I am, as I would imagine some women in America are today, wrestling with the idea that the fundamental right of a woman to an abortion may end by the summer of 2022. Yet, I am ambivalent about the motivations of the people in the fight. My ambivalence is not about whether the Supreme Court’s decision will throw women back to a period when abortions were illegal all over the country. I am from that generation where they were illegal before, and I know of ordinary women who still got them. What is actually at stake? Abortion? Contraception? A woman’s right to choose? Is this a precursor to the dissolution of more rights women enjoy today?
For purposes of clarification among those for whom I am certain I will confuse and those for whom I will trigger, I am, in the vernacular of this debate, “pro-choice,” as in the choice of a woman to choose what to do with her own body, including having an abortion. I am also pro-life, but in the vernacular of those who believe in life and humanity after birth as well, not the prevailing thought of most conservatives’ views of the term. The churning in my stomach, that bubbling that keeps my body in reflux these days is over what is actually being fought for in this seeming battle of the sexes, from my own unique perspective.
Is this actually a fight where Black women are once again being swept up into another intersectional pink pussy hat struggle with white women against white men in a decades-long battle over the decline in white births among white women and deaths now exceeding live births of white people overall? Is this a fight over the sanctity of life at conception or a fear that people who identify as white in this country are disappearing?
According to a Census data brief by the Applied Population Lab written by Rogelio Sáenz and Kenneth M. Johnson:
“between 1999 and 2016, the number of white births fell by 10.8 percent to 2,094,000 and the number of white deaths rose by 9.2 percent to 2,133,000. Both these demographic changes contributed to waning levels of natural increase and the onset of white natural decrease. The report stated that while white natural decrease is common, overall natural decrease is not.”
The report examined all fifty states, and concluded America is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. In other words, it’s getting darker in skin tone. They cited the example of a substantial surplus of Latino births over deaths together with past immigration” and 1.7 African American births for every African American death as contributing to the darkening of the United States.
While most of us regular people may not think about this kind of stuff, there are people in major think tanks all over the country with billions of dollars who do, and this fact could be one of the reasons why the push for Trump and his anti-Black, anti-immigrant ethos was so successful for four years, especially when you consider the implications for the future of the nation’s “colored” ratio.
Then there is Margaret Sanger. When Margaret Sanger first flirted around with the idea of birth control, this eugenicist and acknowledged white supremacist was not at all interested in equal rights for Black women, nor was she concerned with the rights of Black women when she founded “Planned Parenthood,” opening her first clinic on October 16, 1916. Although many people, including Gloria Steinem and Martin Luther King, would later dismiss Ms. Sanger’s overtly white supremacist rhetoric as simply the language of the time, I am still left with that language and history of eugenics in America no matter how much they apologized for it on her behalf in order to further the “planned parenthood” model in the Black community. Still, equality, equity, opportunity and justice for Black women in America for generations and to a large extent, through continued discrimination and denial brought on by the system of Racism, is still too far up on the shelf to be reached. At the same time that Ms. Sanger was contemplating ridding the world of the so-called inferiority among humanity, Black women were commonly raped and brutalized by white men. They were also sterilized in great numbers. Black women did not have agency over their own bodies.
There were few if any intersections among white women during any relevant time in that period as to the agency of a Black woman and her body from abuse. It would take decades after the opening of the first Planned Parenthood office for Black women to own their own bodies, since during that same period and beyond there were at least thousands of forced sterilizations of Black women. Writing for the Institute of Healthcare Policy and Innovation, Dr. Alexandra Stern stated that “from 1937 to 1966, Black women were most likely to be forcibly sterilized… and that desegregation coincided with a dramatic increase in the rate.” Stern illustrated that by 1913, “many states had or were on their way to having eugenic sterilization laws,” and at least thirty-one states had enacted laws by the 1940s, rising in some states into the 1960s. Ms. Sanger was a part of a larger international contingent of eugenicists, the United States being an international leader. Stern attributed the United States laws as what informed Nazi Germany and their practices that lead to their own forced sterilizations.
She further explained how it wasn’t coincidental that integration was a factor in “The backlash involved the reassertion of white supremacist control and racial hierarchies specifically through the control of Black reproduction and future Black lives by sterilization.” In North Carolina alone, 7,600 people were sterilized from 1929 to 1973, and Black women were disproportionately targeted at a rate three times that of white women and twelve times the rate of white men. Stern said the developed pattern “reflected the ideas that Black women were not capable of being good parents and poverty should be managed with reproductive constraint.”
Nevertheless, I can state with a modicum of hesitancy there is little doubt that whatever the goal of Margaret Sanger, today Planned Parenthood has offered more to the Black community than cheap abortions and has contributed to the wellness and prevention of diseases for Black women who are unable to afford more expensive care.
For me, a human being’s right to own and choose care of his or her own body is a fundamental right that should never be legislated, litigated, or adjudicated. I must always, however, question the motives of white people in power who claim they are fighting for the rights of Black women, using the typical euphemisms: poor, underserved, and people of color as the reason why abortion is so important to keep, or other white people who claim the rights of the unborn but continually vote for and support white supremacist, inequality, inequity, lack of opportunity, state sanctioned violence and murder of Black lives.