Commentary Abortion

Florida’s Racist Anti-Choice Bill Prompts Walkout By Female Legislators

Amanda Marcotte

Five Black female state lawmakers in Florida walked out of a house debate over a law requiring doctors to insult women of color seeking abortions by asking them if there's a race-based reason for doing so.

Of the many and varied lies told by anti-choicers in their quest to separate women from their basic human rights to bodily autonomy, the claim that women need to lose their rights in order to protect Black people is one of the most odious. It is an odious claim in no small part because the mostly white conservatives who pretend to be “concerned” about Black women getting abortions aren’t fooling anyone, since they spend the rest of their time attacking the civil and economic rights of ordinary Americans in ways that disproportionately harm Black people. But even setting that aside, it’s odious to claim that Black women need to be “protected” from having abortion rights because it presumes that Black women don’t know their own minds and need a bunch of conservative white men to tell them what to do with their bodies.

Black female lawmakers in Florida stood up to this insult. During the state house debate over a bill proposed by Rep. Charles Van Zant (R-Keystone Heights) requiring doctors to interrogate Black patients about whether they are seeking an abortion to avoid giving birth to Black children, an estimated five legislators walked out in anger. The Grio reported:

“I don’t appreciate anyone trying to explain what any other ethnic group’s lifestyle is and what they do, when you really don’t have any authority to interpret it,”  Rep. Barbara Watson (D-Miami), one of the black lawmakers who walked out, told The Huffington Post.  ”I think the women and people of color in that chamber deserve an apology from him, but I don’t know that it would actually change his point of view.”

There are only two reasons to claim that Black women’s abortions are about race, as Van Zant did when he called these abortions “discriminatory targeting.” Either you believe that Black women hate Black children and are getting abortions to avoid being mothers to Black children, or you believe Black women are being coerced by outside parties who have a racist agenda. Both of these claims are deeply insulting to Black women. The first assumes that Black women are self-hating racists. The second assumes they are dim-witted and being tricked into having abortions by the evil cabal of sex-crazed, profit-hungry baby-haters that live only in the imagination of anti-choicers.

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Van Zant’s language and the language of anti-choicers generally suggests the second insult is the one they intend. After all, there’s a ton of anti-choice legislation that rests on the assumption that women are being tricked and seduced into abortion, from mandatory ultrasounds with scripts to mandatory waiting periods to “think” about a decision most women made long before they called the doctor. The “women are too stupid to know their own minds, the silly things!” mentality is being applied here. The people behind this effort exude racist as well as sexist prejudice, and they’re doubling down on women of color.

In all honesty, I suspect that most of the white people promoting this “Black genocide” claim believe neither: They are liars through and through, and they know very well that Planned Parenthood does not actually trick pregnant women into coming in for abortions. (The belief that women are idiots who don’t know their own minds also drives the crisis pregnancy center explosion, but of course they end up finding out that more than a sales pitch is required to try to trick women into unwanted motherhood—you actually have to do things like lie about how far along they are the risks they incur by getting an abortion.)  This is all about enshrining into law the notion that women in general, but Black women in particular, are second-class citizens whose supposed mental inadequacies make them incapable of making their own decisions.

This serves two purposes. Right off the bat, anti-choicers get the pleasure of having the state insult women seeking abortion by telling them they’re gullible and stupid. It’s a humiliation ritual designed to make women feel bad about having abortions and, of course, about having had sex in the first place. Over the long term, it certainly helps the racist, misogynist cause to have laws in place that single out women and especially women of color as people whose race and gender is assumed to render them incapable of adult responsibilities such as choosing your own medical care. Should you wish to pass any other laws based on the premise that women of color can’t be allowed the same rights to make personal decisions as everyone else, this precedent will help justify it.

This is also about muddying the waters, of course. By feigning concern over mythical “race-based” abortions, they hope to confuse people about what the actual issues facing women of color are. That not only makes it easier to attack abortion rights, but to generally undermine the social and economic well-being of women of color. Not that liberals are particularly confused about who is and isn’t actually supporting women of color in this debate, or course. It’s hard to really confuse the issue when it’s a bunch of old white men saying nasty things to Black female legislators about Black women’s supposed inability to make their own reproductive decisions. But fooling liberals isn’t the point. This is just about giving conservatives cover, by allowing them to attack women of color by pretending to want to “help” them.

And, in the grand scheme of things, this shows how very little respect the anti-choice movement has for the anti-racism movement and the decades upon decades of work put in by so many men and women to end racism in this country. Anti-choicers have reduced all that to a “card” you can pull to “score points” in a political debate. They see racial justice as nothing but a political ploy to be used to get what they want in the abortion debate, and not as a real issue that affects real people. No wonder the Florida legislators were mad. We should all be quaking with anger.

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