WE ALWAYS RESIST: TRUST BLACK WOMEN Black Women and Reproductive Freedom

*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 deann@prochoicenc.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:

Loretta Ross “Fighting Black Anti-Choice Campaigns: Trust Black Women”

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)

Happy World Contraception Day!

By Claire, Communications Intern

In 2007 a coalition of international scientific and medical organizations started this campaign to make every pregnancy wanted.  Sponsored by Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, these organizations are attempting to raise awareness on the international level about the necessity of family planning and the benefit it brings to women and their families all over the world.  This coalition includes:

  • Asian Pacific Council on Contraception (APCOC)
  • Centro Latinamericano Salud y Mujer (CELSAM)
  • European Society of Contraception and Reproductive Health (ESC)
  • German Foundation for World Population (DSW)
  • International Federation of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology (FIGIJ)
  • International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)
  • Marie Stopes International (MSI)
  • The Population Council
  • The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Women Deliver

Unfortunately we live in a world where there are still significant barriers for anyone who is seeking to control the size of their family and to delay pregnancy.  America is facing an unprecedented attack on women’s reproductive rights with a direct emphasis on restricting access to birth control options from many of the women and families in this country.  In regions of the world already in dire need of general health services, the barriers for women are even higher and the need to space pregnancy even greater.  We still have a long way to go before every pregnancy is a wanted pregnancy.

World Contraception Day this year focuses “on the need to encourage young people to exercise their right to search for accurate, unbiased information about contraception to prevent an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection (STI).”   It is especially important that young people, as the future generation, be as educated as possible about their reproductive health.  They have a power for immense change throughout the world; a change to respect and support contraceptive use is what we need right now.  Young people can put us in the right direction.  Comprehensive, medically-accurate information about birth control options can be found here and here.

Texas Cuts 2/3 of Family Planning Services

This year Texas cut 2/3 of its family planning services by defunding Planned Parenthood and drastically reducing the budgets of other family planning services in the state.  While many politicians claim it was to reduce government spending and save the state money, others are quite fine expressing this was an ideological attack, including Rep. Wayne Christian, a Republican from Nacogdoches who says they specifically targeted family planning because of the abortion debate.

Fifty-one percent of Texans are uninsured, including many who work full-time but cannot pay the ever-increasing cost of private insurance.   Health insurance premiums have soared 105 % in the last decade, forcing employers to raise deductibles or stop offering insurance altogether. These 6.5 million uninsured residents of Texas use hospitals and women’s health clinics to meet their medical needs.

There are 71 family planning and women’s health clinics in Texas.  This loss of funding will make it significant harder to provide those services to the low income population they treat.   These clinics will  be forced to close, cut staff, cut hours, cut services provided, and/or raise prices on services.  With this lack of access, many people will be forced to turn to the already overburden hospital system and county health departments.  Or they will eschew care all together with potentially devastating consequences.

At the end of the day, this will not even save the state money.  Birth Control is preventative care.  Without access to it, it is predicted that there will be 20,000 extra unintended pregnancies as a result.   Texas also spends $1.3 billion on teen pregnancy every year, the most of any state.  That does not even begin to cover what other negative consequences lack of health services will cause.  The state will also have to shoulder the costs of other health concerns that could have been treated early or prevented entirely if access to care was possible.

“Choose Life” License Plate Update

Remember a couple months back when North Carolina passed a number of new vanity license plate options which specifically included a “Choose Life” plate and specifically did not include a “Respect Choice” or “Trust Women” alternative?

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) hasn’t forgotten.  They have filed a lawsuit against the state for its “discriminatory license plate scheme.”  They are arguing that not including a pro-choice alternative to the vanity plate selection is a violation of the First Amendment rights of North Carolinians.  Amendments to add a pro-choice alternative failed six times total in both the House and Senate, despite some of the anti-choice politicians justifying their position in favor of “Choose Life” with their own First Amendment rights.  This is the heart of the case.  According to the ACLU, the state is practicing unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by purposefully allowing an anti-choice vanity plate and prohibiting a pro-choice alternative.  They are also demanded as part of their lawsuit that the state stop developing the “Choose Life” plates.

If you’ll remember, proceeds from the “Choose Life” plates will go to the  Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, an umbrella organization of 60 crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) here in North Carolina. CPCs often use deceptive or coercive tactics to pursuade women facing unintended pregnancies to carry these pregnancies to term  The proposed pro-choice plate would have sent proceeds to Planned Parenthood.

More Good News for Planned Parenthood

By Claire, Communications Intern

As the start of 2011 brought an onslaught of anti-choice politics to America, it seems that the latter months of 2011 is bringing injunctions against those politics.  Federal judges throughout the country are finding that many of the anti-choice laws quickly passed by anti-choice states across the country violate not only the first amendment but other constitutional rights as well.

Yesterday, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction blocking the new sonogram law because it violated the first amendment rights of patients seeking abortion and the doctors who are not required to the sonogram.  The law would force patients seeking abortion to undergo a medically unnecessary sonogram, including an invasive transvaginal sonogram if need be.  Doctors would be required to describe the sonogram to the patient, even if she declined to view the image, and force the patient to hear the fetal heartbeat (if there is one).  I applaud the decision of Judge Sam Sparks for recognizing what can only be described as a gross violation of executive and legislative power and an affront to Texas residents seeking a legal, safe medical procedure.

Meanwhile in Kansas, another federal judge has ordered the state to immediately reinstate funding for Planned Parenthood.  U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten ordered this after deciding the state’s request to pay Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri monthly and only for services provided would undermine the clinics “ability to maintain its current level of services.”  So another round of applause for Judge Marten as well!