Pregnancy and Abortion: A Tale of Two Mothers

by Renee Martin

Twenty-four-year-old Tonya Reaves was a mother of one with a fiance when she walked into a Planned Parenthood in Chicago’s South Loop to have an abortion.  This decision ultimately cost Reaves her life because she  hemorrhaged after “cervical dilation and evacuation.”  We don’t know the reasons why she chose to have an abortion, but it can be said without doubt, no woman makes the decision to terminate her pregnancy lightly. A black woman in her 20s with one child, Reaves fit the highest percentile of women most likely to have an abortion. When the story broke, I was horrified to read comments sections that turned Reaves’ death into a call to ban abortion, suggesting that it is an unsafe medical procedure or claiming the loss of the fetus as the death of a child.

Reaves’ death is absolutely tragic, but to politicize her death in the hopes of calling into question a woman’s right to choose is unconscionable. Carole Brite, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Illinois, released the following statement:

“While legal abortion services in the United States have a very high safety record, a tragedy such as this is devastating to loved ones and we offer our deepest sympathies. Planned Parenthood of Illinois cares deeply about the health and safety of each and every patient.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “less than 0.3 percent of abortion patients experience serious complications.” The issue is clearly not about safety, but about a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.

In recent years, we have seen numerous attacks on Planned Parenthood, including campaigns specifically targeting black women.  In 2011, pro-life group Always Life placed more than 30 billboards in the Chicago area with an image of Obama and a tagline that read: “Every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted.” During Black History Month, this same organization was behind billboards with a picture of a young black girl and the following statement: “The most dangerous place for a black child is in the womb.”

As much as the right to choose is a woman’s issue, race cannot be erased from the conversation, because of the high rate of abortion in the black community. The facts are startling:

·    67 percent of black pregnancies are unplanned;

·   Non-Hispanic black women account for 36 percent of all abortions, despite only making up 12 percent of the population; and

·   8 percent of women who have abortions have never used a method of birth control; non use of contraceptives is greatest among those who are young, poor, black, Hispanic, or less educated.

This fight is essentially about who will control our reproduction and, conversely, our lives. Black women’s reproduction is shamed at every level. The shaming and attacks for having abortions is equally as horrific as the shame and attacks black women face when they reproduce.

Angel Adams, the 37-year-old Tampa mother of 15 children, has come to represent the epitome of the bad mother. When she was evicted from her two-bedroom apartment with her 12 children, she demanded the state be held accountable.  Adams was at one point held in contempt of court for refusing to tell a judge whether she was pregnant.  The question was asked supposedly to determine whether or not Adams had sex in the presence of her children.

After new housing was provided for Adams, Nick Cox, DCF’s regional director, stated, “Everyone has bent over backward. The mother has been less than gracious.” Adams has become the face of the welfare queen President Reagan fallaciously railed against in the ’80s.  Adams’ case has served to embolden those who seek to attack the idea of state funding for single parents, under the guise that each person should be responsible for their own reproduction. Even Glenn Beck weighed in:

“Have you thought about birth control? Here’s an idea. Have you thought about marrying a man? Have you thought about marrying a man or not having kids with a man who isn’t going to jail? Have you thought about, you know, maybe we should slow down on the sex thing? Accountable? I’m not accountable for your life. I am accountable for my life. I have been working my ass off, lady. What have you been doing?”

The only time black pregnancies were deemed valuable was during slavery, when pregnancy would serve to enrich the planter class.  Today, the black womb symbolizes surplus population and a fear of reversing racial demographics.

Ironically, questioning the right to have an abortion denies women the ability to be accountable for their reproductive choices. Due to the intersection of race and gender, black women’s bodies have always been on the front line of women’s rights debates. We are spoken at, rather than spoken to, with our pregnancies often coming to symbolize licentiousness, a lack of control, and poverty, while our choices to control our reproduction are held up as a supposed black genocide. Both of these issues hold black women solely accountable, as though there are not serious social issues at play.

Failing to support or demonizing women who are dependent upon social assistance benefits increases the rate of abortion. The fact that 67 percent of women who have an abortion already have one child and that “42 percent of women obtaining abortions have incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level,” tells us that economics is a crucial factor in the decision to abort. The right wing have funded multiple campaigns to chip away at Roe v. Wade, while at the same time attempted to eliminate sex education and run a war on the poor.  Black women are in the dead center of this battle because it is our lives that have been the most heavily impacted.

