Do Black Women’s Reproductive Rights Matter?

A guest post by Renee at Womanist Musings; read the original over there as well.

This weekend Focus on the Family Plans plans on running a Pro-Life advertisement during the super bowl. From the moment that this was discovered, it received national attention. Groups like NOW and the feminist blogosphere waged a real effort to challenge this threat to women’s reproductive rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights wrote a letter to CBS pointing out that Ms. Tebow lived in the Philippines at the time of her supposed choice and therefore her only real option was to have the baby because abortion was and still is illegal there.

At the same time that this battle is being waged, another is going quite unnoticed. An anti-abortion group in Atlanta is targeting Black women by putting up billboards stating that Black children are an endangered species.

As proof of this claim they offer the fact that Blacks account for 30% of the general population and 56% of the abortions. When we consider the fact that Black children are universally devalued, this campaign has the possibility of being really effective. Over the last two years campaigns specifically targeting the ability of Black women to choose have been on the rise and yet there has been little to no commentary from White feminists regarding this issue and so I ask, whose reproductive rights matter?

These organizations repeatedly point to the fact that Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist and it seems that rather than countering this claim with the fact that Faye Wattleton, an African American woman was president of Planned Parenthood from 1978–1992, there has been a resounding silence. Is Planned Parenthood suddenly not worth defending when it is about Black women having abortions? It seems to me that highlighting a former Black president would go a long way to fighting the claims of racism.

How about the fact that Black women are impoverished due to racism and sexism? We already know that a woman living alone with a child is more likely to be poor and therefore when we factor in racism, it is quite obvious that poverty would increase. Would it really be so hard to suggest that part of the reason that the rate of abortion is so high is because Black women are already aware of the herculean task and are simply opting out due to a lack of community support and government funding?

Another factor to consider is education. The way to stop abortion is not by outlawing it but by ensuring that sex education is offered from an early age. We already know that schools which are located in impoverished neighbourhoods fall short in terms of education. Is it not possible to suggest a co-relation between this fact and a lack of good sex education?

I do understand that some White women may be reticent to enter this debate because it is framed as saving a Black child, who we know to be universally undereducated and invisible. Even when Black women place their children for adoption, they are less likely to be adopted and so it would appear that Black women are really reduced to two choices, abort or raise the child themselves. Even if we validate that point, there is still the issue of placing a priority on women’s agency when it comes to reproductive rights. We do not have the right to question these women on their decisions. No one chooses to abort without putting great thought into the matter and if we truly respect the right to choose, it must apply to ALL women.

Finally, as scared as White women may be to interact because of the racial undertones of this argument, I must ask don’t Black women matter? All of these campaigns revolve around saving the Black child and this is predicated on the idea that the child is infinitely more valuable than the mother. If abortion were to be outlawed tomorrow, more children may indeed be born, however you would also see a rise in the deaths of Black women due to back alley abortions. The Black woman has a right to life and this must be forcefully asserted.

I will continue to blog about this issue because I believe that choice applies to all women but I must ask where are the voices of my white sisters in arms? If you truly believe in choice, it is irresponsible to ignore the ways in which Black women’s reproductive rights are increasingly being challenged. The issue is that you either do not care enough to sound the battle alarm or that race is once again a sphere in which you are unwilling to engage because of a desire to center the concerns of White women. Here’s an idea for you to chew on, if abortion was ever revoked it wouldn’t apply solely to Black women, it would restrict your rights as well. I suppose that some of you may have the capitol to travel to Canada or Mexico to assert your choice, but invariably some of you would find yourselves in the same alley as a Black woman.

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15 comments for “Do Black Women’s Reproductive Rights Matter?

  1. Anna
    February 8, 2010 at 11:52 am

    The choice of the word ‘species’ disquietens me rather, too.

  2. Tek
    February 8, 2010 at 11:57 am

    as well as the fact the black children are totally over represented in the foster system; labeled special needs at 6 months simply because of the race designation in that system; dumped into the street (too often) when they age out of that system.

