Those Billboards in Atlanta: On Black Women and Abortion
Renee wrote a post asking why the feminist blogosphere reacted so strongly to the Tebow ad, but has not been so vocal about an anti-abortion campaign in Atlanta that is “targeting Black women by putting up billboards stating that Black children are an endangered species.” I linked to it in a weekly round-up post, and started drafting something on the topic, wanting to take the time to get it right. A reader also emailed me about why I specifically haven’t written about it, so here goes.
This is not a new argument; I’ve seen plenty of “Black genocide” pieces attached to an anti-abortion agenda. It’s usually proffered by white/conservative/anti-abortion folks who aren’t really making an argument that Black women and babies need help so much as they are looking for new and catchy ways to convince people that Abortion is a Very Bad Thing We Must Restrict.
But isn’t something wrong if black women are having, proportionally, more abortions than white women? I tend to think that however many abortions Black women, or any women, have is exactly the right number of abortions for them at the time (given that I’m pro-choice and don’t think a “zero abortions” goal is at all realistic). I don’t doubt that there are systemic reasons why Black women might be more likely to choose abortion than other women – but those systemic inequalities are the problem in my mind, not the individual choices Black women make in their own individual situations. And those inequalities are a problem in their own right, not because of whatever influence they might have on the abortion debate.
In the meantime, though, it’s not my job or anybody else’s job to tell individual or all Black women whether they can have a safe, legal abortion. Saying otherwise would be no different, I think, from other tactics I oppose – forced ultrasound or incorrect forced “informed consent” scripts that just assume women haven’t thought through what they’re doing or aren’t smart enough to understand. It would get into saying that abortions need to be restricted for some women because they’re having “too many,” and suggest that Black women themselves are not the best judge of whether they’re actually contributing to some form of “genocide” of their own babies. Because, really? – Black children are an “endangered species” (assuming you buy that premise, and ignore the highly problematic “species” language) and Black women choosing abortion don’t know or care? How obnoxious and insulting.
There is also the argument out there that Planned Parenthood is located in “Black” neighborhoods, so they must be deliberately targeting Black babies for abortion. I have never been in on the meetings in which Planned Parenthood decides where to put a new clinic, but I’m guessing that they target lower income neighborhoods, which anti-abortion folks are translating to “Black neighborhoods.” Again, we return to the problem of systemic issues rather than individual issues, but I suppose it’s easier to accuse a provider of low cost health services of attempting genocide and to accuse Black women of individually having too many abortions than it is to look at reasons why Black and low income might overlap in this country and work to resolve those inequalities.
The same people will throw out the “but Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist” argument, which I think a commenter on Renee’s post responded to aptly: “Thomas Jefferson and many of the other signers of the U.S. Constitution owned slaves and didn’t believe that Black people were intelligent beings — should we Americans scrap the current Constitution and jot up another one, then?”
And that is not to ignore the long history of reproductive and other bodily abuse visited upon Black women in America. One reason it took me so long to write this post was just the thinking over of “wait, is there something abortion providers are doing to specifically target Black women and limit their reproductive freedom that I might be missing somehow?” I think, though, that Maame-Mensima Horne got this bit just right in her recent essay:
Black anti-abortionists are not concerned about women having autonomy over their bodies or mobilizing against reproductive oppressions. Instead, they continue paternalistic beliefs that place woman’s role as “mother” higher than anything else. “Mother” is one of many roles that women may choose, but it is not our defining role. We, the women, should decide how, when, and if we mother.
And you know what? I have to admit to being part of the “lack of response” problem. If some anti-abortion group put up billboards in Nashville, TN saying “1/4 Korean White women are destroying their people,” would it have taken me more than week to write a post about it? Hell no. I was hesitant to wade in because I wanted to make sure to “get it right,” to say why I think those “Black genocide” arguments are illogical garbage while making sure I wouldn’t mess it up in some unexpected way that would make me seem racist. But standing up for all women’s reproductive rights without worrying about how *I* might look in the process is the right thing to do, and something I should be quicker about.
Added: Pam Merritt at RHRC on Women of Color and the Anti-Choice Focus on Eugenics