For decades, a great debate has raged in this country between those who believe in the human right to a safe and legal abortion and those who call themselves “pro-life” and consider abortion to be morally wrong.
The anti-choice community has always used shaming tactics. Whether touting faulty and confusing statistics or showing, to women entering reproductive health clinics around the country, gruesome Photoshopped images of what they say are aborted fetuses, anti-choice activists have relied on strategies designed to inspire fear and shame in the women they target—essentially, anyone considering getting an abortion.
In recent years, the anti-choice movement has begun to turn its attention to communities of color, more specifically targeting black women, and even going as far as to compare abortion to slavery. Talking about abortion at a 2013 Texas rally, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who now is considering a presidential run, asked if society could reject slavery and "come to the conclusion that one person can take the life of another person."
Though not a new strategy for anti-choice activists, racialized anti-choice messages spiked dramatically in 2010. That year, billboards erected in Atlanta read: “The most dangerous place for an African American child is in the womb.” The billboard campaign spread across the country, eventually targeting Latinas as well.
Black women organized a national response through the Trust Black Women Partnership, led by SisterSong, and successfully had these racist billboards removed from communities across the country. Despite that victory, and given the powerful rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, anti-choice activists are back to targeting black women, disingenuously claiming that they care about communities of color.
In fact, there is a simple test to determine the sincerity of their claims: Where do they stand on the range of issues that impact black lives on a daily basis?
Do they join the Black Lives Matter protests around the country calling for an end to police brutality? Do we see them in the streets with us? At the rallies, marches, and die-ins? Or do they simply ignore that police brutality is a problem?
Since they call for an end to abortion access, where do they stand on the safety-net programs that low-income parents—disproportionately young women of color—may need?
Do they advocate for programs that ensure that poor children have access to the same rights as wealthy ones? Do they fight for access to healthy food in public schools, rural communities, and inner cities? What about the right to an education that will prepare them to thrive instead of being forced into the school-to-prison pipeline?
Do these activists, who proudly proclaim themselves to be “pro-life,” fight to ensure that that health care is an accessible human right for everyone despite economic status, immigration status, geographic location, or prior medical history?
Given their stated concern for black women, are they working to ensure that black women are paid equal wages? Are they working to ensure that violence against women is addressed? Or that women are not punished for defending themselves and their children against an abuser?
Where do they stand?
As we have seen in story after story, the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Mike Brown, and countless other young black people show us that the dangerous place for an African American child might actually be on the streets of his or her own neighborhood. Where are those self-proclaimed “protectors of black lives” when our communities call for justice?
Instead of standing alongside us as we call for policies that actually protect the lives and well-being of the black community, they have stolen the language of a movement created to unify our communities with a call for action and have used it to try to shame black women for making their own reproductive decisions.
The power of the reproductive justice movement is that it is based on an intersectional framework rooted in human rights. We believe that no one lives a single-issue life. Life in America requires navigating many “isms.” For black people this is acutely true, and respect for black lives requires having respect for black women who decide to have an abortion.
If those who oppose abortion truly believed that black lives matter, they would be standing beside reproductive justice activists, and join our unequivocal assertion that the right to choose an abortion is just as important as the right to have children and parent them in healthy, thriving communities. Equality and justice can never be rooted in stigma, shaming, or violence, and it’s time the anti-choice movement recognized that.