Monday, May 5, 2008
Is Planned Parenthood Racist?
Recently there has been quite the publicity storm regarding an experiment at University of California at Los Angeles newspaper, The Advocate. An actor posed as a donor who specifically wanted to fund the donation of an abortion for a black woman. This request was repeated at several clinics and in each instance Planned Parenthood agreed to accept the donation.
The second part of the video can also be seen on youtube. According to FOX News, Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, of Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), has declared this a race issue. He is quoted as saying, "Every day … over 1,500 black babies are murdered inside the black woman’s womb." The Rev. Clenard Childress, is quoted as saying, "I think the media, and I think America, and certainly black folks, need to start thinking about race and Planned Parenthood." According to pro-life Concerned Women of America, Planned Parenthood received $65 million for the fiscal year 2007 from federal Title X funding and has received $300 million in government contracts and grants in the current fiscal year. The pastors and activists are urging Congress to end the government funding of the organization.
Planned Parenthood responded with the following statement:
The national office of Planned Parenthood provided FOX News with a lengthy statement on Thursday in which it said its role in the African-American community is widespread because the need is greater.
“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) revealed that a shocking number of teenage African-American girls — nearly half — carry a sexually transmitted infection," reads the statement. "This compares to an overall average rate for all teenage girls of at least one in four.
“The largest increases in the teen birthrate were reported for non-Hispanic black teens, whose overall rate rose five percent in 2006. In addition, African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than the general population,” it said.
Planned Parenthood further argues that 97% of its services are focused on providing contraceptives, breast and cervical cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment.
"Those services are more important than ever as this country faces a health care crisis — too many women can't afford birth control, too many families don’t have adequate health insurance coverage and too many young people are faced with unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections," the organization stated. "As a safety-net provider, it is Planned Parenthood's mission to provide women, men and teens with affordable access to reproductive health care services and information, regardless of income."
Since first becoming aware of this story in the news I have ruminated on it. As a woman I firmly believe in a womans right to choose, and as a person of color I was filled with conflicting emotions at the thought that we might be targeted for abortions. I thought about the history of racism. I thought about the forced sterilizations of black women. I thought about the social construction of women, and womens sexuality. This lead me to the conclusion that this is not a race issue.
When a woman walks into a place like Planned Parenthood she is well aware of the THREE options that exist: keep the child, give the child up for adoption or have an abortion. Irregardless of the number of abortions performed at Planned Parenthood, when each individual walked into that agency they were will aware of their options. Despite the fact that religious leaders have used inflammatory language like murder to describe abortion, what we are essentially talking about is the primacy of the body. If the ministers get their wish, and Planned Parenthood losses their federal funding, the abortions will not stop. What will happen is that women will risk their lives in back alley abortions. Forty percent of American women have had abortions and the only way to reduce that figure is to offer better forms of birth control, and sex education.
The charge of racism is reflective of the current battle of reproduction that is being waged. Whether it is the quiverfull movement, represented by families like the Duggars, or PM Erdogan’s repeated calls for Turkish women to give birth to more children, globally each race and culture seems to be engaged in a competition to reproduce. The quiverfull movement bases its foundation in Christianity, with a thinly veiled racist mantra of being overrun by the dark hordes. Erdogan views reproduction as a victory over Islams enemies. Each group seems to have a justification as to why women should reject birth control and refuse to have abortions. Each presents motherhood as the ultimate goal, responsibility and desire of women. Biology therefore becomes the determinant of ones life path, irregardless of desire or suitability for parenthood. This kind of thinking reduces women to walking uterus's, without individual agency. I for one, am more than my reproductive organs.
Pro-Life advocates are attempting to turn this into a racial issue in order to further restrict a womans right to choose. If statistics from the CDC are to be trusted, the reason that WOC are having more abortions is because we are the ones who are having unplanned pregnancies. The rate of sexually transmitted disease within the African American community attests to the fact that many are engaging in unprotected sex. Many are offended that Planned Parenthood would accept a donation from someone who clearly advocated the genocide of black people, I however do not care where the money comes from. If the bottom line means that women who would not have otherwise had access to an abortion are able to have one now, then contrary to the wishes of the donor they have actually done a social service. The average cost of an abortion is four hundred and eighty dollars, and for a woman living in poverty this amount of money could be difficult to raise. For some it could mean making a choice between paying rent, buying food or funding an abortion.
These pro-life protesters all refuse to deal with the real issues behind why the rate of abortion is so high for African American women. Blacks are subject to systemic racism, high rates of poverty and high rates of imprisonment. This is the social world that black children are born into. No where do I see these ministers advocating for things like socialized health care, education, daycare and flexible working hours for mothers. Even when men are participating in the rearing of a child, most of the labor is still performed by women. It seems to me that if the goal is to encourage women to have more children, it would make sense to advocate that which would make it easier for a woman to raise them. Instead they are focusing on birth which is a false starting point, as parenthood is a lifelong occupation. Race in this case is being used as a mechanism of control, to instill fear in the black population. As we have witnessed with the passage of legislation like the patriot act, fear can be effective in convincing people to give up rights guaranteed by law.