NEWS & LETTERS, Mar-Apr 10, Billboards vs. reproductive justice

NEWS & LETTERS, March-April 2010

Woman as Reason

Billboards vs. reproductive justice

by Terry Moon

The anti-abortion fanatics just keep proving that they are fanatics. Their latest outrage is billboards in Georgia with a picture of a worried looking African-American boy and the words: "Black children are an endangered species." They have taken a fact--that the rate at which Black women choose abortions is higher than for white or Hispanic women--as a way to lie about Planned Parenthood, and, while ignoring the reasons for that fact, they demonize Black women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.


There is so much wrong with this that it could fill this entire page, beginning with the fact that Black children are not a "species." The racism in the use of that word alone is mind boggling. While the vast majority of the fanatical wing of the anti-abortion movement and its leaders are white men, this campaign has made sure to bring out some Black faces for public consumption.

That has not been able to silence Black women who have been fighting for "reproductive justice"--and in fact invented that expression to more fully articulate that their struggle was not for abortion rights alone. Nor have these bullying billboards won favor with the Black women whose neighborhoods they invaded. They despise them, want them out, and resent being used and abused by the group that put them up.


That the billboards went up during Black History Month is an irony that these memory-dead fanatics cannot understand. In the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing and Black and white men and women were putting their lives on the line for freedom, a segment of the Black nationalist movement told women they should stop taking birth control pills. Birth control and abortion, these Black nationalists said, constituted a form of genocide being pushed on Black women by the white racist establishment.

Black women's response was quick, angry, and devastating. Toni Cade Bambara was one of many who castigated those who urged "the Sisters to throw away the pill and hop to the mattresses and breed revolutionaries and mess up the man's genocidal program." She wrote in 1969:

"It is a noble thing, the rearing of warriors for the revolution. I can find no fault with the idea. I do, however, find fault with the notion that dumping the pill is the way to do it. You don't prepare yourself for the raising of super-people by making yourself vulnerable… You prepare yourself by being healthy and confident, by having options that give you confidence… You prepare yourself by being in control of yourself. The pill gives the woman, as well as the man, some control. Simple as that.

"On the other hand, I would never agree that the pill really liberates women. It only helps… But the pill gives her choice, gives her control over at least some of the major events in her life. And it gives her time to fight for liberation in those other areas."*

She could be speaking today. And while this heinous billboard is supposedly only against abortion, if Black children are "an endangered species," it is clearly also an attack against Black women using birth control--any birth control.


Today, the fight against fanatical anti-abortion attacks against Black women is being carried out by those like Loretta Ross, the executive director of SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective, which also happens to be in Atlanta. She said, "The reason we have so many Planned Parenthoods in the Black community is because leaders in the Black community in the '20s and '30s went to Margaret Sanger and asked for them. Controlling our fertility was part of our uplift out of poverty strategy, and it still works."

Ross, a leader and expert on Black women's struggle for reproductive rights, wrote in 1998, "In Georgia between 1965 and 1967 the Black maternal death rate due to illegal abortion was 14 times that of white women."** It is this reality that anti-abortion fanatics try to bury as they lie about endangered Black children, demonize Black women, and try to drive them back under the back-alley abortionist's knife.

In her answer to those who would try to control women's lives by bullying them into abandoning the birth control pill, Toni Cade didn't just rage against what she opposed. She gave us a glimpse of second negation, of what she--and we--are for: "And after all, it's through the fashioning of new relationships that we will obliterate the corrosive system of dominance, manipulation, exploitation." That is the truth we've been fighting for, a truth that we can never reach until women have control over our bodies and our lives. A new society based on new human relations remains the goal.


* Toni Cade (Bambara) "The Pill:Genocide or Liberation," The Black Woman, An Anthology (A mento Book, New American Library, New York, 1970), pp.163-166

** Loretta Ross, "African-American Woman and Abortion" (Originally printed in Abortion Wars: A Half-Century of Struggle, edited by Rickie Solinger, 1998), p. grounded in concrete freedom, expressed in a total philosophy of liberation.

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