Both Adams and Reaves have been held up as cautionary tales about the irresponsibility of black womanhood. When we have our children, we are overtly sexualized, accused of wanting something for nothing, and holding others accountable for our reproductive choices. When we choose to have an abortion, we are accused of spearheading the genocide of our race. In each instance, black women are attacked, demonized, and determined unfit.

The reduction or elimination of abortion clinics is specifically a war on black women, and it is a war we are losing because our experiences have been used as an admonition to all women on why their reproductive freedom should be strictly controlled. To have a conversation about abortion without considering race and economics is to ignore crucial elements of this social issue.

Casting black women as the monolithic representation of womanhood (but only when we can be used to justify the loss of rights and freedoms) speaks to the ongoing racism, sexism, and classicism that has been normalized in society.


  • Sasha A.

    Wow Glen Beck said a mouthful but he asked some good questions. Just the other day I was wondering why the Black population has remained at such a stagnant growth rate for what seems like forever…guess I got an answer.

  • African Mami

    I really have STRONG opinions about this, TIRED of all this monolithic talk BS!!!

  • CurlySue

    Glenn Beck is a huge douchebag. But what he said is pretty common sense stuff for most people. Unfortunately, when you make sure everyone thinks you’re an assh*le, people will disregard everything you say even when it makes sense.

  • Rochelle

    Yes we as black people should have a larger population, but then again maybe it is a good thing. It is not a secret that the poor and uneducated have far more children than they need to. It leaves the black women that actually have an education out in the dust. It is dishearting when I hear educated, particularly college grads with successful careers say they never want to have children or just never reproduce. Two of the top women where I work are black and both have no children. Who is going to pass on the smarts if all the smart people are not planning on reproduction?

  • Felicity Rhode

    Precisely! He definitely asked the right questions, but at this point, who is listening to him?

  • Renee Martin

    If the woman is raising 12 kids, then by definition she is working her ass off. This comes down to the traditional work of women being devalued. The right is constantly trying to enforce gender roles, but when a woman does stay at home and raise her kids, she is suddenly a parriah. It’s not as though society doesn’t gain from reproduction and the fact that the U.S. is not reproducing at replacement levels currently makes every damn child valuable. Beck just don’t want Black children to be born.

    As for his complaint about tax dollars it’s ridiculous. You don’t actually get a say on where your tax dollars go. Think of how much money was spent when Bush lied the U.S. into a war. Where was his complaint about tax dollars then? It takes less money to clothe, feed, house and educate these children than to send bombs to kill brown women and children for the sake of oil.

  • Angel H.

    For someone with “STRONG opinions about this”, you sure didn’t say anything.

  • Anon

    If people dropped REAL advice and comments for this article, would they stay up?

    Because the REAL reason for the high abortion rates have a lot to do with low value partners, sexual abuse in childhood, low self worth, and lack of information regarding basic biology. Throw in dysfunctional families and dangerous communities, and the abortion rate is not shocking at all.

    If any of ya’ll have mentored at inner city schools, none of this is surprising, except for the fiance part.

  • Angel H.

    It amazes me that not one person here even gets the whole point of this article: IT’S NOBODY’S DAMN BUSINESS WHAT WE DO WITH OUR BODIES!

    Ms. Reaves is being villified for having an abortion, while Ms. Adams is being villified for having too many kids! Everyone wants to have a say in what Black women do with their bodies without trusting us to make the right decisions for ourselves….AND YOU ALL ARE FALLING FOR IT!

    Renee was totally on-point when she said:

    “The only time black pregnancies were deemed valuable was during slavery, when pregnancy would serve to enrich the planter class. Today, the black womb symbolizes surplus population and a fear of reversing racial demographics.”

  • Anon

    Frankly, if it takes social shame and humiliation to get Angel Adams to not have so many children and to get her life right then SO.BE.IT. Ga-Run-T you that the majority of her children will follow the same path if not properly cared for. I’m still surprised she has custody.

