The Black Lives Matter movement has provided the perfect opportunity for anti-choice activists to demonstrate how truly grotesque they are and how little they care about or respect Black women.
For years, anti-choice radicals have erected billboards in Black communities or circulated Internet memes on social media that read “Abortion is Black genocide” or “The most dangerous place for a Black child is in the womb.” But more recently, anti-choice radicals have misappropriated #BlackLivesMatter, and have added #HandsUpDontCrush, #UnbornLivesMatter, and “#BlackLivesDontMatter” to the quiver of anti-choice arrows that they fire off to shame Black women for exercising their fundamental right to make their own reproductive choices.
According to the anti-choice brain trust that concocted these hashtags, if Black lives mattered, Black women wouldn’t be getting so many abortions, right? Right?
This sort of misappropriation is not only offensive, it’s ultimately hollow: When it comes to advocating for policies that would actually support Black women and help them raise healthy children, far too many anti-choice activists are silent. But when it comes to using Black women as a cudgel to make a point about the evils of abortion and Planned Parenthood, it’s damn near impossible to shut these activists up.
The latest coordinated smear against Planned Parenthood—that they traffic in black-market fetal parts—is one of the most despicable attacks mounted by anti-choice fanatics in their long history of vilifying Planned Parenthood. And simmering just below the surface of this smear campaign is their go-to tactic: using Black women as chess pawns in their ideological campaign to end legal abortion care in this country.
These tactics are not new. Reproductive justice activists have been battling the “abortion is Black genocide” meme for years and pushing back on anti-choice activists who feign concern for Black children even as they appropriate images of Black girls to spread their anti-choice propagandistic messages, and wage war against social programs—public assistance, food benefits, health care, sex education, fair pay—that would permit Black women to not only choose motherhood, but to raise healthy children.
It’s pithy nonsense spread by anti-choice zealots as part of a never-ending attempt to strip Black women of their sexual and reproductive agency and to cast them as monstrous perpetrators of a genocide of their own people. And because most of these activists think that they can feed lies to Black women, because we’re too stupid to know what’s good for us, or too stupid to differentiate facts from fiction, they spout provably false information.
They tell tales of Planned Parenthood systematically targeting Black women for abortion by cramming as many abortion clinics in Black neighborhoods as possible. Sixty-two percent of abortion clinics are near Black neighborhoods, they cry, even though a simple Google search would disprove that claim—only 6 percent of abortion clinics are in Black neighborhoods, while 60 percent are in white neighborhoods.
According to the more fringe conspiracy theorists, the services that Planned Parenthood currently provides are merely a continuation of Margaret Sanger’s mission to exterminate Black people and Black women are stupid to support such an organization. (Never mind that Sanger’s problematic allyship with eugenicists has absolutely nothing to do with the services that Planned Parenthood currently provides. Indeed, I challenge you to find any organization in this country that does not have some connection to anti-Blackness. This country was built on slave labor. I don’t see too many of these anti-choice fanatics demonstrating any interest in a discussion of the reproductive horrors that this country inflicted on Black women during slavery.)
Moreover, only 3 percent of the services offered by Planned Parenthood are abortion care, so if Planned Parenthood’s mission is to exterminate Black people, they’re doing a pretty terrible job at it.
But these fanatics aren’t trying to be truthful. They’re trying to be provocative. And because they don’t seem to be able to get their point across in any honest way, they traffic in lies, smears, and attacks, and they co-opt social justice issues, corrupting them for their own benefit.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that anti-choice radicals would glom on to the Black Lives Matter hashtag—which three women of color developed two years ago and which became a movement that resonated with millions in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown last August—and pervert it into the truly offensive “#BlackLivesDontMatter.”
“How can you be protesting that Black Lives Matter when you don’t care about all the Black babies you’re murdering in the womb?” That’s the message they’re trying to send.
This line of attack suggests that Black women’s bodies are dangerous for Black children. It posits that Black women are willing participants in some sort of self-genocide. It strips Black women of their agency. And it ignores that since we first arrived on the shores of this country in chains, Black women have always controlled our own reproduction. We had to out of necessity because any child born to us wasn’t ours—it was the property of white people and white supremacy.
It also ignores the hostile birthing environment in this country that makes it impossible for Black women to raise their children without fear that those children will be gunned down in the street before they reach adulthood.
