Since 2010, anti-abortion billboards across the nation began to appear, targeting African-American communities. This growing campaign claims that the pro-choice movement is a targeted genocide against Black Americans. The Black anti-abortion movement claims to speak for racial justice activists without including affected voices, while focusing on a single issue based on problematic stereotypes and outright fabrications.
“The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” That’s the main message of a growing coalition of African-American anti-abortion activists trying to overturn Roe v. Wade. The argument that abortion poses a unique threat to black lives has recently increased in attention—which was the result of the conservative black-church, black anti-abortion activists, and white anti-abortion organizations.
These anti-abortion activists are using history to shame African-American women for exercising their right to choose. Protesters have been going up to black women and saying, “You’re killing your community. You’re killing your people.” These claims are based on how modern gynecology was established from medical racism—using Black female slaves as lab rats to conduct life-threatening experiments. The eugenics movement in the early 20th century led to the forced sterilization of thousands of Black women across the US.
Many anti-abortion activists also claim that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was a proponent of eugenics who intentionally worked to lower the black birth rate. While it is true that Sanger supported eugenics, her birth control agenda is portrayed as something that was done to Black women, rather than something in which Black women and much of the Black community enthusiastically participated in.
The disconnect between both sides of the argument stems from an often-cited and controversial statistic that black women in the U.S. account for 28 percent of reported abortions each year, while making up only 13 percent of the female population. Pro-lifers and reproductive-righters can both agree that black women have a larger number of abortions than you would expect when thinking about their share of the population. Where they differ is the interpretation.
Anti-abortion activists are not examining the root cause of poverty and lack of access to education and quality healthcare. They are not marching in the streets and protesting that Black women are almost 20 times as likely to acquire HIV or that maternal mortality is 3.5 times higher than it is among white women.
More than focusing on what percentage of African American women are having abortions, we should be listening to Black women experiencing healthcare inequities instead of trying to speak for them. We’re talking about women of color making choices amidst of the complexity of their own lives—and it’s important that we don’t let any reproductive justice effort decrease access to care, especially for women who rely on Planned Parenthood. We are witnessing a concerted effort to end abortion rights in America unlike anything we have seen in over 40 years. We must remain committed and engaged in civic action to ensure abortion access for women who dare to exercise control over their own bodies and futures.
Corporate coverage has been minimal. The NY Times posted an opinion article about how the fight for reproductive justice and the fight to end police brutality go hand in hand—yet the story lacked full coverage on the complexity of the Black abortion movement. The Washington Post wrote a few stories on Republican Ben Carson’s dissatisfaction of Roe v. Wade, and his comments on Black women getting abortions. PBS Frontline partnered with The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit media center, to create a short documentary about African-American abortion.
A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez, “I Know Why Black Women Are Wary of Reproductive Activism.” YES! Magazine, February 9, 2018. http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/i-know-why-black-women-are-wary-of-reproductive-activism-20180209
Alanna Vaglanos, “How Medical Racism Created a Black Anti-Abortion Movement.” Huffington Post, January 4, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/medical-racism-black-genocide-anti-abortion-movement_us_5a3be8a1e4b06d1621b2b86a
Feminista Jones & openDemocracy. “How Anti-Abortion Extremists are Exploiting Black Lives Matter to Vilify African American Women.” Truth-Out, November 11, 2017. http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/42532-how-anti-abortion-extremists-are-exploiting-blacklivesmatter-to-vilify-african-american-women
Jenavieve Hatch, “A Black Abortion Rights Activist on White Women and the Myth of “Black Genocide.” Huffington Post, June 16, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/a-black-abortion-rights-activist-on-white-women-and-the-myth-of-black-genocide_us_5943e98de4b0f15cd5bac64b
P.R. Lockart, “Abortion as Black Genocide: Inside the Black Anti-Abortion Movement.” Vox, January 18, 2018. https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/1/19/16906928/black-anti-abortion-movement-yoruba-richen-medical-racism
Shireen Shakouri, “White Supremacy and the Pro-Life Movement: Slanted Subtweets During #ScaryStats.” Reproaction, January 26, 2018. https://reproaction.org/white-supremacy-and-pro-life-movement-part-1
Yoruba Richen, “Anti-Abortion Crusaders: Inside the African-American Abortion Battle.” The Investigative Fund, December 15, 2017. https://www.theinvestigativefund.org/investigation/2017/12/15/anti-abortion-crusaders
Student Researcher: Jasmine Perez and Amber Yang (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)