Friday, July 08, 2011

It's better to say too much, than never to say what you need to say again...

There's been something I've been wanting to blog about for awhile now, but I haven't. Mainly because I don't want to start crap and also because I am not exactly sure what I want to say. The possibility of crap starting is very high, because it concerns an extremely sensitive topic: abortion.

The billboard above was put up in a neighborhood in NYC a few months ago. It was taken down the next day, amid protests from I'm not sure who.

Now, I have always considered myself pro-choice. But something about the idea that this billboard is so offensive that it immediately needs to be taken down rubs me the wrong way. It is certainly a provocative ad, and the overt racial angle makes it even more so. I have written here before about how black women get a disproportionate number of the abortions in the U.S. They get almost 40% of the abortions and are only 12% of the female population. To me this is not something to be happy about, or even indifferent about.

But part of me feels like if I want to keep my pro-choice label, this is not something I can have an issue with. Because having an issue with the idea of abortion without restrictions is a slippery slope that leads to abortions for no one other than people who have enough money and connections to get them even when they are illegal.

I have also been doing a fair amount of reading about eugenics lately, and it is disturbing to me how closely the ideas of family planning and getting rid of "degenerates" have been tied if you look back in history. And it makes me wonder how much of that pairing is still unspoken today.

Let's make this even more uncomfortable. I don't know if you've read the book Freakonomics, but you should. It is a really interesting book that uses the lens of economics to explain lots of different things that you wouldn't normally look to that field to explain. There is a chapter that talks about how when Bill Clinton was President, there was a precipitous drop in the crime rate that people were not sure how to explain.

The authors of Freakonomics theorized that the reason for the drop was the legalization of abortion. They argued that babies/fetuses/whateveryouwanttocallthem that were most likely to be aborted, are the same people that were most likely to commit crimes. Fewer potential criminals exsiting = less crime. I believe in the book they talked about people most likely to be criminals were males who were born to young, poor, uneducated single mothers. I read the book a few years ago, but I am pretty sure that I remember that they pointedly did not mention race. However, looking at what I said earlier about the abortion rates, and what I wrote here about incarceration rates, what is left unspoken is that many of these abortions were given to black women having black babies.

I have noticed in conversations that I have had with pro-choice women in the past, there are often statements like, "Well, I would never get an abortion, but I think they should be available for other women."

I have always wanted to ask (and now finally am,) "Why is it necessary for you to let people know that you personally would never have an abortion? What are you trying to tell people about yourself by saying that? And who are these other women that abortion should be an available choice for?"

Here are some other questions that I have:

Do you think it is racist/racish for a black person to be concerned that black women are more likely to have abortions than white women? Why or why not?

Should a reduction in the crime rate because of the legalization of abortion be seen as a benefit of abortion? Why or why not?

If you are pro-choice, reading this, and getting mad me...I want to offer something to you. I think that part of the reason you're getting upset is because I am taking abortion, something that is commonly associated with liberals (i.e. the good white people,) and joining it up with not wanting black people around/not caring if fewer black people are around--something usually associated with conservatives (the racist white people.) Think about it.

I am not sure of the answers to the questions that I posed, which is a big part of the reason I asked them of you. I am very curious to hear your thoughts, so you should strongly consider leaving me a comment. Remember that you can leave comments anonymously.


  1. Is it true that when the unemployment rates are low and the economy is thriving that crime rates drop?

    To the best of my memory the time during the Clinton administration our economy was thriving (we were operating on a surplus right).

  2. BIG topic...

    My understanding as to why that billboard was immediately taken down was that the parents of the little girl in the ad were not informed (or misinformed) as to the ad content.

    They were not happy.

    So what if abortions occur disproportionately among Black women?
    Black women are at a disadvantage. And that's just the way it is. Black women who are educated, employed, and in a stable relationship probably have the same abortion rate as White women who are educated, employed, and in a stable relationship. Maybe those Black women are even LESS likely to terminate a pregnancy.

