*This article is cross-posted from Country Fried Choice—the Planned Parenthood Health Services blog
In 2010 and 2011, anti-choice organizations erected billboards in major cities throughout the country. The billboards displayed the doleful faces of young black children and included the shocking statements “Black Children are an Endangered Species,” and “The Most Dangerous Place for an African American is in the Womb.” The anti-choice organizations responsible for the billboards, Radiance Foundation and Life Always, stated that they intended to raise more of the displays throughout the country to highlight what they (wrongfully) categorized as “the targeting of black communities by abortion providers.”
This radical move by anti-choice organizations showed their willingness to disparage the integrity of black women as part of a sensationalized campaign of misinformation about abortion services and women’s reproductive freedoms. The subliminal messages behind these billboards assume the worst about black women: either they are too feeble-minded to make their own choices regarding pregnancy, or they selfishly and imprudently seek abortions. It doesn’t take much to recognize the dubious nature of these emotional appeals. Rather than representing genuine concern for black communities, these billboards use race (and gender)-baiting to obscure the real issues behind abortion rates among black women—issues like unintended pregnancies, poverty, employment prospects, healthcare coverage, education and other socioeconomic factors.
The billboard as it appeared in Soho, NY, February 2011
This summer SisterSong and the newly formed Trust Black Women Partnership released the film, We Always Resist: Trust Black Women, as part of “a long-term response” to the anti-choice movement’s racist attacks upon black women, and the movement’s use of these attacks to further an anti-woman’s rights and anti-women’s health agenda. The 24-minute film provides an informative history of the struggle for reproductive choice within African American communities and argues that black women have always considered reproductive choice a fundamental part of how they defined liberation for themselves and their communities.
Reactionary elements in the U.S.—most recently led by the religious right—have a long history of maligning black womanhood not only in an effort to affect public policy, but also in an attempt to drive a wedge in black communities on social issues. Social conservatives have often sought political gain from convincing blacks to view women’s reproductive freedoms as antithetical to the overall well being of the race. In the film, Loretta Ross, National Coordinator for SisterSong, notes that anti-choice efforts to manipulate public policy often place black women in a catch-22 when it comes to reproductive choice. On one hand, black women who choose to have abortions are accused of collaborating in racial genocide; while on the other hand, black women who choose to birth and rear their children run the risk of being stereotyped as irresponsible, promiscuous “welfare queens” who place too much of a burden on the system.
The film offers unsettling statistics on the impact of illegal abortions on African American communities. Prior to Roe, black women were thirteen times more likely to die from illegal abortion procedures. In New York City, black and Latina women accounted for 80 percent of the illegal abortions performed, and therefore were the majority of the women maimed or killed by such illegal procedures. Civil rights organizations, such as the black club women’s movement and the NAACP, supported safe access to birth control and abortion because of the physical risk to black women lives and the belief that greater control of reproduction could help lift black communities out of poverty.
Loretta Ross, Founder and National Coordinator of SisterSong. SisterSong uses the framework of Human Rights to situate abortion in the health, social and economic contexts of women’s lives.
SisterSong formed the Trust Black Women (TBW) partnership—a coalition of several reproductive justice organizations—in 2010 in response to the billboard campaigns. As part of their community awareness efforts, TBW has also investigated the sources of funding and connections of the anti-choice organizations behind the billboard campaigns. The findings have been revelatory. Viewers of the film will learn about the collusion between the Georgia Republican Party and Georgia Right Life to create the black anti-choice billboard campaign. Viewers will also be introduced to Life Dynamics, the organization responsible for producing the anti-choice film Maafa 21. The film, which is shown frequently at historically black colleges and universities, suggests that abortion is part of a campaign to exterminate African Americans.
We Always Resist also includes a nice takedown of anti-choice activist Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. and permanent fixture at national anti-choice rallies. King, a woman who had two abortions, now works tirelessly to deny the right to choose to other women. Despite her efforts, Atlanta-based reproductive rights activists close to the King family assert that Alveda does not operate under the authority of the King family, nor does she carry the mantle of her celebrated uncle, who himself was a supporter of family planning services.
Ross correctly points out that the billboard campaigns and anti-abortion legislation expose the lack of perspective within the anti-choice movement about what it takes to have a child. SisterSong and TBW are committed to shifting the conversation to a comprehensive view of reproductive justice and health—a commitment that includes to access to pre-natal care, adequate nutrition, housing, healthcare, and living wages for families.
We Always Resist is necessary viewing for everyone committed to the fight for women’s reproductive rights. The film is both powerful and informative; and it is a great educational tool for anyone who wants to expand your knowledge on the ways that the reproductive rights movement affects African American women.
To request a copy of the film or to learn more about the work of SisterSong and the Trust Black Women Partnership in the Charlotte area please contact Deann Butler, Field Coordinator for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina at firstname.lastname@example.org. In July 2011, Deann attended SisterSong’s National Conference in Miami, FL. Read about her experience at the conference here.
Compiled and Written by Renee Chandler, Public Policy Intern and Co-Chair of Planned Parenthood Young Advocates of Charlotte.
Thank you to Deann Butler for assistance in preparing this piece.
For More Information:
Susan A. Cohen “Abortion and Women of Color: The Bigger Picture” Guttmacher Policy Review Summer 2008, Volume 11, Number 3
Dorothy Roberts Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty (Vintage Books, 1997)
Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel, Before Roe: Voices that Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Courts Ruling (Kaplan Publishing, 2010)