Saturday, February 27, 2010

Race and Abortion Politics

To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case:

For years the largely white staff of Georgia Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, tried to tackle the disproportionately high number of black women who undergo abortions. But, staff members said, they found it difficult to make inroads with black audiences.

So in 2009, the group took money that it normally used for advertising a pregnancy hot line and hired a black woman, Catherine Davis, to be its minority outreach coordinator.

Ms. Davis traveled to black churches and colleges around the state, delivering the message that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill off blacks.

As if the abortion issue itself isn't enough of a highly charged, emotional debate to begin with, now we're going to inject racism, eugenics and conspiracy theories into the mix.

This month, the group expanded its reach, making national news with 80 billboards around Atlanta that proclaim, “Black children are an endangered species,” and a Web site,

A new documentary, written and directed by Mark Crutcher, a white abortion opponent in Denton, Tex., meticulously traces what it says are connections among slavery, Nazi-style eugenics, birth control and abortion, and is being regularly screened by black organizations.

Black abortion opponents, who sometimes refer to abortions as “womb lynchings,” have mounted a sustained attack on the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, spurred by a sting operation by young white conservatives who taped Planned Parenthood employees welcoming donations specifically for aborting black children.

Right, because we all know how reliable the purveyors of these "gotcha stings" can be.

We can debate the so-called "history" being proffered in this argument another time (suffice it to say, there is no connection between abortion and slavery, the Nazi's, drops in crime or any other pseudo-trendy phenomenon). But the questionable motives for targeting African-American women specifically with this kind of inflammatory disinformation is coming under fire.

Those who support abortion rights dispute the conspiracy theory, saying it portrays black women as dupes and victims. The reason black women have so many abortions is simple, they say: too many unwanted pregnancies.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Loretta Ross, the executive director of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta, listing a lack of access to birth control, lack of education, and even a high rate of sexual violence. “There’s an assumption that every time a girl is pregnant it’s because of voluntary activity, and it’s so not the case,” Ms. Ross said.

Sad, but true. The best way to end the high rates of abortion in the black community (or any community) is to stop unwanted pregnancies and address the grinding economic poverty prevalent in communities where rates are high.

While there is nothing wrong with having a healthy debate over the abortion issue, the inflammatory rhetoric of "conspiracies," "womb lynchings," and "endangered species" only hardens the positions of both sides.

UPDATE: Utah is about to pass a bill criminalizing "illegal abortions."

If it is signed into law, Utah would still allow legal abortions performed by a doctor. But it would go further than any other state, several legal experts said, in mapping out a much murkier question: when is a woman criminally liable for trying to end a pregnancy through other means or self-infliction?

For example, if a pregnant woman gets into a vehicle, goes on a wild ride way over the speed limit without wearing a seatbelt and crashes and the fetus is killed, is she a reckless driver? Or is she a reckless mother-to-be who criminally ignored the safety of her fetus?

Under the bill, a woman guilty of criminal homicide of her fetus could be punished by up to life in prison.

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