Loretta Ross On Anti-Choicers, the Media, and Race

Cindy Cooper

Loretta J. Ross is national coordinator of SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective in Atlanta. So why is her voice largely missing in media reports about "black genocide" billboards in her own backyard?

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.

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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.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Clarifies Position on Federal Funding for Abortion, Is ‘for the Hyde Amendment’

Ally Boguhn

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, clarified during an interview with CNN on Friday that he still supports the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

During Kaine’s appearance on New Day, host Alisyn Camerota asked the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee whether he was “for or against” the ban on funding for abortion. Kaine replied that he had “been for the Hyde Amendment,” adding “I haven’t changed my position on that.”

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told CNN on Sunday that Kaine had “said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment.” Another Clinton spokesperson later clarified to the network that Kaine’s commitment had been “made privately.”

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

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“We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment,” reads the platform.

Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard that he was not aware that the party had put language outlining support for repealing Hyde into the platform, noting that he had “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Clinton has repeatedly said that she supports Hyde’s repeal, calling the abortion care restriction “hard to justify.”

Abortion rights advocates say that Hyde presents a major obstacle to abortion access in the United States.

“The Hyde amendment is a violent piece of legislation that keeps anyone on Medicaid from accessing healthcare and denies them full control over their lives,” Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in a statement. “Whether or not folks believe in the broken U.S. political system, we are all impacted by the policies that it produces. … Abortion access issues go well beyond insurance and the ability to pay, but removing the Hyde Amendment will take us light years closer to where we need to be.”

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.