And that’s what the #BlackLivesMatter movement is about. Stemming the tide of police brutality in Black communities. Ensuring that Black children—like Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, and Michael Brown—can grow up and lead full and healthy lives. And that’s why the #BlackLivesMatter movement is an integral piece of the reproductive justice puzzle.
Contrary to the caterwauling of anti-choice radicals, the most dangerous place for a Black child is not in the womb, it’s in this country. There is no place in America that a Black person is safe. Not walking on the street. Not at home. Not hanging out with friends. Not playing in a park.
If you are a Black child in this country, there is nowhere that you are safe.
And that’s why for so many Black women, raising a child in this country is such a terrifying prospect. Because I don’t have any children myself, I asked several Black women to describe their experience raising children, and the answers are heartbreaking.
Mikki Kendall, writer and co-editor of Hood Feminism, had this to say:
Perhaps the most troubling conversation I have had with my son about Black Lives Matter is the one where he told me he wants us to move so that I don’t become a hashtag. When we have to worry about our children and they have to worry about us then what kind of American dream are any of us experiencing? The hostile response to Black Lives Matter from some conservative groups wasn’t a surprise, but for my children to see so-called progressives ignoring all the facts about the dangers to their community has been heartbreaking. I want them to have more hope than fear, but that is getting harder and harder to foster in this political climate.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden, a freelance journalist and co-editor of Hood Feminism, said:
As a parent of a special needs child, I’m always anxious about how my son interacts with authority, and how that will affect him in the long term. There is no room for error when it comes to little Black boys and girls, and knowing that affects how I raise him. Parenting in and of itself is like walking on a tightrope; parenting while Black is like walking a tightrope with no net over a tank of bloodthirsty piranhas.
Another woman, who asked to be identified only as Tara D., said:
Right now, since she is still a baby, I worry more about being taken away from her over a traffic stop or a cigarette or any insignificant misunderstanding. But I also worry a lot about her growing up in a place where she won’t be granted her youth and innocence for very long. I don’t want to raise her to be afraid of people and I don’t want her to end up constantly concerned about how she is perceived, but I also don’t want her to die. I feel like there is no place I can send her, no way I can raise her, and no lesson I can teach her that will guarantee she isn’t murdered because someone sees her skin and thinks ‘danger!’ and that is really hard.
Feminista Jones, a social worker and writer from New York City, echoed these concerns:
My biggest fear is that my son won’t live to reach his fullest potential because a racist police officer will view him as a threat to society simply because he is a tall Black boy. My son is so sweet and smart and wants to be a dancer and actor but if a racist cop is having a bad day, he might not get the chance to.
Black mothers carry these concerns with them starting from the moment their children are born. To these Black mothers, “#BlackLivesDontMatter” is a slap in the face.
But anti-choice radicals don’t care. Rather than engage any of the life-and-death concerns that Black women have when it comes to raising children in this country, these fanatics would rather spend their time attacking Black women for making their own reproductive choices. Rather than demonstrate that their professed concern about Black babies is more than disingenuous sloganeering, they are desperately attempting to defund an organization that provides necessary health-care services to millions of Black women by apparently colluding with anti-choice politicians in spreading preposterous lies about Planned Parenthood.
Defunding Planned Parenthood would leave millions of Black women without access to critical services, and for what? Because these fanatics don’t like abortion? Because they think—even though it’s not true—that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer dollars for abortion? If these anti-choice radicals care about Black lives, they should support funding the health-care services that Planned Parenthood and all other community-based clinics provide.
But Black lives don’t really matter to these fanatics.
If they did—if anti-choicers cared so much about Black children—they should be in the streets marching with Black Lives Matter protesters to end the indiscriminate brutality against Black children. They should be advocating for universal pre- and post-natal care, for safety-net programs for low-income people, for Headstart, and SNAP, and equal pay, and contraception access. Where are the “pro-life” hashtags, and slogans, and blog posts about these critical issues?
And what message do these hashtags—#HandsUpDontCrush, #UnbornLivesMatter, and #BlackLivesDontMatter—send? That until abortion is eradicated, which it never will be because pregnant people will always find a way to not be pregnant if they don’t want to be—that police violence against Black children doesn’t matter? That Black women don’t have a right to demand that police stop gunning down our children as long as they exercise their right to choose?
Look, I get it: Anti-choicers and pro-choicers are never going to see eye-to-eye on abortion rights. But at a minimum, anti-choicers can be decent human beings and stop co-opting a movement that is about the life or death of the very Black children they claim to care so deeply about.