If you didn’t know what was going on inside pro-abortion world, the Huffington Post piece Planned Parenthood Executive VP Dawn Laguens posted on July 30 in response to the July 28 New York Times article, “Advocates shun ‘pro-choice’ to expand message,” would seem out of left field.
As I explained in a blog last week, the NYT article simply elaborated on a decision Planned Parenthood made 18 months ago to abandon the term “pro-choice” as antiquated.
This is where Laguens seemed to go off on a tangent:
I was sorry to see that the Times had not included those voices and missed the rich history of women of color fighting not just for “choice,” but for full reproductive justice….
We at Planned Parenthood recognize that organizations and leaders of color made this shift decades before we began to doubt the capacity of the “pro-choice” label to fully represent the dreams of our movement. They led the way, and we respect and honor their vision and leadership. There’s a rich context that needs to be told and shared, by Planned Parenthood and others. We should have done more to ensure that the New York Times was hearing from organizations and leaders of color who have provided a reproductive justice framework for decades and led the way in the discussion about the limitations of a “pro-choice” movement. It wasn’t our intention to contribute to the exclusion of the history and the work of reproductive justice activists and organizations.
The first item of interest (underlined) is Planned Parenthood helped shape the article - and likely pimped the story, I would bet. Planned Parenthood has NYT’s ear, no surprise.
But what does race have anything to do with dropping “pro-choice” from the pro-abortion lexicon?
Racial tensions simmering for years
I first became aware there were racial divisions within the pro-abortion community during the Take Root 14 conference this past February, when there was pushback after NARAL co-opted the potent civil rights phrase “I Am a Man!” to oppose personhood amendments and promote abortion…
Women of Color were incensed…
You can declare your personhood without appropriation of the Civil Rights movement. This is why we have so many divides the mvmt #IAmAPerson
— Renee Bracey Sherman (@RBraceySherman) February 24, 2014
Appropriating CRM language silences & marginalizes the WOC who have been advocating against repro abuse before & during that era #IAmAPerson
— Jazmine Walker (@JAZonyaMINE) February 24, 2014
which resulted in mea culpas and apologies…
— Indy Feminists (@IndyFeminists) February 24, 2014
As it turns out racial tensions have been brewing for years. Women of Color have resented being used to push abortion while their array other concerns were all but ignored until the abortion industry needed them.
Planned Parenthood co-opted broader language
WOC believe that decades ago they conceived the concept of “reproductive justice,” which encompasses much more than abortion. Planned Parenthood, et al, are only suddenly championing the idea because abortion can no longer be sold on its own. From furiousandbrave.com, March 2013:
Reproductive justice (RJ) is a framework that arose in the late 1980s to expand the reproductive rights movements’ primary focus on “choice.” Before that time, mainstream reproductive rights and health movements comprised of mostly white-middle class women who often skirted issues that directly affected women of color despite women of color’s participation in these movements. RJ was formed in order to add an intersectional analysis to reproductive rights where advocates recognized how race, class, gender, sexuality, and nationality impact the control, regulation, and stigmatization of female fertility….
[M]any white feminists fail to recognize how perceived racial inferiority and structural inequality contributes to reproductive health disparities of women of color.
With Planned Parenthood deciding to distance itself and move beyond the “pro-choice” label, many white feminists and reproductive rights and health advocates are beginning to recognize how polarizing and inaccessible “choice” is for many communities of women. They are beginning to embrace the reproductive justice framework. However, while the adopting reproductive justice framework, many still struggle with inclusion.
Reproductive justice based on crimes against WOC
The concept of “reproductive justice” for black women is rooted in unimaginable wrongs committed against them, from rape and impregnation by white slave owners, to forced separation of families, to forced sterilization.
I read the following in a Salon article a few months back, and it really impacted. me. Even if I disagree with the course of action, I understand it more:
[T]hroughout slavery and into the 20th century, self-abortion through herbal remedies, hangers, hatpins and pencils were a way out of slavery and poverty. Our ancestors fought hard to refuse to carry the children of their master rapists and rear another generation of slaves, even when it meant that “barren” women were deemed worthless chattel and sold between plantations.
From generation to generation, stories and recipes were passed down to ensure that women weren’t forced to carry pregnancies they never desired or weren’t able to carry healthily. For as many powerful women that raised children in the worst conditions imaginable, so there were those who refused.
I recall a horrific story about an escaped slave mother in the autobiography of Levi Coffin, (beginning on page 557) a relative of mine (after whom my grandson Levi is named), who was the president of the Underground Railroad:
Perhaps no case that came under my notice, while engaged in aiding fugitive slaves, attracted more attention and aroused deeper interest and sympathy than the case of Margaret Garner, the slave mother, who killed her child rather than see it taken back to slavery. This happened in the latter part of January, 1856….