  • my_reply

    I think it is very important that black organizations do all they can to get sex education out to black people. The NAACP and their church initiative was a good thing. If the Republicans only want to do abstinence programs, that’s fine. You go right behind them and educate your children. We cannot afford for our kids and young adults to be ignorant about sex and tell them to keep their legs closed then fuss at them when they get pregnant or catch an STD.

  • bk chick

    Everytime I hear this issue I think of the book Freakonomics. Their argument is not for the feint of heart…But it does make you look at the truth right in the face. The author is right, abortion is an economic issue, and ofcourse, if minorities are the ones facing the most economic despair, than you will see the bulk of the abortions happening there. The point is, 9/10 the woman getting the abortion is predicted that the child is going to grow up in adverse conditions. A child growing up in adverse conditions is more likely to have grow up making adverse decisions, and so on and so forth…Some of these right wing ppl slay me because they want to shame people for making the decision abort, but then do not want to lift a finger and create programs that combat the adverse conditions that lead to abortion in the first place.

  • Valentina

    I agree. I detest Glenn Beck except in this situation, IMO he was spot on. But I still wish he’d hide under a rock somewhere! 37 years old, 15 kids in a two bedroom apartment and no job! GTFOH. It’s an insult to all of us that choose to procreate responsibly and work to support the children we have. The government is NOT your baby’s daddy.

  • Renee918


  • Cherish

    An abortion is a surgical procedure, and like any surgical procedure, there is ALWAYS a risk of death. People die from basic surgeries, it happens. Ms. Reaves’ death is tragic, and all avenues should explored to understand wthy she died and to prevent this from happening again. But banning abortions becaue of her death is as reasonable as banning appendectomies because of a friend died from one. Just stupid.

    Do you what’s killing more Black women than abortions? CHILDBIRTH. The United Staes has the highest rate of maternal mortality among industrialized nations, and Black women in th U.S. are several times more likely to die in childbirth than White women, and those stats applies to all class lines. Maternal deaths are also RISING. If the Glen Becks really cared about Black women and their children (many women who die leave behind other children so that’s means more Black kids raised without Moms) then he would addrss this, but we know that’s not on their agenda.

  • Kenly

    I am an advocate for abortion. I had one when I was a teenager and even those it wasn’t the “right” pro life choice to make it was the best choice for ME! Black culture is the most opinionated when it comes to certain issues but the last to lend a helping hand when it’s needed. The deceased knew that for whatever reason bringing another child into HER world would not be the best. She cold have choose adoption but even n our culture that is frowned upon so it’s a catch 22…

  • LemonNLime

    That isn’t just black people, it is the world over. The more education women have, the less children they have. That is why so many want women in developed countries to gain access to education, so they will reproduce less.

    I know I am one of them! I am well traveled, well educated, successful in my career and I will NOT be having any children.

  • LemonNLime

    When I saw Angel Adams, I was so disgusted I wanted to slap her. Everything about her being is low class, stupid, and lazy. Whenever I see people like that I just shake my head in disgust and irritation.

  • vstreetlove

    Rochelle wrote” It is not a secret that the poor and uneducated have far more children than they need to.” (Don’t worry rochelle i read the rest of your comment, I just want to say something else).
    We blame poor women for having too many children while simultaneously telling them they shouldn’t be reproducing in the first place because they cannot support their children while simultaneously denying access to proper birth control and sex ed while simultaneously denying access to abortion .
    Who stands to gain from this discriminatory policy? What do they have to gain? How do they gain? I am looking for real answers/statistics/ here.

  • Ravi

    Be careful with that. Starting to tread on eugenics arguments.

  • au napptural

    My thing is some commenters are saying only the smart should reproduce but society makes it so hard for educated women to want children. It’s a tax on your resources, since kids are super expensive, society holds you and you alone responsible for anything to do with the kids- so you have to have them, pay for them, clean up after them, etc. Plus, you go to college and grad school only to be penalized for reproducing. You lose out when you take maternity leave (if your company even offers any) and God forbid you want to homeschool or stay at home for a few years. You’ve just thrown away your career unless you are self-employed. Not to mention this is a two income society for people of color esp. You simply cannot make it on one income (assuming you are married or partnered). Society claims that having children is this great thing but they make it damn near unattainable to have some without completely taking away the options you had before.

