One of the nastiest and most thought-provoking ads the pro-life movement in the US ever ran was of a very pretty little girl, aged about six, in a red dress, nappy hair with a pink ribbon. She stares out of the poster with a solemn, thoughtful expression. The caption: The Most Dangerous Place For An African-American Is In The Womb.
Three of the tropes the prolife movement favour come together in that advert:
- that a pregnant woman and her fetus are each other’s enemies – or at least, that you can’t support a pregnant woman if you want to show support for the fetus she’s carrying
- that abortion is dangerous
- that the right to choose abortion is a particular threat to African-Americans
Ask an American prolifer and they will tell you that Margaret Sanger (1879 – 1966) founded Planned Parenthood with white supremacist intentions, and offer as “evidence” some highly selective quotes from Sanger’s writings and the high proportion of abortions among African-American women. The notion that Sanger founded Planned Parenthood as a kind of dead-hand conspiracy to have black woman have abortions is so absurd on the face of it that I’d always dismissed it as just one of those American things, like the belief that evolution is “just a theory” (yes, like gravity) or that the Grand Canyon was caused by Noah’s Flood. Clear nonsense believed by people whose highschool textbooks were written to avoid being provocative with science and who get current events from Fox News.
But (h/t Slacktivist) I came across this that puts the pro-life race-baiting into a different perspective:
We don’t commonly recognize that American slaveholders supported closing the trans-Atlantic slave trade; that they did so to protect the domestic market, boosting their own nascent breeding operation. Women were the primary focus: their bodies, their “stock,” their reproductive capacity, their issue. Planters advertised for them in the same way as they did for breeding cows or mares, in farm magazines and catalogs. They shared tips with one another on how to get maximum value out of their breeders. They sold or lent enslaved men as studs and were known to lock teenage boys and girls together to mate in a kind of bullpen.They propagated new slaves themselves, and allowed their sons to, and had their physicians exploit female anatomy while working to suppress African midwives’ practice in areas of fertility, contraception and abortion.Reproduction and its control became the planters’ prerogative and profit source. Women could try to escape, ingest toxins or jump out a window—abortion by suicide, except it was hardly a sure thing.
This comes from a discussion JoAnn Wypijewski had with her friend Pamela D. Bridgewater, author of Breeding a Nation: Reproductive Slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the Pursuit of Freedom about the Virginia law mandating rape by ultrasound wand of any woman needing an abortion. (The law, modified in Virginia, has been passed without compassion in Texas.)
Bridgewater argues that because slavery depended on the slaveholder’s right to control the bodies and reproductive capacities of enslaved women, coerced reproduction was as basic to the institution as forced labor. At the very least it qualifies among those badges and incidents, certainly as much as the inability to make contracts. Therefore, sexual and reproductive freedom is not simply a matter of privacy; it is fundamental to our and the law’s understanding of human autonomy and liberty. And so constraints on that freedom are not simply unconstitutional; they effectively reinstitute slavery.
The courts and Congress of the nineteenth century understood contracts, and even a little bit about labor. Women they understood wholly by their sex and wombs, and those they regarded as the property of husbands once owners exited the stage. It is not our fate to live with their failings. It is not our fate to live with the failure of later courts to apply the Thirteenth Amendment to claims for sexual and reproductive freedom or even to consider the historical context out of which the Fourteenth Amendment also emerged. It is not our fate, in other words, to confine ourselves to the pinched language of choice or even of privacy—or to the partial, white-centric history of women’s struggle for reproductive rights.
The US pro-life movement’s focus on denying African-American women reproductive freedom makes more coherent sense when seen as a simple extension of the conservative opposition to civil liberties for any African-American. Horrible sense.
Fred Clark at Slacktivist quotes: “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
In the UK anti-choice extremists are increasingly borrowing strategies from the US prolife movement in their effort to humiliate and threaten patients and staff. This is a domestic terrorist movement with over thirty years of violent and murderous actions against clinic staff and patients. It’s not a movement that anyone should want to emulate.
Update: “For Martin Luther King‘s unique qualities of understanding, compassion and bravery, and for his wise and unwavering leadership in securing for all people their basic human right to knowledge, dignity and opportunity that are the fount and principle of Margaret Sanger’s life, this award is presented.”