Not satisfied with the use of fear and intimidation to deprive women of their right to choose an abortion, or closing clinics by murdering dedicated doctors, anti-abortion forces have now taken on a new mission: to convince African American women that pro-choice is really a plot to exterminate their race. In other words, desperate, vulnerable young women will now get a new message: You must always bring an accidental, unwanted child into the world — forget the cost or damage to its mother (and often to the child) — because it is your ethnic duty.
When these people achieve their goal of eliminating abortion rights altogether, it will be these women who will die from butchered, back-alley abortions. Is anybody considering that? Or do they really believe the twisted rhetoric they are employing in the damn-the-torpedoes drive to abolish a woman’s fundamental right to control her own body?
For years the largely white staff of Georgia Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, tried to tackle the disproportionately high number of black women who undergo abortions. But, staff members said, they found it difficult to make inroads with black audiences.
So in 2009, the group took money that it normally used for advertising a pregnancy hot line and hired a black woman, Catherine Davis, to be its minority outreach coordinator. Ms. Davis traveled to black churches and colleges around the state, delivering the message that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill off blacks.
The idea resonated, said Nancy Smith, the executive director. “We were shocked when we spent less money and had more phone calls” to the hot line, Ms. Smith said.
This month, the group expanded its reach, making national news with 80 billboards around Atlanta that proclaim, “Black children are an endangered species,” and a Web site, www.toomanyaborted.com.
Across the country, the anti-abortion movement, long viewed as almost exclusively white and Republican, is turning its attention to African-Americans and encouraging black abortion opponents across the country to become more active.
A new documentary, written and directed by Mark Crutcher, a white abortion opponent in Denton, Tex., meticulously traces what it says are connections among slavery, Nazi-style eugenics, birth control and abortion, and is being regularly screened by black organizations.
Black abortion opponents, who sometimes refer to abortions as “womb lynchings,” have mounted a sustained attack on the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, spurred by a sting operation by young white conservatives who taped Planned Parenthood employees welcoming donations specifically for aborting black children.
“What’s giving it momentum is blacks are finally figuring out what’s going down,” said Johnny M. Hunter, a black pastor and longtime abortion opponent in Fayetteville, N.C. “The game changes when blacks get involved. And in the pro-life movement, a lot of the groups that have been ignored for years, they’re now getting galvanized.”
What’s giving it momentum is a history of ugliness on both sides of the issue, especially ugliness and worse suffered by African Americans. Hunter, of course, cannot understand the desperation of a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. But adopting a tactic of this sort can do nothing for understanding — and a lot to increase the future suffering of women of all colors.
Many black anti-abortion leaders, including Ms. Davis and Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life, often recount their own abortion histories (each woman had two).
Shaila Dewan’s New York Times story detailing this new campaign does not point out the fact that Davis and King had access to safe, legal abortions, which theirs presumably were. Had that not been the case, either or both might well not be here today.
Those who support abortion rights dispute the conspiracy theory, saying it portrays black women as dupes and victims. The reason black women have so many abortions is simple, they say: too many unwanted pregnancies.
“It’s a perfect storm,” said Loretta Ross, the executive director of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta, listing a lack of access to birth control, lack of education, and even a high rate of sexual violence. “There’s an assumption that every time a girl is pregnant it’s because of voluntary activity, and it’s so not the case,” Ms. Ross said.
But, she said, the idea that abortion is intended to wipe out blacks may be finding fertile ground in a population that has experienced so much sanctioned prejudice and violence.
Black opponents of abortion are fond of saying that black people were anti-abortion and anti-birth control early on, pointing to Marcus Garvey’s conviction that blacks could overcome white supremacy through reproduction, and black militants who protested family planning clinics.
But that is only half the picture, scholars say. Black women were eager for birth control even before it was popularized by Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and black doctors who provided illegal abortions were lauded as community heroes.
“Some male African-American leaders were so furious about what they perceived as genocidal intentions that in one case they burned down a clinic,” said Carole Joffe, the author of “Dispatches From the Abortion Wars.” “But women were very resolute, saying, ‘We want birth control.’ ”
Sanger was not perfect, and Planned Parenthood employees have made reprehensible statements at times. Crutcher’s documentary, “Maafa 21”, (the name is a Swahili word used to refer to the slavery era) weaves a few threads of truth into a vicious, two-hour screed tying the pro-choice movement to the Nazis and a “great conspiracy,” proclaiming pro-choice as “Black Genocide.” It was screened recently at Morris Brown College, a historically black institution in Atlanta.
“Before we saw the movie, I was pro-choice,” said Markita Eddy, a sophomore. But were she to get pregnant now, Ms. Eddy said, “it showed me that maybe I should want to keep my child no matter what my position was, just because of the conspiracy.”