    That’s not even including the social side of people expecting you to drop the baby weight the min. the baby is out of utero. Look like a model and then become Suzy Homemaker and hold down a job. I don’t blame educated women for not wanting kids. When you could travel, advance career-wise, and have fun instead? Shoot.

    Finally, black women have the highest mortality rate in childbirth in the US, which is also the highest in the “developed world.” That should be in the article. Plenty of women who do the “right” thing and have the baby die. More than the women who die from abortions in fact.

  • Tonton Michel

    Thank God!!

  • Sasha A.

    Right!! I do not know what it’s like to raise kids but I’m sure its expensive and I don’t know how my parents did it (I’m one of seven) but what I do know is never ONCE were we on any kind of government assistance. I thought this woman was a joke but when I saw her on some news clip demanding someone to pay for her kids I was shocked, then disgusted then I felt sad. I mean she somehow thought she was entitled to benefits/ financial assistance to birth her kids. She has some sort of mental condition and furthermore how is it even physically possible to have birthed 15 kids by 37, the youngest being 6 months old and the oldest over 18….then again that Duggar lady did it so I guess its physically possible.

  • LemonNLime

    God willing you will grace us with the same decision!

  • E.M.S.

    Plainly & simply, it is no one else’s business what a woman chooses, especially the government. It has always disgusted me how the government decides the only reason for an abortion is failure to be sexually responsible, and that by choosing abortion a woman does not care for the loss of life. It is utterly foolish to look at such a serious topic through such a narrow scope.

    In addition, the choice to abort is NOT always related to finances or how many children a woman already has. What about girls who will struggle to continue/complete their eduction because they have to spend all their time and energy on the baby instead of studying? What about rape? What about the dangers of carrying the pregnancy if it means death for the mother? There are many reasons why abortion is chosen.

    Lastly, why does society have such a problem with women who do not want children? Some women do not feel a family is part of their calling, and there is nothing wrong with that. To those who are so concerned with the population, feel free to pop a few out yourselves to boost the numbers, but let them live their lives how they want.

  • Sue

    Let’s not forget that highly educated women also spend more tie in school, those with lower levels of education have already had a head start in having kids. I also think that their expectations of themselves may be higher. In terms of the kind of lifestyle they want to lead,time spent with family etc so they may prefer a smaller family unit.

  • Sue

    I read ” Freakonomics” and cringed all through their entire argument on this issue. It’s uncomfortable to think about. Still, I think of that book when I read articles like this and it does seem to be true. For poor women of reproductive age it is a vicious cycle especially in countries where abortion is illegal. Having a large underclass of impoverished youth can be a real catalyst for social instability or unrest.

  • Sue

    Thank you for pointing out that in the U.S. especially, becoming a mother is not exactly supported by government policies. If you factor in the gender pay-gap already in existence then you start to see why it seems like a tall order.

    Balancing a family life with work is very difficult in the U.S. Read the article: Why Women Can’t Have It All by Ann-Marie Slaughter in the Atlantic. In it she discusses her struggles to balance family life and a high profile government job. Mind you she is one of the lucky ones, being a Professor in an Ivy-League University with a supportive spouse who also works. For people who are lower on the ladder, there is no flex-time,no options to choose from and they probably cannot afford day-care or nannies either.

    Finally, I think the childbirth mortality rate is more likely related to income, so most likely applies to poor women of other ethnicities as well.

  • @echidiime (@Echidiime)

    @renee – I don’t necessarily agree with you totally, but you bring up some really interesting points…carry on!

  • @echidiime (@Echidiime)

    From @Cherish “Do you what’s killing more Black women than abortions? CHILDBIRTH. The United Staes has the highest rate of maternal mortality among industrialized nations, and Black women in th U.S. are several times more likely to die in childbirth than White women, AND THOSE STATS APPLIES TO ALL CLASS LINES.” (emphasis mine)…

    It must be Sunday, because somebody’s preachin’!

    I’ve even read some papers that find that high school educated Caucasian women are less likely to die than college educated black women. It’s time to wake up and pay attention!

  • Keaton

    I am in the camp that believes that it is truly no one’s business if you have kids or not or when you do it BUT I do think the second you go on public aide, it does become the government’s business.

