Extremists, terrorism, and racism

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:

  1. 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
  2. that abortion is dangerous
  3. 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.”


Filed under American, Human Rights, Poverty, Racism, Women

7 responses to “Extremists, terrorism, and racism

  1. Hey there,
    Just so you know, Edinburgh is going to be on the receiving end of an anti-choice picket next Saturday. I’ve never heard of pickets in Scotland before, so I’m pretty damn surprised. Here’s the information:
    Spread the word and get SPUC on their bikes!

  2. Presumably outside an abortion clinic, most likely Marie Stopes or BPAS? I’m not familiar with the pregnancy services – the Western General maybe?

  3. I left those comments as Brighton PC, but have only just realised that I used to read your livejournal when I was a teenager (friend of brandnewgun’s stepchen). I’m slightly embarrassed to be so excited, but I feel a little touched by celebrity.

  4. Fides_et_Ratio

    For God’s sake! It is impressive that you have the gall to confess authorship to this post!

    It is a puerile hatefest, in which you abandon all logic and concentrate on ridiculing, vilifying, libeling, and attacking your opponents – and don’t _even touch_ on their arguments.

    You could be better informed if you had checked freaking Wikipedia:


    “In her book The Pivot of Civilization, she advocated coercion to prevent the “undeniably feeble-minded” from procreating”

    The pivot of your “analysis” consists of pointing out that some slave owners restricted abortion in their female slaves, and therefore pro-lifers are tantamount to slave-holders!

    For God’s sake, do you actually think like that?

    You should know that Adolph Hitler was a strong vegetarian, fanatically anti-smoking, and anti-Marxism.

    Therefore, by your logic, vegetarianism, anti-smoking and anti-Marxism have ideological roots in Nazism.

    Therefore, your logic is so wrong it is not even funny.

    • Thank you for your comment, Fides. In view of your penchant for abuse on the Catholic Herald site, let me set the ground rules here: personal insults directed at myself or others will not be tolerated, and I will either edit or delete comments containing them.

      Strong disagreement is fine.

      But if I feel we’re going over the same ground twice, I may just point this out to you and quit the discussion.

      Wikipedia is a valuable starting point for research. It’s usually unwise to go no further.

      You might find this discussion between Kirsten West Savali ahd Jesse Lee Peterson on Planned Parenthood and Margaret Sanger informative. (Peterson will say a lot of things you just take as read are true: Savali is decidedly better informed.)

      Two truths about Sanger’s views: she was opposed to abortion. and she supported the right of every woman – regardless of the colour of her skin or her religion – to decide for herself how many children she would have, using birth control.

      Planned Parenthood is the only source of reproductive healthcare for many of the poorest women in the US.

      Rejecting the work of Planned Parenthood because Margaret Sanger had a lot of other opinions that are indefensible now, would be like rejecting the US Constitution hecause authors were white, racist, and some of them owned slaves. Which I’ve noticed you do not do.

      Martin Luther King supported the work of Planned Parenthood and was a friend of Margaret Sanger’s. Frantic stories by pro-lifers about how “racist” Sanger was by quoting selectively from her work, invariably ignore similiar or worse statements made by pro-life supporters alive and hateful for decades after Sanger died. There’s a discussion about this here, with some more information for you.

      And for another angle, see The Unbearable Whiteness of Pro-Lifers and Pundits by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

      You should know that Adolph Hitler was a strong vegetarian, fanatically anti-smoking, and anti-Marxism.

      Also, pro-life.

    • Oh, and I’ve written extensively about the pro-life “arguments” elsewhere.

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