Eddy at least knows that she still has a choice. The goal of the anti-abortion movement is to eliminate that choice. I would fight for her right to have and keep her baby. But the choice should not be made by some angry white man in Texas, or by someone else’s patriarchal religion or politics. It should be made by her, the owner of her body. To have that choice removed, now that is like slavery. Show me one member of the movement who has had a back-alley abortion and I will discuss that point with her. To promote these tactics, to foster this sort of hate-based rhetoric is almost as cruel as the fate to which the anti-abortion movement would consign American women. Of every color. It makes my heart ache for us all.
(A note: If you find this appalling, check out the subsequent post, and learn what’s going on in Poland. Women’s choices are under attack around the globe.)
To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case – NYTimes.com.
As a great-granddaughter of a woman who felt she had now choice but to give herself an abortion in the kitchen with a metal coat hanger, while my grandmother watched (that was a fun story at the tender age of nine), these sorts of abortion stories will always rub me the wrong way.
Using the genocide argument to justify pro-life messages, in my mind, is a tragic comparison to actual genocides that have taken place over the course of human history. People who are using this argument should not be comparing a medical procedure to acts such as: burning Jews in their homes in ghettos, hunting down whole clans with machetes and death camps. In the vast majority of cases, I would guess that it is the woman herself who makes the choice to end the life growing within her, and it is a choice for her alone.
The argument I ended up using in my high-school physics class (filled with guys who were destined to go on their Mormon missions after graduation), was if they wanted to make decisions about my uterus, they could spend some time with their own. If they wanted to make decisions in that regard, they would have to put up with mood swings, cramps, menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause. At this point, most of them were looking green. “Oh, no, you don’t want that? Then leave it up to the experts.”
Thanks for writing about this.
As a black woman I am highly offended at the new tactics being used by the pro-life groups. To use fear and racism in such a manner shows that they are on the losing end of the debate and will do whatever they can to inhibit a woman’s right to choose. I am saddened that people are falling for these tactics. Why can’t people mind their own business? My body my business.
It’s a great article, but the Pro-Life camp has been doing this for ages. I do High School Policy Debate, and one of the most often used arguments against Abortion is that it is incredibly racist. I am quite pro-choice, and I actually think the limitaiton of abortions is quite racist. But still, the argument isn’t as original as the author might have you think.
Thanks for that insight, Thomas, though I find it dismaying. I hate racism in any form or circumstance. For this issue, a woman’s critical need and right to control her own body, to be muddied by accusations of racism on either side is really sad. This new campaign by Georgia Right to Life, though, takes it to an extreme with the “genocide” accusations. Thank you for working with high school policy debate, one of the areas in which sane, reasoned discussion should happen. Unfortunately, reason too often goes out the window as distortions & sensationalism take over.
The thing is, this article is semi-true and semi-false. I’ll start this out by saying I am anti-abortion. I think that there ARE good uses for abortion. Victims of RAPE, INCEST, or women with their HEALTH AT RISK. I think the majority of the people using abortion cannot claim any one of these. Abortion has turned into a form of birth control, and as a young adult, I don’t want to pay taxes for a girl’s abortion when she just plain does it all the time, to keep from having children. I understand the ides of the back alley abortions, and how wrong they are, but I believe that those people would, at the very least, have really messed up. The circumstances I gave you (rape, incest, health problems) covers all the accidental bases. People do not get pregnant on accident. It is done while having sex. Maybe if the outcome was something this grim, less people would be doing it. And if they did, hopefully they’re old enough to know the consequences. There are long LONGGG waiting lists for babies at adoption centers. Couples who would LOVE your baby (even same sex couples, no doubt!!) so for the months of uncomfortable-ness, you could have your baby gone the day it’s born and out of your hands, giving one of these couples a chance at having a child. The point is, I don’t think that abortion should be a woman’s ‘choice’ I think that it should be a necessity only procedure. If a woman truly wants to ‘control her body’ it might be best just not to have sex at all, the highest form of control, no?
I just respectfully disagree with you, Stephanie. I doubt many women use abortion “as a form of birth control” and I think carrying an unwanted, possibly problematic pregnancy to term involves far more than “a few months of uncomfortable-ness.” There are many legitimate reasons women need to retain the choice of safe, legal abortion — poor women, who can get pregnant despite being careful to avoid it and cannot afford to lose wages being just one. Your taxes will not be paying for these procedures. As a victim of acquaintance/workplace rape at 23, a half-century ago when abortion was illegal, I can assure you the back-alley abortion scene is a horror you cannot imagine. I survived; many did not. Even if the few exceptions you would accept might save some women, if we are denied, across the board, a safe & legal choice, back-alley abortionists will return and women will be at terrible risk. Not my generation, but yours. And I’m not sure any of us would vote for your solution of “just don’t have sex at all.”
I find it disheartening that so much emphasis is put on changing abortion policy rather than the hearts of those who seek abortion. If the Pro-Life campaigners put the effort they did into changing abortion policy into educating young people with safe-sex alternatives, or how to face the challenges of pregnancy, the abortion issue may not be so big. Very interesting article.