The husband of Margaret fired several shots, and wounded one of the officers, but was soon overpowered and dragged out of the house. At this moment, Margaret Garner, seeing that their hopes of freedom were vain seized a butcher knife that lay on the table, and with one stroke cut the throat of her little daughter, whom she probably loved the best. She then attempted to take the life of the other [three] children and to kill herself, but she was overpowered and hampered before she could complete her desperate work….
The murdered child was almost white, a little girl of rare beauty….
But in spite of touching appeals, of eloquent pleadings, the Commissioner remanded the fugitives back to slavery….
It was reported that on her way down the river she sprang from the boat into the water with her babe in her arms; that when she rose she was seized by some of the boat hands and rescued, but that her child was drowned.
For WOC, killing one’s born and preborn children were historically acts of desperation. The pro-life movement yearns for WOC to be lifted from desperate states. The abortion industry exploits and profits from their desperate states.
Against the volatile backdrop of racial conflicts within the pro-abortion movement, of which I have only scratched the surface in this post, we return to the NYT article, wherein two grave errors were made that only twisted the knife in the backs of WOC.
The author, Jackie Calmes, claimed the expansion of the pro-abortion scope was a recent development, dating only as far back as 2010, which simply isn’t true. She also gave no credit to WOC:
The broadened message from women’s groups coincided with - and, they say, was hastened by - Republicans’ actions after taking control of the House and some state legislatures in the 2010 elections.
Worse, all seven women quoted in the article, whose names Planned Parenthood admitted supplying, were white.
“Coming irrelevance” of white-dominated abortion groups
A July 31 colorlines.com post is not only written to Calmes but also sends a scathing shot across the bow to white-powered abortion groups like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List:
Your article had a really major, glaring, gaping hole. It completely ignored, erased and denied the role women of color in this big shift.
It’s true that you never outright said that the movement was only white women, and neither did any of your interviewees. But the thing is, when you don’t mention race in a topic like this, when you don’t quote even one woman of color (in an article that quotes seven white women), that’s what you’re doing….
You may not be the only one to blame for the absence. It’s possible that of the seven white women from big, majority-white organizations that you interviewed, none of them mentioned the role of women of color and race-based tensions in the pushback against the term. Unfortunately if that is the case, as a woman of color involved in this movement going on 10 years, it’s sadly not surprising….
You might sense that I’m a little bit angry, Ms. Calmes. And in reality, this isn’t about you. Your article is just one more piece of reporting that highlights what has been going on for decades and what may really be the downfall of the reproductive rights movement - the constant erasure and co-optation of the work of women of color.
The fact that white-led organizations are now taking the credit for moving us away from pro-choice, when that charge has been led by women of color for decades, is just salt on an already long-standing open wound. The fact that your article didn’t even mention the movement for reproductive justice is evidence of the coming irrelevance of these players….
The thing is, there’s a lot at stake here. This isn’t just about your article, or even the media. Part of the reason you quoted the people you did is about the way access to resources is shaped by racism in the non-profit arena. The groups with the most funding are not the groups that represent women of color. The organizations with the best media teams, the most access to reporters like you, they are also not the groups with real connections to the women on the ground who are facing the biggest hurdles to creating the families they want to create.
The tide is turning, and there is a groundswell of people already organizing behind a broader framework. Call it reproductive justice, or just call it common sense, but no matter how much these groups try to claim they were responsible for this shift - those of us involved know it just isn’t true. While the majority of resources may remain with these groups, their serious lack of diversity in leadership, both in terms of race and age, is setting them up for a future where the majority young and of color population isn’t going to have any interest in their movement.
Now you know why Dawn Laguens wrote her HuffPo piece. Planned Parenthood is rightfully panicking. The group inexplicably blew it.
“This is a fight about abortion rights groups both taking over the reproductive justice framework and making it only about abortion and birth control,” abortion advocate and author Robin Marty explained to me.
“The big battle is over whether those who held the pro-choice mantle are coming in and overtaking RJ to make it fit their needs, or whether they can understand that they are more than welcome to enter the framework, but it is not theirs, they do not own it, and to be a part of it means accepting the entirety of the work as their mission, far beyond just the abortion/birth control side of it,” Marty concluded.
I cannot possibly identify with the history of African-American women. I can only say the “pro-choice” movement is founded on racism and eugenics. There is a reason, according to Planned Parenthood’s research arm, Guttmacher Institute, “the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women” – and it’s not due to lack of availability of contraceptives, which are handed out like candy.
WOC are rightfully suspicious of the abortion lobby. Abortion is not their friend. Abortion is their enemy.
[Top photo via xojane.uk; second photo via Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement; graphic via furiousandbrave.com; painting by Thomas Satterwhite Noble, 1867, The Modern Medea, based on Margaret Garner's story; bottom graphic via toomanyaborted.com]