Women of Color and the Anti-Choice Focus on Eugenics

By Guest Contributor Pamela Merritt, originally posted at RH Reality Check

Just days before the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, a fellow activist sent me a link to a video posted by the anti-choice group Bound for Life.  I was vaguely familiar with Bound for Life from having seen their members at protests, signature red tape marked with the word “Life” fixed to their mouths.

The video promoted an action that Bound for Life participated in at a new Planned Parenthood clinic being built in Houston.  The spin for this specific protest caught my attention.  The angle – that reproductive health care providers are organized to increase abortions by people of color in a plot to commit genocide for profit – has been in play by anti-choicers for years.  That theory has been, is now, and will always be insultingly paternalistic in its assumptions about women of color seeking reproductive health care.  The allegation is also picking up steam this Black History Month.

The first time I watched the video I was struck by the theories promoted through it – that communities of color are tragically ignorant of some long standing genocidal plot and desperately need organizations like Bound for Life to come to educate us, that the size of a reproductive health care clinic is in some way connected to it’s intended scale of abortion services and that the location of that clinic (in communities of color) is proof of some long standing genocidal plot.  Bound for Life isn’t alone in putting forth these arguments.  Anti-choice groups recently put up billboards in Georgia claiming that Black children are an endangered species and other organizations, like The Radiance Foundation, target religious people of color with the same anti-choice message; their stated goal being to illuminate, educate and motivate their audience.

The fallout from this rhetoric is hard to measure, but I’ve heard of the black genocide conspiracy for years.  I am an activist in my home city of St. Louis Missouri and many of the young women of color I work with are aware of the rumors and ask questions about them.

In Missouri, where young people are often denied access to medically accurate comprehensive sex education in public schools, rumors can often be taken as fact.  In my volunteer work I have met young women who thought drinking a certain soft drink would either prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections; others who have heard that contraceptives give users HIV; and some who were convinced that the withdrawal method protected them from sexually transmitted infections.  In the absence of knowledge, dangerously inaccurate information reigns supreme without challenge or correction.

It is in that knowledge-vacuum that the black genocide conspiracy hopes to set up shop, with hopes to take advantage of the fruits of anti-choice labor that has systematically removed sex education from sex education. It’s more than ironic that anti-choicers–who work strenuously to deny to medically accurate sex education and prevention programs to young people of color–are now trying to rally communities of color through a pseudo-community education program built on the myth of black genocide.  It’s far more than ironic…it’s shameful.

As a woman of color and a reproductive justice activist, I am appalled each time I hear the black genocide rap.  Quotes by Margaret Sanger are tossed out as if she were a prophet, as if reproductive choice a religion, and as if pro-choice activists were fundamentalists bent on staying true to Sanger’s words as a person of fundamentalist faith would to the word of God.  In reality, Margaret Sanger was a person whose work paved the way for legal access to contraceptives in this country.  Sanger’s personal beliefs on eugenics were and are wrong and do not hold any place in the mission of reproductive justice or reproductive health care providers.  We do not associate the Ford Motor Company with anti-semitism, despite the well documented history of it’s founder Henry Ford in collaborating with Nazis and we should not associate contemporary reproductive health care providers or the reproductive justice movement with eugenics because of some views expressed by Margaret Sanger.

But the truth has little to do with the black genocide scare tactic.  The truth is that reproductive health care providers open clinics to provide access to the full range of reproductive health care services in communities that need safe and affordable health care.  Those services include yearly cancer screenings, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, education on how to prevent sexually transmitted infections, education on how to prevent unplanned pregnancy and abortion counseling and services.

The truth is:

  • Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer at a later stage and are more likely to die of cervical cancer.
  • Black people make up 13 percent of the population in the United States yet account for more than 49 percent of AIDS cases. AIDS is the leading cause of death for Black women between the ages 25 to 34, and the second leading cause of death for Black men between the ages 35 to 44.
  • Black and Hispanic women have the highest teen pregnancy rates.
  • Forty percent of Black Americans report being uninsured at some point from 2007 through 2008.
  • Black women continue to die from breast cancer at alarming rates and a recent study found that half of Black teenage women reported having had one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Clearly there are a lot of health-care related reasons why reproductive health care providers seek to provide services to communities of color.

    Women of color are not children unable to make health care decisions, our children are not a species on the brink of extinction through an organized genocidal plot and justice is found when a people are unbound and empowered by medically accurate knowledge rather than dogma.  This Black History Month, despite well-produced marketing campaigns designed to spark fear and perpetuate myths, we must recommit ourselves to the struggle for reproductive justice in our communities.  Now, more than ever, we need to address the realities on the ground and reject the conspiracy theories being shouted by the anti-choice mob.

    Photo from Feministing