North Carolina’s Eugenic Past

By Claire, Communications Intern

Way back when we started this blog we had a post about the now defunct sterilization program in North Carolina.  A formal apology was issued in 2002, but until now talk of compensation for the victims of the program had been stalled.  Governor Perdue has stated she is determined to fix that problem while she is in office.  She set up the NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation under the Department of Administration in order to “provide information and assistance to affected individuals.”  Currently the Governor’s Task Force is assessing the best method for compensation.

North Carolina operated its eugenics board and sterilization program from 1929 to 1974.  Thirty-one other states had eugenics programs during this time as well.  The goal of eugenics committees was to identify “degenerate elements” in American society and prevent them from reproducing and passing their “degenerate genetics” onto the next generation.  They were concerned with actual inheritable traits like epilepsy, and traits they assumed to be inheritable like alcoholism, promiscuity and “feeble-mindedness.”  In North Carolina the population viewed by the board to be degenerate was overwhelmingly female and disproportionately people of color.  One third of the sterilizations were performed on people under the age of 18.  At least 7, 600 people were sterilized in North Carolina; only around 2,000 are still alive.

Eliane Riddick, who we covered in our first eugenics post, is a perfect example of how terrible and misguided the eugenics movement was.  Riddick was raped by a neighbor when she was 13.  She became pregnant and the eugenics committee saw her as a prime candidate for sterilization.  Underage, black, poor, unwed and pregnant; she was everything they thought needed fixing in North Carolina.   Instead of helping Riddick through her traumatic ordeal, they labeled her “promiscuous” and “feeble-minded.”  She was sterilized without her consent or knowledge right after her son was born.  Her rapist was never brought to justice.  Her story is not uncommon for the tens of thousands of people sterilized in the name of public health over the decades.  More information about her and about North Carolina’s shameful history can be found here.

We have to remember that choice is more than about the right to pregnancy prevention and abortion.  For so many people it is just the opposite.  Everyone deserves to make the best decisions for themselves with all the facts given to them in a medically accurate, unbiased way.   Forcing someone to be sterilized is just as bad as forcing them to be pregnant.

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)

1 in 3

One in three American women will have an abortion in their lifetime.  That is a significant part of the population.   A significant number of women who feel like they can’t talk about their decisions and that their decisions won’t be accepted. 

Some women, though, aren’t afraid to speak out about their experiences and won’t be silenced.  And they want other women to hear their stories and tell their own.  They want to end the stigma created by the anti-choice movement that demonize and insults them.  This is the 1 in 3 Campaign and this is their mission:

The 1 in 3 campaign is a grassroots movement to start a new conversation about abortion — telling our stories, on our own terms. Together, we can end the stigma women face each and every day and assure access to basic health care. As we tell our stories and support our family and friends as they come forward with theirs, we begin build a culture of compassion, empathy, and support. No one should be made to feel ashamed or alone. It’s time for us to come out in support of each other and in support of access to legal and safe abortion care in our communities.

Pretty awesome.  If you have your own story to tell, they have a form here for either video or text.  Also, if you’re interested in potentially sharing your story here in North Carolina, shoot our programs manager, Hillary Bruce (hillary@prochoicenc.org), an email for more information.

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.

Worldwide Maternal Mortality Infograph

From the Maternal Health Task Force.  A sobering reminder that maternal mortality still kills many pregnant people worldwide and especially in developing countries.  342,917 in 2008 alone with 63% happening in just 11 countries including India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, United Republic of Tanzania, China and 172 other countries.

This is a reminder to the pro-choice and pro-woman movement that the right to have a child is also the right to have a child without fear of death and debilitating complications.  If ever there was justification for making access to all reproductive options in a safe, sterile and medically-educated environment, it is the staggering and unacceptable number of deaths attributed to childbirth.   An end to maternal mortality is access to preventative medicine like birth control, access to safe, legal abortion, and access to sterile hospitals with knowledgeable and trained staff (be they doctors or midwives) with the resources to prevent whatever complications arise. It is important to note that the US has the highest maternal mortality rate of the industrialized world.