    Anecdotally, my experience has been that adolescent Black girls are less likely to terminate than adolescent White girls. However, also anecdotally, it seems as though it's more of a socioeconomic thing rather than a race thing. College-bound girls are more likely to abort, and maybe even a college bound Black girl is less likely to become pregnant than a college bound White girl. Young economically stressed girls of all races are most likely to opt to carry through with a pregnancy. There is a culture of the knowledge of the availability of resources ie: housing, WIC, health insurance, that I think makes it easy for a girl to go ahead with a pregnancy.

    This is based solely on 14 years of experience in pediatrics with and extremely diverse patient population.

    I don't at all think it's an issue of eugenics at all.

  3. Anonymous4:22 PM

    I think this is a very interesting question. I think you are right to be concerned. In a somewhat related vein, here's an op-ed I read recently about the high rate of abortion of female fetuses in places like India and China:

    I think the question becomes, what are right reasons and wrong reasons for having an abortion? It seems like as a society we've decided that age and situation of the mother, the circumstances of the pregnancy, and disability are "good" reasons, whereas race and gender are "bad" reasons. Or put another way, if the mother doesn't want a child, it's a good reason; if the mother (or society) doesn't want a particular child, it's a bad reason.

    Also, if what michelle says is true, if black women are less likely to abort, but yet they still account for a disproportionate number of abortions, that must mean that there are an even more disproportionate number of unwanted pregnancies among black women, no?

    Lots of things to think about in this post. Kudos for bringing up a difficult topic.


  4. I was so confused by this posting that for a while I thought you were pro-life, i.e. anti-abortion. After reading it three times and and spending some time researching crime rates, I think I understand it.

    I think the last comment makes sense: that black women who have abortions have three times a many as white women who have them. At least it is a real possibility.

    I imagine women who do not have power over their own bodies become hopeless. That could lead to anger and rage, and to all kinds of dysfunctional behavior. It might dysfunctional to use abortion to try and gain control, instead of breaking the ties to men who give them babies, but it is to me understandable.

    The idea that the genesis of crime is poor blacks is not true according to Michelle Alexander. She writes of her own work to overcome her belief that young black men are incarcerated because of their criminal ways, coming to understand that they are unfairly targeted by racist policing, judging and corrections.

    If you believe that she is wrong and that more crime is committed by young black men, then maybe an alternative explanation is that so many are kept in prison with extended sentences until they age out of the rambunctiousness of youth. Seems like that would also reduce unwanted pregnancy rates too, wouldn't it? Do you believe that fewer black men create more pregnancies? As so many black men have been incarcerated, and the crime rate has gone down, has the abortion rate gone up or down? Did abortions cause crime to go down or did incarceration cause births to go down? Did births even go down? I need more data!

    There is a strong link in the US between race and class, so there is a link between race and poverty. And people who are poor are targeted by the police and the CJ system. And poor black women are targeted by anti-abortion folks as the cause of abortions. The racish ad you photographed is part of that systemic dynamic. It is offensive, and still hard to deconstruct because it is very effective at pushing racish and moralistic buttons.

  5. I kept meaning to come back here and kept forgetting. Bummed there isn't more of a discussion! FWIW, I didn't find your presentation of this discussion offensive, and it coincided with other stuff that had me thinking about abortion, specifically in relationship to class. And class in relationship to social/family expectations for what a woman's life would be like.

  6. interesting question. it's always been my understanding that many white women go to private doctors to receive abortions where they are conveniently not reported, whereas most of the black women who receive them do so thru publicly funded groups like planned parenthood.

    it's definitely not racist to be concerned that black women have (more) abortions, and i don't know that i totally agree with the crime/abortion correlation.

    thought provoking post!

  7. I have way too many thoughts to add them all. But I believe that since Planned Parenthood was started to try to control black population, and the places in our community where you can get a cheap abortion, are all in the black communities, there might be some intentionality to the target group.
    I also wonder if some of the disporportional statistics could be a difference in thoughts and beliefs about birth control. Since there are a larger percentage of black people living in poverty I wonder how many of them are being taught the birth control method of 'skeet' which might decrease your chance of pregnancy, but it's not by much.
    I think about all of these things quite often as I look at my daughter, think about her birth mom, and have conversations with some of the young women around me who are products of unplanned pregnancies (some of whom are pregnant with unplanned children now).
    I can't help but believe in the statistics for abortion being part of our countries past attempts to make black people less than people.