Abortion, Race, and Cluelessness

2014-10-10 Abortion and Race

In September, The Atlantic ran a post called Abortion’s Racial Gap that was breathtaking in its cluelessness.

The rate of abortion among American women is currently at its lowest point since Roe v. Wade, according to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute. About 1.1 million abortions were performed in 2011, at a rate of 16.9 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, down from a peak of 29.3 per 1,000 in 1981. Since the report’s release in February, the reason why has been the subject of much debate. Its authors and abortion-rights supporters point to the increase in contraceptive use and sexual education, while anti-abortion activists counter that the decrease is a result of abstinence-only teachings and state restrictions.

Largely missing from the debate, though, is discussion of abortion’s racial disparity: Although rates among Hispanic and African-American women have decreased along with the rest of the country, they remain significantly higher than the national average.

To the extent that abortion’s racial disparity is “largely missing from the debate,” it is absolutely not because pro-lifers are either ignorant of it or silent on the topic. The problem, by contrast, is that the overwhelmingly pro-choice media squelches any discussion of, for example, the insidious beliefs that prompted pro-choice hero Margaret Sanger to advocate for legalized abortion. I’ll go ahead and give away the secret: she was an ardent eugenecist who hoped that abortion and birth control could be used to exterminated blacks from the country. Ask any pro-lifer about this, and they’ll happily tell you about it and find one of her more infamous quotes and point out that, tragically, her legacy seems to be alive and well. Meanwhile Planned Parenthood, the organization she founded, still gives an annual award in her name. Oh there’s a racial disparity alright, but it’s only on one side of this issue.

To their credit, I think that pro-choicers (who are usually liberal) aren’t intentionally trying to conceal the concern that pro-lifer’s have on this issue. I think they just genuinely can’t imagine that conservatives (who are supposed to be racist) might actually sincerely care about the racial impact of abortion policy in the United States.

By chance, I happened upon another article that demonstrates exactly how this plays out in real time. Over at Townhall, Ryan Bomberger described the reaction to some comments from Jessa Duggar after visiting the Holocaust Museum. She wrote:

I walked through the Holocaust Museum again today… very sobering. Millions of innocents denied the most basic and fundamental of all rights–their right to life. One human destroying the life of another deemed “less than human.” Racism, stemming from the evolutionary idea that man came from something less than human; that some people groups are “more evolved” and others “less evolved.” A denying that our Creator–GOD–made us human from the beginning, all of ONE BLOOD and ONE RACE, descendants of Adam. The belief that some human beings are “not fit to live.” So they’re murdered. Slaughtered. Kids with Down syndrome or other disabilities. The sickly. The elderly. The sanctity of human life varies not in sickness or health, poverty or wealth, elderly or pre-born, little or lots of melanin [making you darker or lighter skinned], or any other factor… May we never sit idly by and allow such an atrocity to happen again. Not this generation. We must be a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves. Because EVERY LIFE IS PRECIOUS. #ProLife

No matter what you think about this message, one thing is clears: she understands the connection between discrimination and being ProLife. The backlash was as vicious as it was predictable:

Cosmo went into full anti-woman mode. Filipovic attacked Jessa Duggar for daring to put history into perspective: “Jessa had just walked out of the Holocaust museum, and instead of absorbing the scale of that atrocity, decided to make a point about abortion rights. That’s not just tone-deaf; it’s deranged.”

So, just to be clear, pro-lifers are acutely aware of the connection between race and abortion. Folks–especially those in the media–just tend to have an allergic reaction every time we bring it up. Then, when they discover the connection themselves, they act as though it’s the most starting, unexpected thing in the world.

Maybe they should have been listening.

4 thoughts on “Abortion, Race, and Cluelessness”

  1. Abortion is a complicated issue. Unfortunately, complicated issues do not get discussed in the media, they get reduced to sound bites. So, yes, on that ground, you’re absolutely right to defy the criticisms of Filipovic. However, to minimize the Atlantic’s discussion of race, and replace it with your own is just as bad.

    Jessa Duggar’s comments on the subject are an excellent contribution to the discussion surrounding abortion and human rights. I could go in to where I think they are lacking, but I think that’s beside the point.

    Your comments on Margaret Sanger are extremely biased. Yes, she was a racist eugenicist. However, most people of her generation in the country were racist. This was decades before the civil rights movement. Just because she had some evil beliefs does not mean she did not have stronger good beliefs. She was primarily driven by the desire to provide safe options for women, that they might be empowered with more control in their lives.

