House GOP Memo: ‘Abortion Is Leading Cause of Death’ for Blacks

A new bill in the House, pushed by the GOP, would separately classify 'black abortions' from abortions in general.

By Jorge Rivas Feb 07, 2012

A House GOP memo obtained by Mother Jones argues for a "prenatal discrimination bill" by referring to "black abortions" as distinct from abortions in general and claiming that "abortion is the leading cause of death in the black community." Republicans on the House judiciary committee will meet Tuesday to mark up H.R. 3514, also known as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.

H.R. 3514 was introduced by Congressman Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican. Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann provides more details:

Franks’ bill, which is also known as H.R. 3514, didn’t make it out of committee when it was introduced in the last Congress. But the fact that it’s now receiving a markup–a key step on the way to a floor vote–and that 78 cosponsors have signed on suggests that it could proceed to a vote of the full House before November’s elections. In addition to banning abortions based on the race or gender of the fetus, H.R. 3514 would give a woman’s family members the ability to sue abortion providers if they believed an abortion was obtained based on race or sex. Critics warn that it would be next to impossible to prove that an abortion was obtained on the basis of race or gender and fear the provision could lead to nuisance suits against abortion providers by family members who are opposed to abortion on principle.

In a story published on last year Miriam Zoila Pérez offered some historical context on states having opinions and control on women’s reproduction:

Women’s reproduction has long been at the mercy of state control, particularly for women of color. For black women, this history dates back to slavery. As Dorothy Roberts outlined in her seminal 1998 book, "Killing the Black Body," women held in bondage had no control over their fertility whatsoever, and they were relied upon and manipulated in order to produce the next generation of labor. Even after emancipation, eugenics and paternalistic ideas about who was fit to reproduce influenced government policy in the U.S. These policies overwhelmingly impacted the lives and health of women of color, as well as low-income women, women with disabilities and others deemed "unfit." There is a deep history of forced sterilization across communities of color–some of which actually did result in the near elimination of certain Native American tribes.

These practices are not ancient history, and many incarnations still exist today: primarily through economic and social welfare programs that limit women’s access to certain forms of contraception or place caps on how many children they can have when receiving welfare. For example, undocumented women I worked with in Pennsylvania were able to get coverage for sterilization as part of their emergency medical coverage during pregnancy, but could not receive coverage for other forms of birth control since their Medicaid ran out shortly after giving birth. Women’s reproduction–but more specifically, the reproduction of women of color and low-income women–remains a practice in which the government is invested and deeply entwined.

Pérez also points out black women do have more abortions but there’s a lot more to the story:

So why are African-American women having so many more abortions than other groups? Most reproductive rights and health advocates say it’s because of a much higher rate of unintended pregnancy among black women, a fact that is supported by data: black women have an unintended pregnancy rate three times that of white women, according to Guttmacher. This imbalance derives from larger health disparities: lack of access to health care, lower rates of contraceptive use, and higher rates of untreated STDs and of preventive disease overall.

Groups like the Radiance Foundation, in their language about abortion as "genocide" and "holocaust," imply instead a larger conspiracy, perhaps promoted by government, to threaten the black community. And like other public health conspiracy theories that have circulated in black neighborhoods over the years, the assertion is rooted in a very real and troubling history.

The House GOP memo is available on Mother Jones.