There was an article recently in the New York Times about the new scope and focus of right-to-life organizations around the country. The benefactors of these good works and services are a group both familiar and dear to me~young African-American women. Imagine this…
A local college or university campus center is screening a film about the horrors of genocide. Our host for the evening is a slender, well dressed mid-aged African-American woman. As she rises to speak and makes her way to the podium something of the familiar stirs in your consciousness: she could be a fondly recalled teacher, a neighbor from back home or perhaps even an “auntie.”
After the film there is a breakout session and she makes her way towards your table and graciously asks if an open seat is taken. She is bearing cups with tea and other refreshments from the welcome table. The two of you enter easily into conversation about classes, student life…choices ~ and then that film! Oh that film…so awful! Yes, she muses whilst plying you with tea and sympathy. Careful, dearest…beyond here there be monsters.
The lobbies of abortion opponents have a newfangled approach for outreach in the African American community. Folks who look like you and yours are newly in the employ of agencies such as Georgia Right to Life, the state’s primary anti-abortion organization, and have been dispatched to churches, community centers, and university campuses. The campaign also features a dedicated web page, and in the Atlanta area, eighty new billboards with the message that reproductive rights and pro-choice are merely code for “Black genocide.” Additionally, there is a controversial documentary being routinely screened by African Americans sympathetic to the anti-abortion cause, namely religious groups and faith-based civic organizations.
The film, “Maafa 21” systematically connects the “dots” of the post-slavery period, the eugenics movement in the U.S., the Third Reich, birth control and abortion. Many of the assertions made early on in the documentary resonate with truths long accepted in our community concerning attitudes of whites during the period immediately following emancipation. The idea that there was going be a deluge of “unskilled, illiterate, and dangerous” Black people loosed on cities throughout the nation generated panic. The real concern was the sharing of wealth, ironically created expressly through the labor of the maligned people.
It was at this juncture, the approaching belle époque of the nineteenth century and the burgeoning of the twentieth, when the sociological science of eugenics began. At the fore of this movement was a woman, Margaret Sanger, who taught health, hygiene and family planning to black and white women in the slums and ghettos of the Northeast. Ms. Sanger’s good works notwithstanding, her politics and related papers reveal her to be perhaps the most dangerous woman in America at that time.
Margaret Sanger’s alliance with eugenics and her acceptance (and financing) by the white male power structure of the time, complicate the history of the organization she founded, Planned Parenthood. There is ample evidence in the film of the organizations “black-eye” as it relates to African Americans, specifically a segment that exposes conversations between mock racist callers and Planned Parenthood staffers concerning donations that would be earmarked for abortion services to minority groups, especially Blacks. This is where the focus of the documentary actually lies, associating family planning with abortion, and that with calculated Black genocide by the white power structure. There is just enough truth present in Maafa 21 to be persuasive to susceptible viewers, its scope is both sagacious and myopic.
The inflammatory content of the documentary aside, the statistics related to women of color and abortion rates are staggering. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveals that nearly forty percent of the abortions performed in the United States are for Black women, although we comprise just thirteen percent of the entire population. The numbers speak for themselves…but what are we to say about ourselves and these numbers? Why are Black women having abortions at such disproportional rates? The answer is simple: too many unwanted pregnancies.
Many young urban, Black women succumb to the double societal ills of unwanted pregnancies and poverty not due solely to the excessively high costs of contraceptives. For most women with private or public health insurance plans, birth control pills, and other medically prescribed contraceptives are a covered item, comparable to any other medication dispensed from a physician’s written prescription.
In the current framework the health professional (typically, physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner) is the de facto gatekeeper for access to safe, affordable, effective contraceptives.The cost of a reproductive health exam ranges widely, but in certain areas of the country, including urban centers, the fees may exceed $200.00. The missing links of a successful family planning formula within our populations must include a removal of barriers to accessing care (such as the expense of the medical exam required to obtain prescription birth control) and sustained sexual education resources. Research has borne out that one-hit, one-size fits all sexual education lessons are an ineffectual way for young women, particularly teens, to understand and access the labyrinth that is the health care system.
Barriers to medically prescribed birth control methods make the go-to method of choice the male condom. Unfortunately, inconsistencies in technical use and compliance render the male condom one of the birth control options with the highest failure rate. Ultimately, the lack of access to free or low-cost medical exams for prescribed birth control methods, coupled with inadequate sexual education resources leads to an increase in unwanted pregnancies, a higher incidence of termination of pregnancy, and the probability that a child is born into poverty.
Family planning, aka safe, affordable, accessible, birth control is the key to reducing the fact that almost half of all Black pregnancies’ are ending in abortions. I am unapologetically pro-choice and I make a distinction between birth control and abortion. Choice is inclusive of planning for pregnancy via contraception. Arguably, the most outrageous inconsistency in pro-life rhetoric (they are legion) is an ideology that is both anti-contraceptive and anti-abortion. Intelligent, sexually active people of all creeds and allegiances commit to family planning practices everyday because it is understood that you cannot have it both ways in this fight.
Another disconcerting feature of the pro-life movements’ new found interest in Black America is that it is targeting our young intelligentsia with its propaganda. The Times article highlighted the singular response of a college sophomore to the film: “I was pro-choice before I saw the movie…but now…I’d keep my child no matter what, because of the conspiracy.” Pregnancy and parenthood as acts of protest; defiance to a perceived “conspiracy.” The only conspiracy clearly present is that existing between some religious leaders in the African American community and pro-life organizations; it is a marriage of guile and convenience that is predatory in its very nature.
Family planning and contraception are and have always been about a woman’s self-determination with regard to her reproductive system. The Roe vs. Wade ruling of 1973 was but a small, albeit significant triumph of this will for female autonomy. Black women must continue to think and act analytically about whom we align ourselves with on issues of reproductive rights. An old adage comes to mind when I consider the outreached hands of pro-life groups into our community: always be wary of Greeks bearing gifts.