Is a Black Woman’s Womb a Dangerous Place? [Reader Forum]

The old 'abortion access as black genocide' meme is back. readers put it into context.

By Channing Kennedy Feb 28, 2011

[EDIT 2:19pm EST] Just a note that the selection of comments in this post has changed from when it originally went up. ……………………..

First, the good news: Last week, our Facebook fans passed the 10,000 mark! To commemorate this benchmark, pop culture blogger Jorge Rivas has promised us all an ice cream cake. We are holding you to that, Jorge.

All right, into the juicy stuff. Alongside the House Republicans’ vote to defund Planned Parenthood, the old abortion-access-is-black-genocide meme has remerged. Billboards have appeared in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and, we’re told by readers, elsewhere. In New York, the billboard (which has been taken down) featured a young black girl (whose mother wasn’t told the purpose of the photos) and read "The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb." Despite Rep. Gwen Moore’s defense of Planned Parenthood on behalf of black womb-havers on the House floor last week, that idea has tapped into a long and earned distrust among black Americans of the health care industry broadly. It trades on the real and troubling history of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s early 20th century involvement with eugenics.

Colorlines Publisher Rinku Sen reminds us that, in this case, the past is not present. She describes the real issues today, for women and for communities of color, in her piece "Why I Support Planned Parenthood–Margaret Sanger Notwithstanding." Longtime reader CitizenDreamer agrees, and adds more historical context:

Funny that people always bring up Sanger’s connections to eugenicists. We don’t boycott Ford because of Henry’s support of eugenics. We never mentioned that Prescott Bush’s Wall Street partner funded the Eugenics Record Office in Cold Springs Harbor. I never hear discussion of Winston Churchill’s proposal that the poor and "otherwise unfit" be sterilized.

But it is always the cudgel used against women’s access to reproductive rights.

This conflation is politico-moral entrepreneurship at its most basic:

–there is a hot topic with historical conflict;
–media magnification of the division;
–there is a kernel of truth in the allegiances that Sanger made (surely, she could not have gotten support from the Catholic Church–she went where the support was: eugenicist foundations);
–politico-moral entrepreneurs (people who make their living off of this controversy);
–professional interest groups;
–the association of birth control with some "dangerous class" of people (for at least one interest group, that "dangerous class" would include women who want to control their reproductive lives);
–scapegoating Sanger and Planned Parenthood for a variety of social problems. 

This attack on Sanger is a red herring.

In the comments on Akiba Solomon’s "Nine Reasons to Hate the Anti-Abortion Billboards that Target Black Women," reader NewYorkBitty calls out the subtext of calling a body a place:

[Commenter D-Zasta says] "I hate that African Americans are so afraid of discrimination that we blindly attack everything that mentions us." The billboard says, "The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb." This ad doesn’t just "mention" black women, it calls them murderous, incapable cowards. This is NOT a "pro-black" ad; this is as racist as it comes. It refers to the high rate of African American women with unplanned pregnancies getting abortions, but it’s also more general that…it calls black women irresponsible for getting pregnant in the first place, and it (wrongly) predicts a less productive life for the fetus because its mother is black.

[…] In typical "blame the victim" fashion, these anti-choice assholes demean black women and not only their rights, but their intelligence and their capabilities.

The debate is far from resolved. Yesterday, we ran a photo of the Los Angeles "Most Dangerous Place" billboard, snapped by reader Quizzical1; commenter Steve Grimes calls out the campaign for intentionally muddying the debate.

I don’t like these ads and the subsequent sites not because they are racist (they are nonetheless) but they do a lot to polarize the debate about reproductive rights. Instead of it being a nuanced discussion about why all women (not just black women) would seek to have an abortion it turns the discussion into moral rights and wrong and general conspiracy theories.

It’s a sensitive issue for many, so that is to be partly expected. But it would do us greatly if we stuck to the empirical evidence behind abortions for all women and the reasons why a woman would want to have one and what happens when they do not have that choice.

Check out the comments on Akiba Solomon’s "Nine Reasons to Hate the Anti-Abortion Billboards that Target Black Women," as well as those on our Facebook wall, and make your voice heard.


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