Conservatives' concern for black babies misses mark

WASHINGTON — Perhaps members of the anti-abortion movement are growing a bit desperate. Though they've managed to crimp women's reproductive rights through decades of legislative maneuvering and extra-legal harassment, they still cannot overturn Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 Supreme Court decision. Nor have they moved public opinion much: A majority of Americans still believe that current law should stand.

Perhaps that's why some factions in the "pro-life" crusade are professing a newfound concern for the well-being of black children. Perhaps that's why "racism" has become the battle cry of anti-abortion groups whose members — overwhelmingly white, conservative and Republican — like to think that racism no longer exists.

Georgia's largest anti-abortion group, Georgia Right to Life, is presenting itself as the last line of defense against a widespread plot to wipe out black people — a pogrom of sorts. The group has mounted billboards throughout black Atlanta neighborhoods, claiming that "Black children are an endangered species" because of abortions.

While anti-abortion activists have long derided Margaret Sanger, considered the mother of modern family planning, for her endorsement of eugenics, they have more recently taken aim at such mainstream organizations as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, claiming it, too, is run by bigots. Two years ago, a faith-based group with ties to black clergy sent a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus denouncing Planned Parenthood for its "racist and eugenic goals."

Well, paranoid theories are usually impervious to facts, but let's try some facts, anyway. Despite the obstacles many black children face on the road to a successful adulthood — poverty, crime, poor schools — their numbers are not threatened. Black women have a higher birth rate than the national average.

But it is also true that black women use abortion services disproportionately. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for reproductive health, the abortion rate for black American women is almost five times that for white women. About one-third of all abortions are obtained by white women and about 37 percent by black women (who account for less than 7 percent of the population), according to Guttmacher staffer Susan Cohen.

Those numbers are certainly troubling. But are racists persuading black women to have abortions? Is there some group of grim executioners looking to carry out a shadowy genocide?

That's not only nutty, it's also insulting. It's both sexist and racist to suggest that black women don't have the intellectual and emotional firepower to make their own decisions.

(Largely owing to easier-to-use contraceptives, abortion rates have been declining for the last 25 years, with black women's rates falling along with those of other ethnic groups. However, Latinas and black women still terminate pregnancies at higher rates than white women.)

"The truth is that behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. ... Because black women as a group want the same number of children as white women, but have so many more unintended pregnancies, they are more likely than white women to terminate an unintended pregnancy by abortion to avoid an unwanted birth," Cohen wrote in a paper titled "Abortion and Women of Color: The Bigger Picture."

If conservatives are sincere about curbing abortions — among all women: white, black and brown — they should support efforts to broaden women's health care, which includes reproductive health care. Easy access to contraceptives would encourage their use, thereby reducing unintended pregnancies — and abortions.

"The health disparities for low-income women and women of color are enormous," noted Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, which provides full-service reproductive health care — including non-controversial procedures such as annual pelvic exams — to women who cannot get it elsewhere.

But social and religious conservatives have been fighting health care reform, which would broaden access to reproductive health care, with the passion they normally reserve for bashing Roe v. Wade. That's why it's hard to believe they really care about black women — or their children.

Reach Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at; follow her blog at

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