It’s never been a more dangerous time to be a black baby. While overall rates of abortion have declined to the lowest level since 1974, the Guttmacher Institute recently reported alarming increases in racial disparities between the rates of abortion for black and white women. Analyzing more than 30 years of data collected directly from abortion providers, Guttmacher found that black women’s abortion rates are now five times greater than those of white women.
Currently, white women’s rates of abortion have declined to 10.5 abortions per 1,000 women while black women’s rates are an alarming 50 abortions per 1,000 black women. Put in terms of actual pregnancies, the figures are shocking: Nearly half of all African American pregnancies end in abortion. Since 1973, the number of abortions by African American women has totaled more than twelve million.
In some localities, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Maryland, and Georgia, more than half of all abortions are performed on black women. Similar rates are found for black women in New York City. And while the typical response from those supporting abortion rights is to dismiss the racial disparities by blaming income inequality for the growing minority face of abortion, the reality is that this phenomenon more likely reflects the emergence of a culture of abortion in the black community–where today, abortion facilities are as much a part of the urban landscape as dollar stores.
Indeed, the real cause for the disparities between black women and white women is far more complex than social inequality. The Reverend Clenard Childress, president of the largest African American evangelical pro-life group in the country identifies abortion providers like Planned Parenthood as marketing abortion services directly to black women. On his website, blackgenocide.org, Childress maintains that 90% of Planned Parenthood’s abortion centers are in or near minority communities. He knows that their presence in the black neighborhoods decrease the stigma of such services by signaling social approval for the abortion decision–what economists call ”reducing the psychic costs” of terminating an unwanted pregnancy.
The sad reality is that when an abortion clinic is located in the neighborhood, residents are more likely to see it as just another neighborhood service–like coffee shops and nail salons. Children grow up in urban neighborhoods seeing abortion clinics on their street corners. As they walk to school each day, children pass the very people on their sidewalks that provide abortion ”services” to their own sisters–or their mothers.
Day Gardner, founder and president of the National Black Pro-Life Union in Washington told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times that the high abortion rates for black women ” . . . doesn’t have as much to do with poverty as the fact that the abortion facilities are there–ingrained in the neighborhoods . . . This is a silent killer among us.”
Once the culture of abortion is established, the resistance of those who live there begins to break down. For Childress, ”the early seduction of black Americans by the Birth Control League and Margaret Sanger’s eugenics programs set into motion today’s dilemma.” From the beginning, the birth control movement’s ”Negro Project” was especially appealing to eugenicists determined to check the climbing birthrates of those they defined as the ”unfit.” This Planned Parenthood commitment to population control for blacks continues today. Last February, students from The Advocate, a student magazine at UCLA, released phone recordings of Planned Parenthood fundraising staffers approving of a donor who claimed he wanted his money to help ”lower the number of black people.” In an undercover investigation, the students discovered that Planned Parenthood staffers were more than happy to accept contributions from a caller posing as a donor stating ”the less black kids out there the better.”
The belief that encouraging abortion for blacks will benefit society continues today–even within academia. Professors John Donohue and Steven Levitt of the University of California at Berkeley provided a powerful economic argument in favor of abortion that relied on the same stereotypes first promoted by the eugenicists of the Sanger era. In a paper published in the U. C. Berkeley Law and Economics Working Paper Series, No. 2000-18, entitled ‘‘The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime,” Donohue and Levitt use elaborate mathematical models to marshal evidence that legalized abortion has contributed significantly to crime reductions. Directly addressing the effects of race and abortion on crime rates, Donohue and Levitt conclude that more abortions by African American women will result in fewer homicides for society. They write: ”Given that homicide rates of black youth are roughly nine times higher than those of white youths, racial differences in the fertility effects of abortion are likely to translate into greater homicide reductions.”
For the pro-life community–and beyond–such assertions suggest racism. For the Reverend Johnny Hunter, leader of the organization Blacks for Life, ”abortion is racism in its ugliest form.” At one time, other black leaders agreed. Take just one example. Back before all Democrats running for national office were required to hold a pro-choice position, Jesse Jackson argued that the privacy argument used to justify the Roe decision was–as he put it–”the premise of slavery.” Relating the right to abortion to the right to keep slaves, Jackson noted that ”one could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside of your right to be concerned.” But Jackson abandoned that position long ago–when he realized that a pro-life position was a liability in the Democratic Party.
Beginning this month, New York City’s subways will display more than 1,000 pro-life ads–they are ads aimed at the very same urban women that abortion providers have been targeting for decades. In a campaign that echoes the ”change” theme of the current presidential campaign, the ”Abortion Changes You” subway message will be hard to ignore. The 22-inch eye-catching subway placards feature the voices behind real, personal abortion experiences–especially the plaintive voices of young black women who have been changed by their abortion and regret their decision to abort their babies. The black community has already been changed by abortion. At a time when 50 percent of their unborn children are aborted, many within the black community are beginning to recognize that their community has been devastated by abortion. Someday it is possible that their pro-choice political representatives will recognize this too.
Anne Hendershott is Professor of Urban Studies at the King’s College in New York City. She is the author of The Politics of Abortion (Encounter Books, 2006). She is a contributor to Public Discourse.