    Finally, I don’t think you made the case for the conservative understanding of abortion related to race. Duggar’s comment only tenuously connected the two, in that they are both about people. Are you trying to imply that supporting abortion is racist? If so, you definitely didn’t make that case.

    Sorry for being so harsh here. I generally enjoy your perspective on things. This post just does not seem up to snuff. To be fair, I’ll take your comments on my article on why I’m pro-choice. ;-) http://thelogicalmormon.com/2012/08/20/yes-pro-choice-can-be-consistent-with-mormon/

  2. Tyler-

    This post doesn’t in any way replace the Atlantic’s article on race and abortion. I’m glad that they’ve discovered the connection and happy that they are drawing attention to it. Pro-lifers have been doing that for years. I just think it’s worth adding to their take the simple fact that–as I said–pro-lifers have been drawing that connection for quite some time.

    As for Margaret Sanger: you are totally right that historical figures should be evaluated in their historical context. The problem with Sanger is that her racist, eugenic beliefs and her pro-abortion stance were not merely side-by-side, but inextricably connected. She believed in using abortion as a methods of eugenics, and invested quite a lot of time and effort into using abortion as a method of cleansing America of blacks. In addition, the present-day Planned Parenthood is the inheritor of that legacy. So it’s much trickier to just say, “Well, lots of people were racist then.” Sure, but lots of people didn’t use that racism to fight for abortion, found an organization that continues to be the largest provider of abortions (including to blacks) in the country, and don’t have awards named after them for something they did out of racist intent.

    Finally, I don’t think you made the case for the conservative understanding of abortion related to race. Duggar’s comment only tenuously connected the two, in that they are both about people. Are you trying to imply that supporting abortion is racist?

    I didn’t pick the Duggar quote because it was a perfect fit logically, but because it came out at the same time as the story in the Atlantic. The timing is what made the connection worth noting in my mind, and also the vehemence of the pro-choice reaction.

    And no, I am not saying that anyone who supports abortion does so because they are racist. It just so happens that Margaret Sanger did, so maybe the organization that continues her eugenic work should stop giving awards in her honor.

    To be fair, I’ll take your comments on my article on why I’m pro-choice. ;-)

    I will be writing some more comprehensive posts on abortion soon that will address the issue in general. I will note, however, that I think the agency argument is particularly irrational. The argument that says “X ought to be legal so we can exercise agency” can be applied to literally every possible law in existence. So it’s really a way of latching on to a Mormon principle, but doing so in a way that actually completely ignores the real debate.

    If the unborn human being deserves human rights, then agency doesn’t validate abortion any more than agency would validate infanticide or, for that matter, murder. If the unborn human being doesn’t deserve human rights, then agency is superfluous.

    The real questions about which abortion hinges–on an ethical level–are (1) does the unborn human being deserve consideration as a person (and if so: when and to what extent) and (2) if the unborn human being deserves consideration as a person, can a woman’s right (to, say, bodily integrity) override the unborn person’s right to life?

    And yes: the practical side of this issue is very complex. I will absolutely grant you that this is not a simple issue. But even when it gets complex we’re talking about competing human rights. Agency really doesn’t enter into it at all.

  3. In my experience, pro-lifers are often prepared to discuss Margaret Sanger’s eugenicist history but they are much less prepared to discuss why black and Latino people are less involved in the mainstream pro-life movement, why both groups tend to have higher unplanned pregnancy and abortion rates, or (IMO most importantly) how we can play a part in helping increase minority participation and decrease unplanned pregnancy and abortion rates for those groups particularly.

    It’s true that abortion clinics are located disproportionately in minority communities, and I’ve no doubt that when a woman with an unplanned pregnancy is trying to make a decision, the ready availability of abortion compared to other resources influences her choice. But I think there’s a lot more to the racial disparity in abortion rates than PP locations or Margaret Sanger. The Atlantic article touches on some of it, with (if I remember right) a black teenage girl talking about the pressures not to fulfill stereotypes about her race and etc. I’d like it if more pro-lifers – specifically white pro-lifers – took an interest in trying to understand the factors *beyond* “PP is racist” that play a part in the disparity.

    This year I started working with a group called ABBA – Alliance for Black and Brown Advocacy – because of the issue. They work on two main fronts: (1) outreach in black and Latino communities to try to engage people on the abortion issue (from a pro-life perspective) and (2) trainings in white pro-life communities to try to help white pro-lifers communicate effectively with minority groups. I’ve only helped with one training so far (and I’m sad to say I *still* haven’t written a blog post about it) but it was very interesting to see the many places for miscommunication and defensiveness. I think there’s plenty of room for improvement on the pro-life end (I include myself here).

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