Yesterday, anti-abortion group Life America debuted a billboard in Chicago with an image of (pro-choice) President Barack Obama that reads, "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted." According to the Huffington Post, the organization has secured the support of a handful of Chicago's Black "leaders," including failed GOP congressional candidate Rev. Isaac Hayes, Rev. Ceasar LeFlore, Rev. Derek A. McCoy and Pastor Stephen Broden. Life America plans to place thirty similar billboards across Chicago's South Side.
Last month, I was one of many writers, community activists and citizens who wrote to express my outrage at another Life America billboard targeting African American women in New York's upscale (and largely White) SoHo neighborhood. The ad featured a picture of a sad little girl with the words "The most dangerous place in the world for African-Americans is the womb." The company that owned the advertising space buckled under the pressure and removed the offensive ad, citing fears that employees at nearby businesses may be harassed as a result of its presence. While there was a sense of victory felt when the attack ad was removed, we knew that this would not be the end of our fight.
I recently spotted a very similar one in Austin, Texas; this time, a boy's picture was featured (the mother of the little girl in the NYC ad publicly complained that she was misled about her child's image was used) and "African American child" was replaced by "some children." The abortion debate will not soon end in this country, and the African American community is no exception; as the divide over abortion is largely shaped by religion, our largely Christian population will never come to a total 'yea' or 'nay' consensus in the matter. However, people from both sides of the fence should consider how Life America and similar organizations use propaganda to push their message that is highly offensive to African Americans, particularly women.
President Obama was an ironic choice for this particular campaign, considering that he is the child of a White mother; I can't help but wonder if that was an intentional second slap to the face for sisters. The implication of this and other ads is that Black women are potentially destroying the growth of the Black community by having abortions at a rate that exceeds that of other racial populations. These messages aim to produce a visceral reaction that does not take into consideration the many factors that lead women of all races to terminate pregnancy: poverty, non-participation from the father, lack of access to education, job training and health care, fiscal inability to provide for a child, etc., etc., etc.
These ads also divert attention from what should be the big question: why are so many African-Americans participating in high-risk sexual behavior when they aren't ready or willing to be parents? While we outpace other women in terms of abortion, African-Americans of both genders also comprise a disproportionate number of persons infected with HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and other STIs. We are overrepresented in the prison population, underrepresented in higher education. If Life America's interest in restricting access to abortion was truly marked by compassion for the plight of the African-American community, why would population growth be the only point on which they choose to focus?
If there were fewer abortions performed on African-American women, is it conceivable that there would be more African-American leaders? It's a possibility, but there is no way of measuring that. In fact, one should be careful to consider that the persons who are having these abortions have decided that they don't wish to have children/additional children at the time of their procedures. Isn't the best plan of attack to prevent unplanned pregnancies before they happen? And to help some of these women have access to the sort of resources they need should they choose to become mothers in the future?
Life America and its partners and allies are simply preying upon the religious and cultural sensitivities of African-Americans in order to promote their agenda. They are willing to publicly cast African-American women as some sort of baby-killing monsters that are destroying our community, in hopes of shaming sisters into relinquishing their right to choose. Whether you are pro-choice or anti-abortion, understand that these tactics are extremely offensive to the group of people who have shouldered the majority of responsibility for the sustenance of our community: Black women. Please don't believe the hype.