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How Anti-Abortion Extremists Target Black Women

Gabby Bess

Gabby Bess

Anti-abortion groups claim to care about black lives, but only for the purpose of advancing their own agenda.

Photo by Sean Locke via Stocksy

Despite the fact that black people are being killed by police at twice the rate of white people, pro-life extremists want you to believe that a very different black genocide is quietly taking place.

In February of 2010, 65 billboards went up in Atlanta stating, "Black children are an endangered species." Next year, in the spring of 2011, Life Always, a Dallas-based anti-abortion group, rolled out a campaign specifically targeting black neighborhoods. In New York and Texas, the ads featured an unsmiling girl with a bow in her hair. The billboard read, "The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb." Then the billboards went up over the South Side of Chicago. This time they featured an image of President Barack Obama and bore the slogan, "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted."

After the offensive billboard went up in New York City, it was met with immediate backlash. In less than 24 hours, it was removed by the company that owned the billboard space. But the figurehead of Life Always, Pastor Stephen Broden, disagreed with the cries of racism regarding the content of his organization's ads. "This is far from hyperbole, these are facts and statistically back up that abortion is having an impact on the demography of African Americans," he told DNAinfo. "The intent of the board is to call attention to the tragedy and the truth that abortion is outpacing life in the black community," Broden said in another interview with a conservative website.

While these heavy-handed ads have almost all but disappeared, along with any trace of Life Always on the internet, other anti-abortion groups have adopted the tactic of framing abortion as a calculated assault on black people. This summer, Prolife Across America, the anti-abortion organization most known for their prolific, poorly Photoshopped billboards in nearly every state, came under fire for targeting black neighborhoods with their ads. And in California, New Jersey, and Virginia, a group called the Radiance Foundation put up billboards that simultaneously shamed black single mothers and black women who choose to have an abortion.

"Just coming in and telling a community what they want or need, which is what the people who put these billboards up are doing, is not the way to go," Nikema Williams of Planned Parenthood told a local news station during a protest of Prolife Across America's ads in Atlanta.

Image via the Radiance Foundation

But it's not like these groups actually care about black lives. They only care about advancing their anti-abortion agenda by spreading sensational misinformation and capitalizing on the political cachet of the Black Lives Matter movement. The most recent, and arguably most egregious, example of this is the campaign #CallHimEmmett. The hashtag was started by anti-abortion advocates after the "Center for Medical Progress" released deceptively edited videos that claimed Planned Parenthood employees profited from the sale of fetal tissues.

This baby boy in the Center for Medical Progress video is the Emmett Till of the pro-life movement.

While the videos have been investigated and debunked, anti-abortion groups are still spreading their falsehoods. Students for Life of America has even named the aborted fetus shown in the video: Emmett. As representatives from group explain in a video of their own, the racially unidentified cluster of cells is not unlike Emmett Till, the black Mississippi teen who was brutally murdered in 1955 after allegedly "flirting with a white woman." Just as Emmett Till's murder was a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-abortion activists proclaim, the fetal tissue shown in the undercover Planned Parenthood videos should become a symbol for "the thousands of Baby Emmetts aborted each day."

"This baby boy in the Center for Medical Progress video is the Emmett Till of the pro-life movement," the Students for Life of America wrote in a baffling blog post. The logic connecting a black boy who was murdered in the Jim Crow South to a sample of fetal tissue voluntarily donated to a health provider is virtually non-existent—and yet, anti-abortion advocates actively use #CallHimEmmett alongside the tags #UnbornLivesMatter and #DefundPP with the utmost conviction.

"Things like this feed the stereotype that black women are inherently bad people who are going to hurt their children simply because they may need an abortion at some point in their lives," NARAL board member and activist Renee Bracey Sherman told Broadly." A lot of these organizations tend to play off the fact that black women are five times more likely to have an abortion than their white counterparts, but don't actually look at the root cause of that, which is lack of access to consistent contraception. In Texas, people are splitting [birth control] pills between family members because they're so hard to get."

"This is not the first or last time [anti-abortion advocates] have co-opted the civil rights movement," Bracey Sherman continued. "We have children, like Tamir Rice, being shot in the streets. But these groups are doing nothing to make sure that black children have the right to an education, have a roof over their head, or can play in the park without being killed. They appropriate the Black Lives Matter phrasing and are trying to capitalize on the political moment, but they don't actually want anything to do with it.

"It's often white, pro-life activists who are doing this, without ever setting foot in the black community," Bracey Sherman said.

When anti-abortion groups aren't comparing women's reproductive health to racist hate crimes, they frequently site that abortion clinics systematically set up shop in black communities, which has lead to full-on "black genocide." They tout abortion as the number one killer in the black community. But according to the Guttmacher Institute, only six percent of abortion providers are located in majority black neighborhoods; 60 percent are located in majority white neighborhoods.

Image via SisterReach

And black women are fighting back, as RH Reality Check recently reported. Utilizing slogan "trust black women," the Tennessee-based organization, SisterReach, is combatting the rise of patronizing, anti-abortion billboards with messaging of their own. A poll from 2013 shows that eight in ten African Americans support abortion and the majority believe that "efforts to prevent unintended pregnancy are preferable to making abortion illegal."

"I don't deserve to be shamed for my reproductive health decisions, even when it's an abortion," one of SisterReach's billboards read. "Trust me to make the best decisions for myself, my family, and my community."