  3. February 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    The underpinning of the pro-choice argument is that women must be trusted to know if they have the ability (physical, emotional, financial, etc) to raise a child. No one can make that call except for the woman herself. If a woman does not have the resources to care for a child, then she should not have to care for that child — it is inviting disaster to thrust the care of a child upon an unwilling person.

    To declare that black women are somehow inherently unable to make that determination and are contributing to some sort of racial suicide is patronizing in the extreme.

    Considering the most common reason for abortion is financial, let’s also not beat around the bush: If all of the black women out there who are having abortions suddenly started carrying to term, we’d see the return of demonizing the urban welfare queen.

  4. FashionablyEvil
    February 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    As an Atlanta resident, I am horrified by these billboards. I actually don’t believe that GA Right to Life cares about these children aside from the fact that the statistics are so convenient.

    But, as Mighty Ponygirl points out, if these women (or even a fraction of them) chose to give birth, you’d totally see the demonization of women who have more children than they can afford.

    It’s pretty much a lose-lose for these women–make the best choice they can in a given situation and be cast as inept, coercible, stupid pawns, or make the other choice and be cast as a malingering burden on society or a stray animal (see: the SC Lt. Gov.)

  5. February 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    I am uncomfortable with the whole equating abortion with eugenics argument, though there is a prevailing line of thought that insists that the reason for less criminals in the streets is because supposedly unfit mothers chose to abort their children rather than bring them to term. However, this doesn’t take into account matters the author has mentioned here like poverty, a network of social support, a lack of basic services, and the like.

    You can’t look at one metric in isolation without taking into account the whole picture, and while this ad is certainly provocative, it makes no attempt to look at the complexities of a complex situation.

  6. NorthernOhioLady
    February 8, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Its hard to believe that the movement has been so quiet on these racially and emotionally charged billboards. They’re pretty horrible.

    However, while recognizing the not so chipper past with regards to race and feminism, I think that some of the current silence of white pro-choice females is out of fear of saying or doing something wrong. I’m not condoning it by any means, nor ignoring the fact that there many issues that could be blocking a very important dialog (like legit racism). In several pieces I’ve read in the last 6 months or so, there has been a theme suggesting that white privileged feminists should stop telling women of color what to do– which, while a touchy topic, is very seriously founded in reality. The disconnect between class, culture, race, and privilege in this country causes schisms in understanding– it is impossible to insist what is right for another when you do not know their situation. However, people can read articles on this topic in several ways (just look at the comment sections!) and I think some people comprehend it as a “GTFO” argument. The response to issues like this become quieted out of the fear of stepping out of line.

  7. NancyP
    February 8, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Just more slut-shaming.

    Yes, it would make sense for the pro-choice organizations to run an ad, although not a counter-ad in the billboard format. What would need to be done for a billboard would have to be very simple and have minimal text.

    I’d feature a message about prevention:
    “Planned Parenthood: for a healthy family” (large type)
    “Pap smears. HIV prevention. Well woman care. Education. Birth control.” (list of some services given in smaller type, along with web address)
    Photo should feature black women at varying ages – middle-aged mother with older teen daughter, 30ish M + F couple holding infant, 20ish woman college student

    Targeted audience print ads could use a message like this:
    “Did you know that black women have a higher rate of infertility? Take good care of your fertility. Some sexually transmitted infections, such as Chlamydia, can cause infertility without other symptoms. Get tested, and have your partner use a condom.”

  8. February 8, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    If Black women mattered then maybe their rights would not be in questions. There are way too many dynamics, the paternalism is enough to suffocate you.

    I guess it’s a case of who speaks for whom? I think there needs to be some contexualizing here, and maybe Black sisters need to be out there recognizing that there are many issues that need to be dealt with.

