Abortion Rights are Civil Rights

By Margaret Kimberley

With Black women undergoing abortions at about four times the rate of white women, it’s time that African Americans made reproductive rights a “Black” issue. Escalating attacks on Roe v. Wade threaten Black and poor women most of all, yet Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both use “weasel words” when defending abortion rights. Meanwhile, “anti-abortion racketeers” employ African Americans like Alveda King, niece of the late civil rights leader, to give the impression that Blacks are anti-choice. Black leadership is challenged to “speak up,” especially “when bad preachers and right wing cash comes calling.”

Alveda King, who makes a living billing herself as ‘Dr. King’s niece,’ has become a vocal opponent of abortion with a lucrative living to go along with it.

In 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled that abortion rights were constitutionally protected. The Roe v. Wade decision was one of the most significant in the court’s history and one of the most important for black people. Roe v. Wade is a perfect solution to the abortion controversy. It allows every woman to follow her own conscience, a principle that most Americans claim to support whole-heartedly.

After 30 years of legal abortion, that right is now under assault across the nation. Religious conservatives have long planned to over turn Roe. They have been at work in state legislatures throughout the country, establishing “trigger” mechanism legislation that would immediately outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned by the Supreme Court. Numerous states require waiting periods and specious warnings about mental and physical risks before abortions can be performed.

The South Carolina legislature is on the verge of passing a bill requiring women to see an ultrasound image of the fetus before undergoing an abortion. They would then be forced to sign an affidavit swearing that they had seen the ultrasound. An African American legislator, Gilda Cobb-Hunter, summed up just one problem created by this needlessly meddlesome legislation. “You love them in the womb but once they get here, it’s a different story.”

The corporate media’s acquiescence to the political power of religious conservatives has grown.

The political power of religious conservatives is the biggest reason for this assault on the rights of American women. As their power has grown, so has the corporate media’s acquiescence to their agenda. In 2004, a crowd estimated at more than 1 million gathered in Washington to support abortion rights. You wouldn’t know it from news reports from the corporate media, who either gave little attention to the march, dismissed its importance altogether or paid greater attention to the celebrities in attendance.

If Black people are to stem the tide of this assault on women that gets little attention from the press and back-handed support even from Democrats, we must begin to speak up in favor of abortion rights, and be willing to make the issue a “Black” one. This is a tall order for people whose public pronouncements about sex and its consequences are often disconnected from their private activity.

Myths about sexual promiscuity, like all racist stereotypes, have done terrible psychological damage. The reaction to that stereotype has created a squeamishness about all things sexual. In order to deny that those awful images have any validity, too many Black people will avoid discussion of sex altogether.

In addition, the influence of religious belief creates even greater shame and an unwillingness to acknowledge that sexual activity itself ought to be defended or even just acknowledged. Religiosity runs rampant and the fundamentalism that has increased its influence among every Christian denomination, is a growing factor in Black churches as well.

If more states succeed in placing barriers to abortion, poor black women will suffer most.”

As Black preachers have been bought off in every other realm, the anti-abortion racketeers have purchased some colored face time too. Alveda King, who makes a living billing herself as “Dr. King’s niece,” has become a vocal opponent of abortion with a lucrative living to go along with it. Anyone in the pay of right wing think tanks who writes opinion pieces for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times is not to be trusted, even if they are King’s kin.

Alveda King is also prominent in the ever-increasing phenomenon of women who regret their abortions and become poster children for the pro-lifers. It is disgraceful that their expressions of regret, whether sincere or not, have been permitted to deny a right that others still choose to exercise.

It is a commonly held belief that most Black Americans are opposed to abortion. This opinion holds sway despite the fact that Black American women have abortions at four times the rate of white women. It is a strange statistic for a people who are alleged to be opposed to the procedure. It is also true that women living below the poverty line have abortions at higher rates than women above it.

In other words, if Roe is overturned and if more states succeed in placing barriers to abortion, poor Black women will suffer most. No one in a position of power ever wants to claim concern for them. Poor Black women get the worst medical care of any group in the country, and when they do have children the right wing have little use for them, unless they are using them to build the prison industrial complex.

Defending abortion rights requires more and more courage in the face of a growing political onslaught. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both use weasel words in calling themselves pro choice. Hillary calls abortion “sad” and Obama says that we should congratulate pro-lifers who don’t blow up clinics. Neither of the front runners will stick their necks out to defend women and a fundamental democratic right.

Hopefully Black leadership will show some intestinal fortitude when it is needed most. If they are not willing to speak up when bad preachers and right wing cash comes calling, we will have lost an important right that Black people exercise. A return to illegal abortion without pointed opposition from black people would be shameful indeed.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley@BlackAgandaReport.Com. Ms. Kimberley’ maintains a blog at More of her work is also available at her archive page onBlack Agenda Report .


—Black Agenda Report, March 28, 2007