    For the woman with 15 children – yes she is “working” in terms of raising her kids but she is doing this work on the government’s (taxpayer’s) dime, not her own. Her experience as a stay at home mother is completely different, in my opinion, to the experience of a woman that stays at home with her children and has a husband that provides completely for the family (or lives off family wealth or something).

    Do what you want, but keep it at home. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I actually agree with Glenn Beck – I’m working my ass off here. I wish I could hang out at home all day…and if I had kids I would love to stay home with them too.

  • Jae Bee

    ITA. I’m sure many women would love the opportunity to be a SAHM, but they realize that it is THEIR responsibility to clothe and feed their children–not everyone else’s. Why should women like Angel Adams be given the opportunity to live the life they want–on my dime–when I can’t afford that same luxury? If you can’t feed ‘em, don’t breed ‘em!

  • isolde3


    Beck’s critique seems more classist than racist. I don’t think Beck has a problem with large broods that aren’t wards of the state or on public assistance. Left and Right wingers alike have a problem with Octo-mom that they wouldn’t have if she were Mia Farrow or some independently wealthy woman who wouldn’t have to depend on the state for assistance.

    Anyway . . . I shouldn’t even be entertaining this, because harping on Angel Adam’s economic situation is sort of derailing the convo. I think you wanted us to not be so easily distracted by certain details of her situation in favor of examining the bigger picture about black women’s reproductive choices being attacked and demonized.

  • Devontay

    Are you lying to your self are just to your readers. This is not hard there’s one way to look at this right or wrong that’s it. Abortion is legal so you can have one that’s your choice the government set up a safety net for the people but to many are miss using that’s for the hole country. One quotation is right or is it wrong. This is United States of America so we are free to make choice right or wrong but it doesn’t make what you do right because you have the right to do it ask the bankers that. Most of what they do is totally legal but alot of it is just wrong. That’s what makes this country our people all Americans great can and will destroy use if we forget about right and wrong and applying that to our individual choice. Only one at a time can change come and I’m going to start with me.

    Gentleman always,
    Devotay L Douglas

  • myblackfriendsays

    ” it can be said without doubt, no woman makes the decision to terminate her pregnancy lightly.”

    This is not factually correct. If even one woman in the history of abortion has made the decision lightly, then it becomes a false statement. Additionally, if a person is pro-choice, are they pro-choice because the think that all women who have abortions are giving it a lot of thought, or are the pro-choice because they feel that the government has no right to control what a woman does with her body?

  • gwan gyal

    “I don’t blame educated women for not wanting kids. When you could travel, advance career-wise, and have fun instead?”

    I love this line..esp the ‘have fun’ part. People are forever saying how fun it is to have kids but leaving out the non fun parts.

    I adore children and am always going up to strangers asking about their babies or talking to their babies. However, I am not too open to being 100% responsible for another person 24/7 and then blaming myself if they dont turn out right (as in a well behaved ambitious teenager that doesn’t give me any problems)

    I didnt know about the high mortality rate in childbirth for black women…another reason for me not to have any

    I get frustrated when reading about disadvantaged women and babies. I dont think it is an education thing that separates women with a lot of kids and those that dont want any…b/c you dont have sex ed in college. We all learn that stuff at the same time just about. Some people just love babies and prefer to have more once they’ve had one. I hear it all the time..’I want all my kids to grow up together and I dont want to be old when I have them’…forgetting the fact that they can barely afford the first one.

    I used to be thoroughly puzzled with this topic but have learned that everyone does not think the same as me and that’s it. Whose children will I be able to act silly with and give back once they poop their diapers if these women stop having children??

  • justanotheropinion

    I’m an advocate of men and the government staying out of my bedroom and my reproductive choices. Unless you are paying my mortgage, utilities and food bill, you have no say so in how many births or abortions I have. WHOM-SO-EVER, once you get on the public rolls, all that ‘ish goes out the window. Would love to have had more kids, but after leaving my husband, I knew I couldn’t afford it. How dare you CONTINUE to have kids that you can’t afford! I TOOK PRECAUTIONS to make sure there were no more kids (both during & after my marriage) that someone other than me would be required to support. I’m appalled at women like Adams that pro-create at will and expect someone else to pick up the tab. I feel sorry for those kids.

