Guest Editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe: African Americans and Abortion Ad

March 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Black Community’s Division on Abortion Ad Campaign
by Rev. Irene Monroe

Given the history of the exploitation of African American women’s reproductive system for involuntary sterilization, medical experimentation, monetary compensation, and political gain, it’s difficult for many in the black community to not see an anti-abortion ad campaign specifically targeting the African-American community in Georgia — with a message of “Black Children Are an Endangered Species” — as a form of race-baiting.

With 80 billboards throughout metro Atlanta, sponsored by a coalition of pro-life organizations such as Georgia Right to Life, The Radiance Foundation, and Operation Outrage, the message they want to convey is resoundingly clear: black women disproportionately undergo abortions.

Georgia’s anti- abortion ad campaign comes at a time when data, gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showed that in 2006 alone, 57.4 percent of the abortions in Georgia were performed on African-American women, although blacks comprise only 30 percent of the state’s population. Of the 37 states that reported abortion data by race that year to the CDC, Georgia was second only to New York and Texas in the number of abortions performed on black women.

The statistics nationwide are equally alarming when African Americans comprise only 13 percent of the nation’s population but approximately 40 percent of African-American pregnancies end in induced abortion, compared with 34 percent of non-Hispanic white women and 22 percent of Hispanic women.

And according to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell,  citing statistics from CDC, single black women receive two-thirds of all abortions between 18 to 24 years of age, and have annual incomes of less than $15,000 or have Medicaid.

There is no doubt a problem here. However, how the message is spun and what solutions are advised will determine the outcome.

For African-American anti- abortionists, this recent ad campaign has re-opened the century-old pro-life debate within the African-American community about why abortions are part and parcel of this nation’s history of slavery, lynching, and genocidal conspiracy theories to kill black people.

Haunted by last century’s Tuskegee syphilis experiment that deliberately researched the progression of untreated syphilis on a poor population of 399 African Americans without their consent — and haunted as well by this century’s continued disparities in health care — our distrust in the medical establishment is hardly unfounded.

And our distrust is with our government as well.

Case in point: New Orleans Republican State Rep. John LaBruzzo’s plan to save his state from financial ruin after hurricanes Katrina and Gustav called for  legalizing the sterilization of poor women, giving sound reasons why these genocidal conspiracy theories are still alive today.

In 2008, LaBruzzo feared that Louisiana would be headed towards an economic crisis if the percentage of people dependent on the government was not decreased. His brilliant solution: pay impoverished women $1,000 to have their tubes tied so they will stop having babies they can’t afford.

“I realized that all these people were in Louisiana’s care and what a massive financial responsibility that is to the state,” LaBruzzo told the Times- Picayune. “I said, ‘I wonder if it might be a good idea to pay some of these people to get sterilized.’”

But Catherine Davis — an African American woman who has had two abortions herself and who is  the minority outreach coordinator at the largely white Republican staff of Georgia Right to Life — argues she’s merely trying to save black women’s pregnancies from what black pro-lifers call “womb lynching.”

With  many Planned Parenthood clinics located in black neighborhoods throughout metro Atlanta, a number of black pro-lifers feel that Planned Parenthood preys on young black women to propagate the institutionalization of abortion as a practice.

“ I realized that African-American women just [don’t] not know the truth, they [do] not understand the truth about the abortion industry,” Davis told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

According to pro-lifers, the truth is that the abortion agenda is tied to ideas and resources of the eugenics movement in America that started in 1926.  Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, an iconic figure for the women’s reproductive rights movement, did  have black women in mind. As a matter of  fact, Sanger espoused eugenics theory to initiate the “Negro Project” in 1939, which was to be a precursor to what eugenists wanted to implement on a much larger scale.

“The main objectives of the [proposed] Population Congress is to…apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring, ” Sanger stated at the “Plan for Peace” Senate hearing in 1932.

But Sister Song, an African-American women of color reproductive health collective in Atlanta, finds the anti- abortion ads campaign misleading and Davis misguided. They argue that promulgating a rhetoric that abortions are genocidal is deleterious to the entire community because African American women have always been engaged in some form of birth control and reproductive justice to reclaim control over their bodies, dating back to Africa and pre-slavery.

Long before the passing of Roe v Wade, women of all races have used herbal abortives in an attempt to control their fertility to give themselves the freedom to dictate decisions about their reproduction, thus giving them the freedom to choose.

The high rates of abortions among African-American women in Georgia and elsewhere is a systematic problem that pro-lifers can do something about rather than pointing an accusatory figure at black women who chose to have abortions. They can help the African-American community curb sexual violence in our relationships, homes, and communities; help provide access to services like comprehensive sex education and pregnancy prevention programs; and help provide the availability of contraception.

While many black pro-lifers believe that the way to maintain the institution of the black family and to overcome white supremacy is by denying women their right to choose, these same anti-abortionists ironically are also anti-gay, anti-birth control, and anti-condoms, ignoring that homophobic vitriol, STDs and HIV/AIDS will kill the black family sooner than white supremacists anti-black conspiracy theories.

Reverend Irene Monroe is a nationally-known writer, speaker and theologian.  She has been profiled in O, Oprah Magazine and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  (The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.)


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