won’t pass:

It is very hard to persuade African American women in the city of Atlanta that this legislation headlined by rural white Republicans is truly about saving black children. These are the same legislators…that have fought against improving our schools, getting guns off the street and getting children into the SCHIP [State Children’s Health Insurance Program]…these are not people whose votes indicate that they care about children of color once they are here.

In the “endangered species” promotional video–almost insultingly backed with a hip-hop beat–there are truths. However, they are incomplete narratives that create divisions rather than solutions. The full story is that since Margaret Sanger’s death in 1966, the reproductive rights movement has seen dramatic changes in its leadership and relationships with women of color. Although we must always remain critical, it would do us all a great disservice to discount the importance of reproductive health care services in their contemporary context, especially for women of color. This includes access to prenatal care, which constitutes 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services.

Cecilia Marquez, a Swarthmore College student and reproductive justice advocate, reasonably argues:

If we’re really worried about genocide of the black community, we need to think about prison abolition. If we are really worried about this supposed genocide, let us talk about real solutions for HIV/AIDS. If we really care about genocide in the black community then we need to talk about gross inequities in our healthcare system–we don’t need to limit black women’s reproductive freedom.

It appears that the same white conservative leaders who consistently reject reform are the very people now trying to court the black community. As noted by journalist Michelle Goldberg:

For several years now, the religious right has been trying to appropriate the moral authority of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s an audacious strategy, given that Christian conservative politics were forged in the white Southern backlash to school integration. But it’s had some successes, particularly in rousing black churches against the gay rights movement. Now, the anti-abortion movement is making a push to enlist African Americans in their cause by framing abortion as a tool of eugenics and genocide.

The fact that abortion rates are disproportionately higher in communities of color is neither the fault of black women nor of a conspiring group of women’s health-care providers. It is because of racist and classist public-health policy that has long rendered black women invisible.

Comments

  1. The only effective way of reducing the number of abortions in this country is by reducing the number of undesired pregnancies in this country! A.K.A. greater access to birth control and the education to know how to use it responsibly. I am pro-choice but by no means “pro-abortion.” So why can’t both sides agree to reduce abortions in the aforementioned ways? Ex-Governer Palin promoted abstinence before marriage, but is that a realistic approach, e.g. will it actually reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies (please remember, an undesired pregnancy can easily happen to a married woman as well)? I think that her daughter’s case, at least, suggests that it’s not. And if rumors are true that Bristol and her boyfriend were not using BP consistently, how does Palin’s support of abstinence-only sex education help them learn to use a condom correctly? If continued opposition to efforts that would reduce the number of undesired pregnancies isn’t enough to convince you that those spearheading this bill are not truly interested in reducing abortions and in the women who are having them, what is?

    • 1of 3 pages

      I do believe that we should promote things that help reduce abortions but honestly, if people refuse to do things the way God prescribes then they have to man-up when an unintended pregnancy comes up. Thats what the Palin girl has to do because SHE chose to go against her moms and God's teachings. Her mom can lay out the ideas and then its up to the child. Nice implication that abstinence-only doesn't work because of this famous example… but that argument, if applied to the thousands of cases where girls having unwanted pregnancies after all the tv and school, and planned parenthood campaigns. At the end of the day, people are going to do what they want. They know how to use condoms.. I never needed directions. (I am black) I wish people would stop questioning the motives of the conservatives and react on the substance of the argument.

    • 2 of 3 pages

      If you disagree… fine. but why should these unborn babies suffer for lack of self control of others. The fact is that there is a problem… We are condoning a doctor murdering a baby because we want to give a women her "right" of choice. On the other hand if I were a boyfriend of a girl and I physically abused my girlfriend to the point to where her baby in the womb died… I would be convicted of all types of offenses, including 2nd degree manslaughter. The problem is that we are giving opinions where there is only room for facts. Killing the creation in the women is murder despite who and how its done.
      The other day I over-heard a young black women telling a co-worker that she was going to have an unwanted pregnancy. The coworker was her boss and replied in an indignant way asking her what she planned on doing. The boss insisted that she wouldn't help and

    • 3 of 3 pgs

      asked her, "who is going to take care of it". The girl timidly replied," me and the government." As a conservative, I wanted to step up to the plate and congratulate that girl for her decision to make the challenging decision of keeping that baby despite the hard work it meant for her.. On the other hand I also wanted to help in anyway to help her develop a plan to be as self sustaining as possible. Thats going to be the best example for her child. I gave her a card and gift card and a letter explaining what my family would like to do for her in congunction with my church. I will never get on line and protest in front of a clinic because the government is giving the green light but I do want to see less women getting abortions and having a good options and they work their way through the only moral choice of taking care of the creation inside them. Hey God Bless you… Just wanted to put my 2 cents in.

