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.


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  • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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

  • 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.

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

    • 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.

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

    • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

    • Thank God!!

    • LemonNLime

      God willing you will grace us with the same decision!

    • Ravi

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

    • 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.

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