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.

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.

  • Alexandra

    Maybe some will disagree with me. I would have issues with abortion if it was illegal. But its not. Women all across the country are aborting babies. Its such a big deal when Black women do it? Whats the point of getting pregnant if you’re gonna abort it? I get that!
    But If we provided all black women, particularly the ones in poor & disadvantaged areas would they then say Black babies are endangered? Its the same to me, sorry. Contraceptives would just prevent the pregnancy. You’d end up with the same thing. different process

    They’re not doing anyhting illegal. I dont care what anyone says. I have no idea what these womens lives are like (some women come from sexually abusive backgrounds). And its not my body. They say they are concerned, but they’re not. Abortion is still an option, no matter how people may feel about it. And how do they know these Black women are aborting Black babies? How do they know this?

    They care about black children so much? yet where are they when these black children are growing up? do they care then? black girls go missing no one cares? black boys are dying & who cares? do they care that black kids have high dropout rates? do they care that the ones that dont drop out are undereducated? do they care that black schools have low performance?
    So many things wrong with attacking Black abortion.

  • lajoliefille

    “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.”

    This, this, a thousand times this! Beautiful article. One of the best I’ve read at clutch. If we really want a reduction of the instances of abortion, then there needs to be equal distribution of comprehensive healthcare. And even if a woman has an abortion, so what? It’s the women’s body. Therefore it should be women’s choices to decide to carry a pregnancy to term. This whole scheme by the conservative whites just smacks as another attempt to control women’s agency and autonomy over their bodies! And calling black children an “endangered species”!? Wow, just wow. Epic fail.

  • Glory

    Thanks for the article. It is very well written. I agree with the author’s premise/stance completely. However I would just note that some of the points presented as facts may need further backing/support. I understand the logic behind saying that Black women are 4X more likely to have an abortion due to a higher rate of unintended pregnancy. But the article referenced in support for that fact makes that point as a reasonable inference or argument only; there is not a study referenced to display that there is actually a relevant correlation between Black women’s abortion numbers and their unintended pregnancy rates, nor is there a study referenced to demonstrate that Black women have a higher (or the highest) unintended pregnancy rate than other women. Those points may be true, but the article referenced does not show or prove that such a statement is indeed a fact.

    The same goes for the fact about Black women being less able to afford birth control or contraceptives over extended periods of time. One of your cynical readers would point out that your argument would also imply that Black women are also less able to afford abortions, yet they manage to obtain them, 4X as much in fact. But what that cynical reader would overlook is the fact that making a one time expenditure is easier than financing contraception over long periods of time; which you recognize by mentioning “over extended periods of time.” My only concern is that when you state that Black women are less able to afford birth control you make an assumption without providing a foundation for why that assumption is reasonable. I say this because stating that Black women are less able to afford birth control only becomes relevant if Black women actually desire to purchase birth control. Are these Black women not taking birth control only because it costs too much? Could there be other factors other than “exorbitant upfront costs?” I don’t know. But it would be nice to see a study done asking young Black women why they are not taking birth control. Is there such a study out there?

    But anyways, once again, damn good job on this piece! Thanks.

    • ShAdE~n~SuMmEr

      (But what that cynical reader would overlook is the fact that making a one time expenditure is easier than financing contraception over long periods of time; which you recognize by mentioning “over extended periods of time.” )

      Not only does the “over extended periods of time” statement pertain to cost of contraception, but the over all cost of being financially responsible for a LIFE for a LIFE time. Many young BLACKS (females and males) are not being taught to be responsible -for themselves or anyone else, for that matter. They are raised to conquer and destroy, not to Love, honor or even charish LIFE. One can not expect an aspiration of support and self-control from those who do not have any sense of those things.

      In our society(country), ADOPTION of black children is NOT even close to being the most popular of successful outcomes, and when you really sit and wrap your mind around how many BLACK children are in the foster care system and are being misused, used, abused and ignored— then why would one opt to bring a life into this quickly diminishing world that we live in…

      What will always stand true, is that, SEX will ALWAYS prevail— whether for richer or poorer and out of sex most likely pregnancy will occur.

  • saltzmas

    Interested in talking more about the right-to-life movement’s efforts to appeal to the black community? This, as well as the racial wealth gap in America, are the topics of discussion tonight on WGBH’s Basic Black. You can tune in to the conversation at 7:30 on Channel 2 in Boston or watch online at http://www.basicblack.org. There will also be a live online chat throughout the show!

  • Loquacious_

    Question: Why are the “Facts” in this article laced with conclusions. Asked another way, why are the “Facts” in this article really theories and not facts at all?

    fact   /fækt/ Show Spelled[fakt] Show IPA
    –noun
    1.something that actually exists; reality; truth: Your fears have no basis in fact.

    Example, ” 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.”

    The part of the “fact” that begins with “therefore, black woman…” is a conclusion which makes your “fact” a theory. But, let me talk about this “fact.” The author says that low income black people cannot afford many contraceptives, but they can afford an abortion. Really? I think it is safe to say that there are many contraceptives that are a lot cheaper than an abortion. I am going to go even further to say that this “fact” is not a “fact”; it is an excuse.

    Here is a fact: Condoms are an inexpensive form of contraceptive. Here is another
    fact: The act of abstaining from sex can be used as a contraceptive and it is free. I’m just saying. *kanye shrug*

    If you are going to state a fact to support your argument, then just state the fact. But please, do not try to state a fact and include your bias view with it. I understand that the author of this article does not want to think that a movement such as eugenics is present in this day and age. And that is fine. But, find a way to support that point without giving readers theories veiled as facts. After reading this article and seeing that billboard, I believe eugenics is alive and well, and black women, such as this author, are falling for the okey doke by trying to believe it is not.

    Honestly, we need to stop giving excuses for why people have abortions. I like the billboards. And, I like the movement behind it. As my grandmama use to say, “The devil wants you to think he isn’t real.” And, that is the case with eugenics. Planned Parenthood wants you to think eugenics isn’t a fact.

    • http://bourgieinterrupted.com kia, jd

      “Planned Parenthood wants you to think eugenics isn’t a fact.”

      Really? You go on about facts, but where do you find support for that statement. How can you know what Planned Parenthood wants you to think. How in the world would an organization say “act like there is no such thing as eugenics”?

      Of course eugenics as a movement exists. It was more popular and widely accepted at an earlier point and still exists for some people as a viable solution to many societal ills. That can be said for a lot of antiquated ideas though.

      Still, that really has little or nothing to do with what the organization as a whole is providing in the way of sexual and reproductive health care now does it?

      How folks are making the jump in reasoning from “Planned Parenthood is located in low income communities” to “Planned Parenthood is targeting Black women” to “Planned Parenthood is trying to exterminate Black babies” is beyond me. I’ve never seen or heard of PP going up to Black women, getting them pregnant, bringing them to clinics, just to abort their babies and eradicate Black folks.

      Do you really think that what the Black community needs right now is less abortions? I think there are several steps to get to before that, like less unprotected sex, more access to health care, tighter family structure, wealth management, etc – all things that would help a woman plan her family and be able to keep the WANTED pregnancies she has.

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