In Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, Professor Dorothy Roberts states that a “black woman’s earliest experience in America was one of brutal denial of autonomy over reproduction.” (Roberts)
These experiences continue today. The rights of women of color to govern their bodies and control their reproductive health continues to be a battle and divisive wedge not only due to governmental interference but within communities of color.
On Tuesday, March 29, 2011, in a poor and marginalized community in Chicago, Illinois (58th and State Street), the unveiling of three billboards from the anti-choice group Life Always was a prime example of this divide.
As black women gathered to protest and demand the removal of those signs, which were posted up in the darkness from the night before, black preachers and other Life Always representatives stood at the microphone explaining why they chose this neighborhood and the president’s image for their tag line: “Every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted.”
These three identical billboards placed side by side on a building that face evidence of poverty, neglect and despair is ironic. The lot in which the press conference was held is littered with broken glass and garbage, with grass nowhere to be found. It is this scene that provided the backdrop for this Houston-based group to advocate for “Life Always.” Yet, these outsiders fail to see the irony in telling black women in this depressed neighborhood not to abort their ‘babies.’
By coming into poor communities of color in an effort to regulate and attempt to control women’s decisions about reproduction and reproductive health, the group is spreading fear, myths and falsehoods not only about abortion (one lonely woman of color stood on stage and talked about breast cancer and abortion) but also about what these anti-choice organizations actually do.
For example, one preacher yelled from the podium that they advocate for more crisis pregnancy centers that would help women. Yet, we all know that these centers do not help women but attempt to shame through various tactics, such as propaganda films and shoving mutilated dolls in front of women.
One of the women that sought funding from the Chicago Abortion Fund, Nicole Goss, found a crisis pregnancy center before she found our information. She had this type of experience. In fact, she stated that the center she found herself in attempted to do everything to force her not to have an abortion, even telling her she was too far along to have a procedure – which was not true! These centers are deceitful but very dangerous as well. Nicole had a second- trimester procedure which proved to be not only more risky but drastically more expensive than if she had access to an earlier first-trimester abortion. This is a clear example of the deceptive work of these centers for which the preachers are advocating.
As a woman of color that has been poor, marginalized and ignored by society, I resent “outsiders” that don’t live in these neighborhoods bringing their message and agenda to these communities, which they will likely never step foot in ever again. Even a pastor from Dolton, Illinois (a suburb outside of Chicago) that spoke at the press conference doesn’t live in that community. There are plenty of churches in that neighborhood so why couldn’t Life Always solicit their participation? Why did they resort to bringing outsiders?
Furthermore, these shock value tactics ring of hypocrisy. The president’s picture on this billboard? Really? If these individuals actually cared about “Life Always,” they would be in these communities advocating for supportive services and other programs that could assist the very women they’re targeting.
By calling black women victims without looking at the social conditions of black women’s total lives, these “outsiders” fail to understand why young women of color have abortions in the first place. As Angela Davis states, “when black and Latina women resort to abortions… the stories they tell are not so much about the desire to be free of their pregnancy, but rather about the miserable social conditions which dissuade them from bringing new lives into the world.” (Roberts) There is no discussion about why abortions are needed; the lack of access to quality health care, comprehensive sex education and contraception; or even employment prospects that would help young women care for the families they already have.
At the Chicago Abortion Fund, we help young poor women because our communities are among the least likely to have regular access to health care, family planning and reproductive health education. Life Always and these “outside” ministers fake concern, but we see their true colors. Why don’t they engage in some real dialogue that addresses these issues? Racial billboards just don’t cut it.
Professor Elena Gutierrez writes in Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-American Women’s Reproduction, that it is documented “how the development of racializing images and ideologies is central to the reproductive control of women of color.” (Gutierrez) The Chicago Abortion Fund, along with many other reproductive justice organizations and advocates, condemns the use of racial imagery and messages on the billboards in this latest attempt to shame and assert control over black women’s reproductive decisions.
Gutierrez, Elena. "Fertile Matters: The Politics of Mexican-American Women's Reproduction." Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2008.
Roberts, Dorothy. "Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty." New York: Vintage Books, 1997.