The celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday often brings with it attempts to twist and pervert his legacy to score political points.
These attempts include run-of-the-mill white supremacists who, as Ijeoma Oluo pointed out in a recent, poignant essay, use his legacy to gaslight Black Americans into believing that the unrelenting racism that we face in this country should be met with a wink and a smile because hey, things are different now—we have a Black president, after all.
Or there are the anti-choice advocates who call upon Alveda King, Dr. King’s wildly intolerant niece, to help spread their regressive agenda and promote lies about Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, and abortion in the Black community.
Or there are the insinuations that Martin Luther King Jr. would have opposed abortion and therefore so should you, or that the Black Lives Matter movement is ignoring the death of “unborn” Black children, or that abortion is like slavery, or that abortion is Black genocide.
All of these systematically degrade the dignity of Black women in an effort to control our reproduction and lives.
And this year was no different.
In an article purportedly honoring Dr. King, Republican hopeful Ted Cruz misappropriated Dr. King’s words and legacy advocating for human and civil rights in order to advocate for denying those rights to women. According to Cruz, when Dr. King said “Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God’s children,” apparently the good reverend was talking about embryos and fetuses rather than Black people.
As conservatives so often do, he trotted out the words of Dr. King’s niece to help make his argument:
As Reverend King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, has rightly stated: “Abortion and racism are evil twins, born of the same lie.” The lie that there is no inherent worth in humanity. The lie that some people do not deserve the chance to become the next musicians, scientists, architects, leaders, and service members. The lie that not every life is equally valuable to our Creator.
Wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First of all, what Cruz is advocating demonstrates that he finds no inherent worth in women’s humanity. Abortion is a human right. Every person should have the right to choose whether to become a parent or not. Every person should have the right to choose when to become a parent, if at all. Refusing women the right to make these crucial decisions for themselves is a human rights violation. It is a degradation of human dignity.
Moreover, Alveda King gets it exactly wrong when she says that abortion and racism are “evil twins born of the same lie.” In reality, when it comes abortion rates in the Black community, racism isn’t abortion’s evil twin—racism is abortion’s progenitor.
As Black women were dragged to the United States and forced to work for free, and as they turned to do-it-yourself abortions to control their own reproduction and prevent their offspring from immediately becoming the property of white people and white supremacy, racism was the driving force.
It still is today.
Anti-choicers like to feign concern about the Black community. They lament the high abortion rate in Black communities. They accuse Black women of perpetrating a genocide against their own people. They like to lie about how Planned Parenthood is targeting Black people for eradication and, in so doing, is carrying out the mission of the organization’s founder, Margaret Sanger. (A lie I ably dismantled this summer, if I do say so myself.)
These are lies that Cruz and his ilk frequently tell while stalwartly refusing to acknowledge the root cause for the abortion rate in the Black community—lack of access to health care and contraceptives. And that, in turn, is a result of white supremacy’s greatest hits: poverty, structural racism, police brutality, food insecurity, joblessness, and the like.
If it’s not yet apparent to you that I’m tired of writing these articles, let me state for the record: I am tired of writing articles. Anti-choicers keep trotting out the same lies. They keep saying the same offensive shit about Black women. And I’m running out of ways to be creative or interesting about pushing back.
So anti-choicers, here is my request: If you want to carry on your crusade for the “unborn,” can you leave Black women and Black history out of it? I know you won’t do it even as I ask it. You’ll continue to pretend that white supremacy and structural racism have nothing to do with the inequality in health-care delivery services. That it has nothing to do with the high abortion rate in the Black community.
I reckon this is my cross to bear, then: I will be writing articles defending Black women from attacks on our humanity from now until the end of time. I will keep telling you that you can’t advocate for the decimation of social programs out of one side of your mouth but then whine about all the “unborn” Black babies on the other. I will keep asking you how you expect Black women to keep birthin’ babies if they have no way of raising them—if they can’t get food assistance, child care, and health care, and if they can’t keep them from being gunned down by overzealous cops.
You have to do something—something tangible. You can’t just hope on a wish and a prayer that it will magically get easier for Black women to raise children in this country.
Yet that seems to be the anti-choice strategy.
For example, just this week, Alveda King defended Rep. Sean Duffy’s crass remarks to the Congressional Black Caucus that for all their talk about Black Lives Matter, the Black members of Congress don’t care enough about Black fetuses. King claimed that there are ways to support Black families without spending more money on social programs, according to ABC News.
Let that sink in: King has ideas about how to support Black families that are cost-free! Care to hazard a guess as to what her idea is? Shuffling women to crisis pregnancy centers—which are infamous for advertising themselves as actual medical doctors (they’re not), and lying to vulnerable women about their reproductive health-care options. She also suggests supporting homeschool parents, but how she plans to do this without spending government funds is unclear. Perhaps she intends to dole out encouraging high-fives? That seems like it will be helpful.
As for her plan about how to reduce unintended pregnancy? Abstinence. Not access to free contraception, which has been proven to reduce abortion rates. But abstinence.
These aren’t legitimate ideas from anyone who is truly serious about the abortion rate in the Black community. These are fantasies held by wild-eyed dreamers who think that people are going to suddenly—for the first time in all of human history—stop having sex out of wedlock.
If anti-choice advocates want more Black children to be born to Black women (and I highly doubt they do because, well, racism) then they should make this country a more hospitable birthing environment for Black women. They should support government-funded social programs that will reduce abortion rates and improve the lives of Black women and babies.
Until then, anti-choicers? Keep our names out of your mouth. Stop talking about us. Stop using us as pawns in your game of ideological chess.
As for Dr. King, we don’t know whether he would have favored access to legal abortion or not. We know his wife did during her lifetime. We know that he wrote about the importance of publicly funded family planning programs. We know that in 1966, his wife accepted a Margaret Sanger Award on his behalf, bestowed upon him by Planned Parenthood “in recognition of excellence and leadership in furthering reproductive health and reproductive rights.” We know that he served on a sponsoring committee of a Planned Parenthood study on contraception in 1960 and wrote, “I have always been deeply interested in and sympathetic with the total work of the Planned Parenthood.”
But what else could we possibly claim to know about his views on abortion? Nothing.
We can attempt to understand the man by looking to his past writings and speeches, to the awards he received and accepted, and to the kinds of people who applauded his work when he was alive.
Or we can choke down the pithy tweets and offhanded remarks, most of which state principles abhorrent to King’s legacy, served on a platter by people who not only would have undoubtedly virulently opposed Dr. King when he was alive, but I dare say, would have considered him a dangerous radical, as so many conservatives did at the time.
Alveda King and the people who trot her out so that she can trade on her uncle’s name to promote her anti-choice agenda would like us to think that Dr. King was duped by Planned Parenthood. That the good reverend was assassinated before the true purpose of Planned Parenthood’s nefarious endeavor to exterminate the Black race was revealed.
It’s absurd. It’s false. And it has been debunked. (Yes, by me.)