This article is reprinted with permission from The Cafe at On The Issues magazine. It is republished here with permission from the author, and is part of a series of articles appearing on Rewire, written by reproductive justice advocates responding to recent efforts by the anti-choice movement to use racial and ethnic myths to limit women’s rights and health. Recent articles on this topic include those by Pamela Merritt, Gloria Feldt, Kelley Robinson, Maame-Mensima Horne, Miriam Pérez, Jodi Jacobson, and Susan Cohen.
Editor’s note: Read all of Rewire’s coverage of this racist anti-choice campaign.
When Loretta J. Ross speaks, people listen. Ross is a big-picture thinker on reproductive justice, national coordinator of SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, headquartered in Atlanta, and a vibrant voice on women’s rights who brings three decades of analysis into every conversation. She was national co-director of the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C., the largest protest march in history. A much sought-after speaker, she packs in crowds who listen eagerly when she takes the microphone.
So how is it that the mainstream media, including The New York Times, ABC and CNN, managed to sideline Ross on a topic on which she is the leading national expert — that is, the misogyny and duplicity behind black anti-abortion campaigns? What’s worse, the story was set in her backyard, where Georgia Right-to-Life mounted exploitive billboards targeting African Americans with messages about the so-called “black genocide” of abortion.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Ross has been dismantling that subject and exposing its fakery for years. A frequent contributor to On The Issues Magazine, she served as consulting editor of the Fall 2009 edition Race, Feminism, Our Future, described as a “must read” by AngryBlackBitch.
In that edition, Maame-Mensime Horne, who works with Ross at SisterSong, wrote Black Abortion: Breaking the Silence.
“(T)o say abortion is genocide is a misconception. Access to abortion actually saved lives in black communities, where illegal abortion was a leading cause of death before Roe v. Wade,” Horne wrote. “Black anti-abortionists are not concerned about women having autonomy over their bodies or mobilizing against reproductive oppressions. Instead, they continue paternalistic beliefs that place woman’s role as ‘mother’ higher than anything else.”
A year earlier, in Re-enslaving African American Women, Ross deftly dissected the “black genocide” rhetoric.
“They tell African American women that we are now responsible for the genocide of our own people … We are now accused of ‘lynching’ our children in our wombs and practicing white supremacy on ourselves …. This is what lies on steroids look like.
….The sexism in their viewpoints is mind-boggling. To them, Black women are the poor dupes of the abortion rights movement, lacking agency and decision-making of our own. In fact, this is a reassertion of Black male supremacy over the self-determination of women…. It is about re-enslaving Black women by making us breeders for someone else’s cause.”
Ross, a researcher of right-wing movements, also addressed this subject 16 years ago in our pages in Simple Human Right; The History Of Black Women And Abortion, and upon which she expanded in a book.
But in news reports on an insidious effort of anti-abortion activists to terrorize African-American communities with billboards that claim “Black children are an endangered species” and direct people to a right-wing anti-abortion website, Ross’ searing analysis was skipped over.
A front page article in The New York Times on February 27, 2010 manages to quote four anti-abortion activists, refer to two others, mention the billboards and the anti-abortion website before giving Ross 25 words buried in the 19th paragraph. Of course, it was little different in an earlier New York Times article on the same subject. There, Ross’ thinking is represented only if readers get to the bottom quarter of the story (online version).
Other leading figures in the black community were also excluded, said Ross in an email that she released to On The Issues Magazine for this article. She wrote: “SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW!, Planned Parenthood of Georgia, Feminist Women’s Health Center, Raksha (an Atlanta Asian American domestic violence organization), along with Generations Ahead in California, are all part of the remarkable team we have assembled to wage this struggle. They also are being ignored by the mainstream media, although we recommend they be interviewed every time.”
Television stories gave the same lack of attention to reproductive justice advocates. A feature on ABC World News lasted 2.41 minutes and repeated the anti-abortion arguments fully, but gave Ross, the only reproductive rights expert, 15 seconds to counter them. Without evidence, the story claims that black women have historically shunned abortion. (Fortunately, all of the “women on the street” interviewed by ABC supported Ross’ perspective.)
CNN (headquartered in Atlanta) didn’t even bother to contact Ross or a woman connected with reproductive justice in a segment by John Roberts for American Morning.
These failures are more serious than a discussion about billboards. Not even mentioned by The New York Times or other media is that the billboards are propaganda for an anti-abortion legislative assault, a bill in Georgia titled the “Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” and called “PreNDA” by its anti-choice sponsors. The bill would create a new felony of “criminal solicitation of abortion.” Under it, a person commits a crime punishable by five years in prison if the individual “solicits or coerces” another person to have an abortion “based in any way on account of the race, color, or sex of the unborn child or the race or color of either parent of that child.” Under the bill, a doctor commits “criminal abortion,” punishable by 10 years in prison, for performing an abortion based on those factors or “with knowledge that the pregnant woman” based it on them. In addition, abortion is defined as “the homicide of an unborn child,” and civil actions are extended for damages.
Ross is not backing down in the face of what she calls a “furious firestorm” of legislation, publicity and media failure. She warns: “The problem with mainstream media is that they almost never reflect the point of view of progressives and they demonstrate their lack of balance in how they structure the stories in their reporting,” said Ross. “The sexism and racism should not surprise us anymore,” she said.