      • How nice that you didn't need "direction" to not get pregnant with your non-uterus. Please tell me more about how you haven't taken contraceptives for 30 years or struggled to access them. How you will never go through the agonizing decision of abortion or through the terrible risks of pregnancy or the fears of accidentally becoming pregnant or the shame and pressure people put upon you to carry a pregnancy against your will and against your better judgement. Please tell me more about your righteous penis and it's morally superior "self control" that will never have to try to not get pregnant or sacrifice itself through one.

        • I am sorry you seem so angry. As someone who experienced an unplanned pregnancy and gave birth, I am grateful on a daily basis for the gift of my "unplanned" daughter. The pregnancy sucked–lots of morning sickness etc. But I am so grateful for my daughter. She faced a terrible shock at the age of 16–she was raped & became pregant. She told me, "mom, I know some people try so hard to get pregnant & can't, but even though I don't want a baby, it's not this baby's fault I'm pregnant. For some reason, this baby has a purpose for life." She carried the baby and released her for adoption-making a family incredibly grateful for that "uplanned" baby. Babies are a gift–not a burden. Abortion hurts the mom, too.

  2. E R Meiners says:

    Yes to connecting incarceration/prison abolition to racial, economic and gender justice.

  3. Eva is right. This new campaign to reduce the number of abortions in the black community is erroneous, sexist, patronizing, and racist. But for argument’s sake, let’s imagine what the United States would do with extra black people. Would our educational system herd them into broken down trailers in underfunded public school districts and declare half of them ADD, special needs, unfit to learn, but ironically socially promotable despite functional illiteracy? Would our country then imprison these non-contributing black citizens after three strikes and house them in substandard living conditions without access to books or an education because of budget cuts? Would rich white athletic team owners give the boys who made it a basketball or a football and pray for millions in profits? Would the black middle class run in horror from the remaining chocolate cities for fear that the extra black people would taint their upwardly mobile images? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. How do I know? Because it’s happened before and it’s happening right now.

    Black babies deserve to be born, but they also deserve to be more than bodies shuffled through various impersonal institutions until they can reproduce more bodies. Focusing on reducing the abortion rate for black women is the wrong place to start. Fix our social problems. Raise the quality of life for African Americans. Advocate for birth control and accessible health care. Support black families and watch the rate decline on its own without having to badmouth the “bad black mamas.”

  4. I am so happy to see everybody’s comments on hear about these billboards. Hi there,

    I am the facilitator of an online column.
    I recently posted an articled called “Should Black Women Stop Getting Abortions?” I was trying to open up more dialogue about this issue. I have received a lot of feed back on this article which is great but there is only one problem…The responses are very similar in that many people are against abortions for black women. I feel like it has turned into a Black woman bashing segment that blames black women for everything wrong in their lives. I wish that I could get a more diverse crowd to chime in on the subject, especially some Black feminists. Do you have an suggestions for what I should do?

    Thanks you for your help.

    jamthelbg

  5. Just read the comment in the article that 90% of Planned Parenthoods services are for PRENATAL care–yeah right! This is not accurate according to PP's annual report which can be found by linking onto the Planned Parenthood website in this article! In 2007, prenatal clients consisted of @ 11,000 individuals, as compared to the total clients served=3 million +. Also prenatal care was one of many services included in "other health services" which represented 11% of their services. The author is SLIGHTLY incorrect! I wonder about her other facts!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] From Ms. Magazine — This February, billboards that read “black children are an endangered species” were plastered across Atlanta. They were sponsored by anti-abortion groups Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) and the Radiance Foundation, and they were meant to imply that abortion-rights activists target pregnant black women for eugenics reasons. [...]

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