The theme of this year’s anti-abortion March for Life centers on being “pro-woman,” touted as an opportunity to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment’s passage, which granted white women voting rights.
In a video promoting this year’s march, March for Life honors women’s suffrage movement leaders Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul for “[birthing] the 19th Amendment” and for speaking out against abortion as “the ultimate exploitation of women.” But by valorizing the women’s suffrage movement (and its convenient ties to anti-choice politics), March for Life is celebrating well-known anti-Black figures and the passage of an exclusionary bill.
The suffrage movement is often sanitized of its white supremacist history. Though it is widely regarded as a pivotal step for women’s rights, what is often ignored is not only the racism and exclusion within the movement but also the anti-Black women at the helm of the movement. For one, when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, it only really empowered white women with the right to vote. Black women were disempowered by provisions like the poll tax, literacy tests, and violence at polling places, some of which were addressed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Meanwhile, Asians couldn’t vote until 1952, and all Native Americans were finally allowed to vote in 1965.)
Moreover, the suffrage movement continually excluded women of color from their advocacy. Black women were routinely asked to march separately at suffragist rallies. Notably, in 1913, at a huge suffragist parade in Washington, organizers demanded that Black women march in the back versus marching with their state delegations like other participants. Paul is quoted saying, “As far as I can see, we must have a white procession, or a Negro procession, or no procession at all.” Organizations like the National American Woman Suffrage Association barred Black women from attending their conventions.
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Anthony and Paul, the two suffragists name-checked in March for Life’s promotional video, were very publicly anti-Black. Both disparaged and clearly disdained Black people, felt that they were unworthy of rights, and encouraged Black women to minimize their fight for voting rights so white women could secure the vote. Anthony is famously quoted saying, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”
All of this information is readily available and has become well-known criticisms of the women’s suffrage movement; the choice to celebrate an anti-Black movement was intentional. March for Life’s alignment with historical white supremacists should not come as a surprise, given the rampant anti-Blackness within the anti-choice movement, along with its links to fascist groups.
Last month, xenophobic and Islamophobic comments made in 2015 by the CEO of anti-choice nonprofit Obria resurfaced. Recently, Utah’s Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (R) compared abortion to slavery, attempting to draw similarities between the violent enslavement of Black people and the constitutional right to abortion care.
Anti-choice clinics, known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), have infiltrated Black communities, targeting patients of color and preventing them from knowing their full range of reproductive options. The CPCs advertise in Black and Latinx neighborhoods, claiming to want to help pregnant people of color navigate their choices but instead disenfranchising the people they counsel by not sharing their full range of options and convincing them to carry out their pregnancies.
Anti-choice lawmakers even go as far as to claim to legislate based on anti-racism, as is the case with “race-selective” abortion bans. “Race-selective abortion bans are based on the idea that women of color are coerced into abortions or are complicit in a ‘genocide’ against their own community,” the Guttmacher Institute reported. However, “There is no evidence that women of color seek abortions on the basis of race or that a ban on race-selective abortions would decrease abortions among this group.”
These abortion bans and CPCs targeting Black communities follow a disturbing trend of the anti-choice movement policing marginalized bodies of color the most. While rich white people will always have access to abortions in other states, low-income people of color can’t afford to.
If “pro-lifers” truly wanted to stop “genocide” against communities of color and engage in anti-racism work, there are several alternative routes they could take outside of restricting access to abortion.
Clearly, March for Life’s choice to celebrate the women’s suffrage movement is just one symptom of a broader problem in the anti-choice movement: anti-Blackness. Without contending with the historical and current issues of racism within their movement, anti-choice activists show that they have no problem being aligned with white supremacy.