NEW YORK (AP) — Abortion and race, two of America’s most volatile topics, have intersected in recent flare-ups related to the disproportionately high rate of ab
ortion among black women.
In Congress, Rep. Sean Duffy, a white Republican from rural Wisconsin, lambasted black members of Congress for failing to decry these high abortion numbers. The next day, Rep. Gwen Moore, a black Democrat from Milwaukee, fired back — accusing Duffy and his GOP colleagues of caring about black children only before they are born.
In Missouri, a white GOP state legislator, Rep. Mike Moon, introduced a “personhood” bill that would effectively outlaw all abortions, and titled it the All Lives Matter Act. Abortion-rights activists were indignant, saying Moon was provocatively co-opting the Black Lives Matter slogan that has been used to convey concern about the deaths of unarmed blacks in encounters with police.
The disputes have drawn attention to abortion’s racial demographics just ahead of Friday’s annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., a gathering of anti-abortion activists to mark the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a nationwide right to abortion.
The statistics themselves are not in dispute. While blacks comprise 13 percent of the population, black women account for more than 30 percent of the estimated 1 million abortions performed annually in the U.S.
Over the years, some anti-abortion activists have attributed this phenomenon to black communities being “targeted” by abortion providers with the aim of curtailing the black population. Abortion-rights supporters reject this assertion, and say the high black abortion rate reflects the impact of poverty and lack of access to effective contraception.
Duffy tapped into this debate in his remarks on the House floor earlier this month.
“My friends, liberals, Congressional Black Caucus members, they talk about fighting for the defenseless and the hopeless and the downtrodden, but there is no one more hopeless and voiceless than an unborn baby,” Duffy said. “But their silence is deafening. I can’t hear them.”
“Black lives matter … and Indian and Asian, Hispanic and white,” Duffy continued. “All those lives matter. We should fight for all life, including the life of the unborn.”
The Congressional Black Caucus said Duffy’s remarks were offensive, and Moore took to the House floor to accuse Duffy of hypocrisy given his lack of support for some social programs that could aid children and mothers in low-income families.
“A number of African-American women face multiple barriers to accessing quality, affordable health care, which can lead to higher rates of both unintended pregnancy and abortion,” Moore said. “It’s painfully obvious that Rep. Duffy’s concern for life ends as soon as the umbilical cord is cut.”
Duffy refused to back down from his remarks, and was defended by some black anti-abortion activists.
“We are not offended — we agree with him,” said Alveda King, the niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life.
King said there were ways to support black families without endorsing more spending for major government social programs — she mentioned crisis pregnancy centers and support for home-school parents. As for unintended pregnancies, she said they could be reduced through abstinence.
Duffy’s comments and the All Lives Matter Act are among numerous recent examples of abortion opponents modifying the Black Lives Matter slogan for their own purposes.
At Chicago’s March for Life last Sunday, black pastor Corey Brooks called for greater anti-abortion activism in black neighborhoods.
“I have heard it said many times over and over, ‘Black lives matter.’ And they do,” Brooks told the crowd. “I’m here to say, ‘Babies’ lives matter!'”
In Missouri, the All Lives Matter Act was assailed by Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri.
“This bill continues the trend in Missouri that women should not make their own decisions,” Dreith wrote in the St. Louis American. “Again, the lives of women — and especially black women — do not matter to this legislator.”
Another point of friction is the use of billboards by anti-abortion groups to spread their messages in black communities.
“The Most Dangerous Place for an African-American is in the Womb,” was among the featured slogans a few years ago. More recently, a group called Prolife Across America placed billboards in black neighborhoods in Atlanta and Memphis, showing a smiling black baby, with the message “Dad’s Princess. Heartbeat at 18 days.”
In Memphis, black activist Cherisse Scott led a counter-campaign. Her group SisterReach placed billboards with the message “Trust Black Women,” accompanied by appeals for better schools, health care and economic opportunities.
Scott said she underwent three abortions before gaining the confidence to give birth.
“It was a very traumatic experience — to be told I’m committing acts of genocide,” she said. “When I went ahead and had my son, those people were nowhere around to make sure I’m all right.”
To some black opponents of abortion, the No. 1 nemesis is Planned Parenthood. It is the nation’s leading abortion provider, as well as offering birth control, cancer screenings and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
The Rev. Clenard H. Childress Jr., a black pastor from New Jersey who heads a group called Black Genocide, contends that most of Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics focus their services on minority communities. In a column last week, he accused the organization of overseeing “the systematic and deliberate targeting of African-American babies.”
Planned Parenthood says only 4 four percent of its health centers that provide abortions are in communities that are more than one-third black.
Angela Ferrell-Zabala, Planned Parenthood’s director of African American leadership and engagement, depicted the attacks on her organization as an attempt to “create diversion from the real issues” — economic inequality and access to health care.
Dr. Willie Parker, a black abortion provider based in Birmingham, Alabama, said anti-abortion activists tended to disregard the fact that many black women who get abortions are devoted mothers who already have children.
“Abortion is health care, and I make no apologies that it’s how I make my living,” he said. “It is moral and right to provide women with the services they need to live the lives they want to live.”
Advocacy groups on both sides of the abortion debate have scheduled several events ahead of the March for Life.
On Tuesday, scores of people shared their personal abortion stories during a live-streamed “speakout” aimed at reducing the stigma of abortion. On Wednesday, abortion-rights groups Public Leadership Institute and National Institute for Reproductive Health announced an initiative to counter the wave of anti-abortion laws being passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures. And on Thursday, several anti-abortion groups plan a protest at the site of a proposed Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington.
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