Willie Parker vs Reproductive Oppression

Dr. Willie Parker

Dr. Willie Parker

“The Racialization of Abortion,” Willie Parker titled his talk; “A Dirty Jedi Mind Trick.” He then spent about 45 lively, provocative minutes elaborating on the theme.

The occasion was a recent Grand Rounds presentation at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, where he addressed a standing-room-only crowd of (mostly) young interns for an event that more commonly draws a smattering of attendees. But when Willie Parker comes to town, it’s a good idea to bring in extra chairs. Parker is an African American physician, a provider of abortion and reproductive health services to women who would otherwise be denied them, current board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, a ferocious defender of women’s rights and fearless citizen. He is also this writer’s personal hero.

Parker explained in his opening remarks that his “is heart work and head work. Dr. Martin Luther King said the heart can’t be right if the head is wrong. (King) also said we have guided missiles and misguided people.” On the podium, delivering a rapid-fire lecture in behalf of reproductive justice, Parker is akin to a guided missile consisting of equal parts passion, outrage and statistics. The youngest of six children whose mother sent them to church three times a week, he speaks with the cadence and conviction born of those roots.

“There are over six million pregnancies per year in the U.S.,” he says. “Half of them are unintended. Of the unintended pregnancies, half end in births; half in abortions. One in three women under 45 will have an abortion. While unintended pregnancies have fallen among the upper classes, they have increased 29% among the poor. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately likely to have unintended pregnancies…”

And it is at this point that Parker’s inner preacher takes over. “People,” he says, “we’re gonna get ugly for Jesus.” It is his challenge to those who attack him, most often fundamentalist Christians, for protecting the reproductive rights of his mostly young, Black clients. Often they also accuse him of participating in “Black genocide.” It is this myth — that abortion is a government plot to eradicate the Black race – that leads to the Dirty Jedi Mind Trick theme.

“It is epidemiological mischief,” he explains. “They take data, put a spin on it that is not intended, and then start a ‘call-and-response’: You have white people saying abortion is racist, getting Black people to say Amen. They can put a cultural war in your framework. It’s important that we recognize the significance of this message, and debunk it.”

In addition to the epidemiological mischief there are outright lies. Former presidential candidate Herman Cain, an African American Tea Party Republican, said in one speech that 75% of abortion clinics were in Black neighborhoods, to encourage African American women not to have children. Parker says the correct figure, according to the Guttmacher Institute, is 9%.

“At its core,” Parker says of these efforts, “it is patriarchal and insulting. They assume a woman is not capable of making her own decisions about her own body.”

What’s needed now, to combat all this, Parker says, “is a new framework, to define this community problem as Reproductive Oppressionon. Reproductive oppression is the control and exploitation of women and girls and individuals through our bodies.” Parker cites the long history of reproductive oppression that includes “forced breeding during slavery, sterilizations, and human experimentation on Puerto Rican women for the contraceptive pill.

“Current examples of reproductive oppression,” he says, “include limiting access to reproductive healthcare, family caps in welfare, and federal and state laws restricting access to abortion.”

But there is hope. Parker cites Atlanta-based SisterSong and its formidable co-founder Loretta Ross as embodying the principals of reproductive justice. Parker lists these as:

1 – Every woman has the right to decide when to have children.

2 – Every woman has the right to decide if she will not have a child.

3 – Women and families (deserve) the resources to parent the children they already have.

4 – Every human being has the right to primary sexual pleasure.

Anti-abortion forces would certainly argue against at least the first two. Parker’s message to the young interns was that it’s not just argument, but twisted myths and dirty tricks that are being used to deny those rights. He maintains it’s the responsibility of the medical community, among others, to stand up for women who are suffering from being denied, to fight against reproductive oppression.

In all likelihood, Willie Parker will keep right on leading that battle.

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(Read Dr. Parker’s statement on the recent Supreme Court ruling against restrictive Texas abortion laws: http://prh.org/)

 

Abortion foes stoop to new low

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.