    On the other hand, I am nnot sure that anyone cares if Black women are having more abortions, that’s just my opinion.

    From my personal experience as a young Black woman who just went through pregnancy, child birth, the death of my infant son (which was preventable) this was more or less due to the lack of caring for me and my baby.

    I think generally, a Black life is just not valuable no matter what your means are, and if it is planned or unplanned.

  9. preying mantis
    February 8, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    “I am uncomfortable with the whole equating abortion with eugenics argument, though there is a prevailing line of thought that insists that the reason for less criminals in the streets is because supposedly unfit mothers chose to abort their children rather than bring them to term.”

    That’s only the argument assholes make. Most arguments around that hypothesis revolve around women being able to delay childbearing until they feel ready to raise a child and not have more than they are capable of raising. The children get more resources allocated to them and happier, more stable parents; they are thus less likely to be neglected into social marginality. It’s the same mothers, raising children at a better time in their lives.

  10. Academic
    February 8, 2010 at 11:24 pm


    My condolences on the loss of your son. I wish you peace.

  11. Robin
    February 9, 2010 at 2:34 am

    Wow. Totally aside from the abortion issue, that is one offensive poster. Aside from referring to black babies as a “species,” a terminology outdated by about 2 centuries and several levels of common decency, in terms of visual language the ad looks a lot like these:

    What the hell?

  12. February 9, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    @Salma my condolences on the loss of your beloved child. And yes, Black children matter. As the mother of two beautiful Black boys I know their value, the problem is that that Whiteness is determined to “other” them in order to profit from their debasement.

  13. February 10, 2010 at 10:06 am

    What the fuck- “species”? After all the ads you see where black people are used to seem exotic when compared to white people… Sociological images has had a few different examples where black people are literally running next to cheetahs wearing animal prints and shit… jesus.

    Anyway, I have blogged about anti gay marriage advocates putting a lot of interest into the ‘marriage crisis’ in the black community. This seems to be pretty similar. Unless there is something inherently wrong with black people I am not sure why they would need special instructions of this sort on their life choices. Assuming that the difference in statistics is due to circumstance rather than some kind of character problem makes it very difficult to picture making this sort of preachy ad. It is clear that these groups just want to use images of black poverty to call aboriton providers racist. Encouraging people to have kids they do not want (or cannot afford) & using billboard funds to that end instead of actually helping to fix the problem of poverty hurts way more people than it helps. It is the same old story of pro life money never being used to women (which reduces the abortion rate) or children (who cease to become important when they are born).

    What I do not understand about the whole meme that abortion providers are racist is that the same groups always claim that abortion providers are in it just for profit. You would think that a white centric effort to increase abortion would be a lot more profitable (due to sheer number of whites in the us and the economic privilege that would enable them to purchase serial abortions more easily). Shit- I am trying to make sense out of pro life rhetoric, I probably shouldn’t waste my time like that.

  14. Sacha
    February 11, 2010 at 9:09 am

    If 56% of aborted fetuses are black, it would seem reasonable to ask why this is. I imagine that the answer is combination of the ongoing racial divisions within American society, poor pastoral care in schools and inequalities in access to healthcare.

    If the organisation funding these billboards genuinely wanted to make a difference in reducing the need for abortion they would be putting money into providing good quality pastoral care for children including high-quality sex education, widening access to contraceptive services and providing funds for disadvantaged children to further their education.

    Unfortunately, the people funding these advertisements are the religious Right. They will always be crippled by the fact that they have a faith-based agenda which promotes abstinence based sex education above all else and encourages women to stay at home and raise children rather than empowering and educating them.

  15. Lindsey
    February 13, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    How could they say “species” and expect people to take this seriously? That literally makes me want to throw up. Considering finances are the #1 reason women in general have abortions, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why black women have more. Forcing women to have children they don’t want is not going to help anyone. If there are “too many aborted” how about you spend your money on proper sex education instead of highly offensive billboard ads.

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