    Having said that, I believe access to abortions is a choice in as much as Viagra is. Like the old saying goes, “when Men can get pregnant, then talk to me about what options are available”…until then, STFU. If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have sex…EVER – after all, that’s the ONLY surefire method of preventing a pregnancy (wanted or not). If you choose to have sex, know that pregnancy is a possibility. You make your choice on whether or not to keep it and I’ll make mine. I don’t tell you how to live your life, please don’t tell me how to live mine. BUT, if you wanna keep having kids you can’t afford and you want public assistance, rest assured that me and my tax dollars DESERVE to be all up in your business.

    Sorry, stepping off my soap box now….

  • BriaGrace

    So very true. According to the city of Chicago, during the most recent five years for which there is data (2000-2004), 27 black women in Chicago alone died of pregnancy-related causes. Same period? One white woman: (pages 37 and 38)

  • lisa

    I agree. I think Black women need to be more careful however and responsible. It’s one thing to make a decision, however is it the best decision. You have to think beyond the moment and always have a financial safety net in place to secure if an unplanned pregnancy occured, you’d have a fall back. Aside from money, you need a plan in general on how you will take care of your child with or without the father.

    It’s all about being more responsible ans careful. Both of these women should not have been villified at all but that goes back to being independent and not having to depend on the government, etc. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about their opinions/ getting in your personal business.

  • AnonBren

    I am left to wonder where the discussion is about the male portion of the equation. Females do not get pregnant alone. Reproductive sex is a male-female equation…we need to be sure and include male responsibility in all discussions regarding pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting.

  • Jane

    The founder of Planned Parenthood was a racist and eugenist. Why do you think there are so many Planned Parenthoods in black neighbourhoods. Her plan continues to bear fruit and that is why the black population is not growing. As we continue to kill our babies, and decrease in number our political clout will decrease whilst the political clout of Hispanic who haven’t bought the ‘reproductive rights’ crap will continue to grow. We reap what we sow. Just like China and India with their sex selective abortions

  • PiscesStar7 (@PiscesStar7)

    Although, I had a decent sex education in junior high and high school, the more informative classes I had, regarding child rearing and human sexuality was in college. It was there that I took classes such as, child and adolescent development, human sexuality, intro to psychology, and power & powerlessness. It was these classes that reinforced for me, and gave me the vocabulary, to understand for myself (and to be able to convey to others) why I took parenthood so seriously…to the point where I eventually decided not to have children of my own.

    I wonder if more information from these classes were given at the high school level…would others be so quick to come to the conclusion that “they don’t want to be old when they have them.”

  • Grace Acosta

    Honey, if you know where the Planned Parenthood is when it’s time for an abortion, then you know where you could have gotten birth control in the first place. Hint: Same damn place!

  • Wong Chia Chi

    I pity the woman’s situation. But I have no idea what society wants me to do as a woman. Outside of major cities you know how difficult it is to get to a planned parenthood clinic? And with the new legislation that they’re trying to push, planned parenthood won’t get government funding in many states. So goodbye to my PAP and birth control provider.

    What about insurance? Oh right. Well my minimum wage job doesn’t pay me enough to afford that so free clinics that I’m increasingly getting limited access to are my only option. And Lord knows most of the people criticizing her for being on the welfare role are the same people that support a potential employer not hiring her and not paying a living wage or benefits for all her children.

    Get a better job? Okay I’ll go to college to get a profession with a better salary, but I still needs my basic needs provided for while I do it, so that doesn’t solve the problem. Especially if your parents are poor and they can’t help you out financially.

    And um, don’t all those kids have Daddies? Where are those men at? She didn’t have those twelve children alone.

    And don’t criticize someone for not having birth control. The one I’m on causes migraines and depression. Not to mention different races of women responses to it and weight gain and hair loss ( all of which I’ve experienced) and the worse things like blood clots. Condoms? Men don’t like using them. They also don’t like supporting children, paradoxically. And if they’re supporting you, in any way guess who determines whether or not a condom is used?

    But it’s always the woman’s fault. It’s not the fact that POC women are in a shitty position in general.

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