Analysis Race

The Anti-Choice Movement: A Dangerous Place for African American Women

Pamela Merritt

A racist, anti-choice billboard has been placed in my city, in a neighborhood less than 20 minutes from my home. Yeah, it’s hard to put into words just how disgusted and insulted I am.

In 2010 I had the honor of participating in the founding of the Trust Black Women Partnership, when I was invited to a meeting of women of color in Atlanta Georgia.  Reproductive justice activists had recently defeated race-baiting anti-choice legislation that came on the heels of a billboard campaign that advertised “black children are an endangered species” and “the most dangerous place for an African-American baby is in the womb.”  The Trust Black Women Partnership is a long-term strategy to ensure that black women can mobilize wherever such campaigns appear in African American communities, and to generate deeper discussions about black women’s autonomy and human rights.  Instinct fueled me to action, since I knew my home state of Missouri was likely to see a similar campaign in the future.  So, I returned home and immediately reached out to the reproductive justice community to share what we learned from the Georgia campaign and to organize women of color in St. Louis city and Missouri.

On March 21 Missouri Right to Life posted a copy of a new billboard campaign on Facebook. The billboard copy read “The Most Dangerous Place for an African-American Baby is in the Womb” and the description asked for donations to help Missouri Right to Life spread that message widely throughout Missouri.  I sat in front of my computer and stared at it a long time, disgusted that not only was Missouri Right to Life planning to put this disgusting advertisement up but that the organization was fundraising by indicting the humanity of black women.  Our Missouri reproductive justice committee came together, armed with the lessons learned from members of the Trust Black Women Partnership in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Chicago and New York.  We organized and waited to see where Missouri Right to Life would launch their race-baiting fundraising campaign.  Two weeks ago, I received a text that the billboard was up in North St. Louis city.

I know the North St. Louis city neighborhood where the billboard has been placed well.  I’ve volunteered at a shelter for homeless teenage mothers, located just blocks from the intersection where the billboard was placed, for years.  I have friends and colleagues who live in the ward and I seriously considered reaching out to one of them to see if they could take a picture.  But I decided to drive over myself, parked on a street just past the billboard and got out of my car.  I stood there, shielding my eyes from the sun’s glare, for what must have been an hour.  It’s hard to put into words what I was thinking. I’ve faced a lot of insults in my life, walked through crowds of protestors shouting that I am a race traitor, an Uncle Tom, and chanting that I am participating in genocide against black people. Now a billboard making those charges against black women has been placed in my city, in a neighborhood less than 20 minutes from my home. Yeah, it’s hard to put into words just how disgusted and insulted I am.

Our local committee came together and developed our strategy.  Members reached out to Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin, who represents Ward 5 where the billboard was placed. A letter condemning the billboard campaign and demanding that the ad be removed has been sent to the owner of the billboard.  I’m proud to say that every member of the African-American caucus of the St. Louis Board of Alderman signed the letter, including the president of the board Lewis Reed.  We are still waiting for a response from owner of the billboard.  While we wait, women of color continue to organize and St. Louisans have reached out to share their disgust and offer their support.  Several people who identify as anti-choice have also expressed their dislike of this campaign and their concern over how it plays on long standing prejudices toward black women.

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It is important to note that there are anti-choice billboards up all over St. Louis city and Missouri.  Some advertise the 40 Days campaign against abortion that takes place during Lent while others simply denounce abortion and are up throughout the year.  Our committee has taken no action against these other campaigns, although we disagree with the anti-choice message they advertise.  But there is a huge difference between advertising against abortion rights and a race-baiting fundraising campaign that advertises that black women are genocidal and violent.

It is also important to note that Missouri Right to Life’s concern for communities of color ends at birth.  Missouri Right to Life endorsed candidates have legislated against the best interests of Missourians in general and communities of color specifically for years.  Former Missouri state Rep. Cynthia Davis, who opposed funding for a program that provides food for thousands of low-income children during the summer by claiming that “Hunger can be a positive motivator”, was a Missouri Right to Life endorsed legislator. When Davis chaired the Missouri House Standing Committee on Children and Families, she refused to hear a child safety bill because abortion legislation was a higher priority.  Missouri Right to Life issued no statement reprimanding Davis nor did the organization speak out in support of the program funding food for low-income children through the summer.

Missouri Right to Life endorsed State Senator Brian Nieves, who used his filibuster of an extension of unemployment benefits to accuse out-of-work Missourians seeking benefits of enslaving working people.  Nieves eventually ended his filibuster after weeks of delay.  Missouri Right to Life issued no statement of support for the thousands of unemployed Missourians who would have been unable to feed their families had his stunt succeeded.

This year legislators endorsed by Missouri Right to Life overturned the voter supported automatic minimum wage escalator.  Missouri Right to Life issued no statement to explain how overturning the decision by Missouri voters to increase the minimum wage in the state and thus improve the standard of living for thousands of Missourians would benefit children or families or working people.

Missouri Right to Life opposes legislation that would ensure rape survivors be provided with information about emergency contraception in emergency rooms, legislation that would return comprehensive sex education to Missouri schools, and legislation that would support programs to provide treatment for and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.  Missouri Right to Life opposes the federal health care reform law, which would extend health care coverage to thousands of Missourians including many women of color who are currently uninsured.  The organization has instead advocated for the erosion of access to reproductive health care in Missouri. 

Oh, and they also launched a fundraising effort through a billboard campaign in a predominately black neighborhood that charges women of color with being dangerous violent genocidal threats to black children.

Reproductive justice did not happen to women of color.  We have been part of the movement to protect our right to decide whether to have children and how to raise the children we have from the beginning.  Women of color are capable of making decisions about our reproductive health care and, more to the point, are not required to register our qualifications with Missouri Right to Life or any other organization.  This racist billboard campaign resonates with some because they already lack respect for women of color, they buy into the theme that women of color are lesser than and threatening, and they find comfort in the belief that they are going to rescue us from ourselves by educating us about ourselves. 

This racist tactic of condemnation followed by oppression is not new.  Throughout this nation’s history, our call for reproductive justice has been a call for those who claim to want the best for us to trust us to know what is best for us. Sadly, trusting black women continues to be a challenge for Missouri Right to Life and anti-choice organizations. Trust that we will not set aside our rights while they work through their fear of empowered women of color.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.