Abortion itself is not reproductive freedom, abortion is one of many technologies that can help make reproductive freedom a reality. Some other technologies are other types of contraception and methods that increase fertility. If we mistake abortions themselves for "freedom" we could incorrectly conclude that black women, who have more abortions per capita than white women, must be more "free" when it comes to control of our wombs.The reality is, in fact, the reverse of this.
This diary is, in part a response to this
attempted exoneration of planned parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, from accusations of racism and supporting eugenics. (I think there is strong evidence that she did support some kinds of eugenics. Moreover, white people who were not racist in that time period were very rare. I do
think, nonetheless, that she cared about black people and wanted to "help." But, she can do both of those things and still be racist. And her being racist dosen't mean planned parenthood is a bad organization.) And, we could spill a lot more ink arguing about if she was racist or not, if she supported eugenics or not, but really this would miss the point.Because even if she is not connected to the eugenics movement other people were, it was a real thing it was related to abortion access for poor and minority women, and it isn't totally dead.
So, what we really need to talk about are the reasons why so many black people have deeply ambivalent feelings about the "success" (as it is sometimes called) of falling birth rates among black women in the US. This very sudden and drastic decline in black babies being born has happened mostly through increased rates of abortion among black women to the point that black women make of 30% of all women who get abortions every year despite being 12% of the overall population. True success would look more like falling birth rates and falling abortion rates. Abortion is an important tool, but it is not without costs.
Part of this is because many pro-life groups have ignored black women in their quest to "save" the unborn from abortion. I remember a few years back there were some ads on the train from a pro-life group (one of the more sinister ones that pose as family planning clinics that try to convert women who know they want an abortion in to their way of seeing things) these adds advertised "free help for pregnant women" and pictures of sullen-looking white teen girls. Often, it'd say something like "I just didn't know what to do but ____ clinic helped!" A quick phone call on my part confirmed that they did not do abortions, rather they would do an ultra-sound then show the young mother her "baby" -- show manipulative films and generally make women feel like abortion was very wrong and very bad. They didn't provide any real pre-natal care either not so much as a packet of folic acid tablets. (what a scam)
The thing is these ads that only showed white women were in a city where only 35% of the population is white, and moreover, the young people in the worst economic circumstances are almost universally black and Latino. (the ones who'd nee "help") So, most organizations from churches to free clinics feature very diverse advertisements in this city.
But, no, not these pro-life people.
Now, I don't think that they were sitting there rubbing their hands in a dark room saying "muahahaha we'll only save the white babies!" In fact, I know of a few black women who were bamboozled by them. So, they take all comers. But, I do think that the images that they choose say something about their world view.
And it's a reflection of broader social values not just those of pro-lifers. Like the way that missing white children get so much more attention in media than missing black and Latino kids. It is part of the cultural mirror that shows us our values. (and the flaws in those values)
What the cultural mirror shows is this endless destructive drumbeat of a simple message "you are not valuable or important. you are not worth saving.
" And it's not universally coming from "the right" either.
For example, health care providers can be insensitive about the way that they present options to black women. It can be quiet hard to get help if you are having fertility issues as a black women. I have experienced this indifference myself. Many doctors think the only fertility problem black woman have is having too many kids.
I first found out about this issue reading Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts. It's a really great book that brings out statistics and ethnographic studies to add missing dimensions to this issue.
The fundamental thing however is that black lives (black children) have not been valued in the same way as white children. So some of us wince when the high number of black women having abortions comes up. Too often, black children are seen as a problem. A black woman who is pregnant faces a lot of pressure to have
an abortion (along with messages that she is a bad person for having and abortion it's a no win situation, very much like the slut/prude divide women of all colors face.) --This pressure comes from poverty, it comes from media, it comes from health care providers. And a single
black mother will encounter outright disdain. What images has media linked to the phrase "single black mother" in your mind? Are any of them positive or beautiful? Most likely not. How dare she have a child! --I have had to work hard to rebuild those image in my own mind. Now I think of all of the wonderful "single black mothers" that I know and their amazing cute kids.
There is a long ugly history:
The U.S began to heavily support population control policies abroad, arguing that population control was vital in the fight against communism. Domestically, the success of the Civil Rights movement in challenging segregation caused many politicians to become increasingly fearful of African American political power. Instead of offering a political argument, they coded their concerns by claiming that Black ghettos would continue to grow, and that a growing welfare class predominately concentrated in inner cities would cause crime rates to skyrocket.
As a result, conservative support for federally-supported family planning grew. Former president Richard Nixon said in 1970, “It is my view that no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.” He established the Office of Economic Opportunity to fund family planning programs, particularly in Latino and African American communities, arguing that such programs would reduce health and welfare costs.
The establishment of family planning programs in mainly Black and Latino urban areas in the South caused a division between white conservatives. On one hand, some whites wanted programs that implemented eugenical ideas about reducing the populations of people of color. On the other hand, a strong portion of the conservative white American population was threatened by the idea of all women controlling their fertility. They were especially concerned that white women would have access to family planning intended for women of color. In clinics throughout the South, white women were actively discouraged from using these services, such as in Louisiana and Arkansas. This split among conservatives over family planning was not healed until after Nixon, when Ronald Reagan helped launched the “Moral Majority” to put conservatives back in power in 1980.
(source A Short History of African American Women and Abortion, Muna Abdullahi)
At the same, time too many black women do not feel empowered enough to insist on contraception with their partners. And access to health care makes contraception such as the pill harder to get as well. This goes right back to a total failure to teach black girls that they are beautiful, special unique and valuable. That their bodies matter. It is very hard for parents to fight the tide of negative images and messages girls encounter.
So, rather than trying to cover up our countries history of eugenics and its decedent modern racism we really need to talk openly about what real reproductive freedom would be.
Real reproductive freedom means never feeling bad about asking your partner to wear a condom. It means easy and affordable acces to birth control such as the pill. It means choosing to have an abortion of you need one. It means having a child if you want to and are ready to care for that child. It means equal access to fertility treatment, and doctors not questioning your desire to have a child. It means no more women who think about what might have been
if they had the baby or if they didn't have the baby because they subverted their will to avoid being a "single black" statistic-- or to avoid being a "sinning selfish slut."