Stop Telling Black Women What to Do With Our Bodies
By Nia Eshu Martin-Robinson | Aug. 28, 2020, 6:38 p.m.
Y’all, I’m tired. I’m tired of white supremacy and patriarchy. I’m tired of the systems that police, control, and murder Black trans women. I’m tired of the systems that allow Breonna Taylor to be murdered in her home while her killers are allowed to roam free.
I’m tired of the systems that built a faulty health care infrastructure that allows Black women to die in childbirth and Black people to die of COVID-19 at three times the rate of white people. I’m tired of entertainers like Kanye West — who’s spreading propaganda by anti-abortion groups for his political agenda. I’m tired of anti-abortion activists who claim abortion is Black genocide. I’m tired of Black women’s decisions about our bodies being policed.
This country was built on the backs of Black people and the genocide of Indigenous people. White slave owners controlled Black women’s lives and used the labor of generations for more than 400 years to build the economic engine that still powers this country. The “father of modern gynecology,” J. Marion Sims, was a slave owner who conducted experiments on enslaved Black women without anesthesia. Black women — along with immigrants, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes – were forcibly sterilized by federally-funded programs in 32 states.
Police murders, the racially biased treatment of Black women in labor, and abortion restrictions are all acts of violence. As Black women, we’re not safe from policing in our homes, in doctor’s offices, or in schools. We’re not trusted or supported to make decisions for ourselves and our families. We still have to defend our right to have an abortion to the rest of the world. Anti-abortion organizations have attempted to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement to shame Black women, shouting Black Lives Matter slogans outside of Planned Parenthood health centers, even erroneously using the denunciation of our founder’s racist and ableist beliefs as validation for their false logic.
Let’s get clear about this: Politicians at the highest levels use misleading talking points, disinformation, and outright lies about abortion, pregnancy, and Black lives to further their efforts to outlaw safe, legal abortion. They use attention-grabbing sound bites — such as inflammatory, baseless claims about “Black genocide” — to draw people, including the media, into giving their agenda the oxygen of amplification.
This is nothing new. The very roots of present day anti-abortion politics, in fact, can be found in legacies of Jim Crow segregation. When the Religious Right organized into a political force in the 1970s, as a Dartmouth professor documented in the book ‘Thy Kingdom Come,’ its driving force was not Roe v. Wade — it was the desire to keep segregated religious colleges from losing their tax-exempt status.
An excerpt from the book explains why the Religious Right used the pretext of Roe to launder its origin story:
The abortion myth serves as a convenient fiction because it suggests noble and altruistic motives behind the formation of the Religious Right. But it is highly disingenuous and renders absurd the argument of the leaders of the Religious Right that, in defending the rights of the unborn, they are the "new abolitionists." The Religious Right arose as a political movement for the purpose, effectively, of defending racial discrimination at Bob Jones University and at other segregated schools. Whereas evangelical abolitionists of the nineteenth century sought freedom for African Americans, the Religious Right of the late twentieth century organized to perpetuate racial discrimination.
Americans can draw a straight line from the discriminatory impulses of the early Religious Right to 2020. Just months ago, despite the disproportionate suffering in Black communities afflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the president of a Religious Right university “jokingly” tweeted an image of a face mask featuring people in blackface.
Even amid the pandemic, a reckoning with systemic racism, and mass joblessness that has disproportionately left Black people worried about paying their rent or buying their next meal, Religious Right activists and communities still give intense support to President Donald Trump and his anti-abortion agenda. A recent story in the New York Times shows how little some Trump supporters care about the pain his policies have inflicted on Black lives:
“People in my circles, you don’t really hear about racism, so I guess I don’t know too much about it,” Mr. Driesen said of the protests [after the killing of George Floyd]. “When I see the pictures, I thought they all should be at work, being productive citizens.” …
“We are making this huge issue of white versus Black, Black Lives Matter. All lives matter,” [Caryn Schouten] said. “There are more deaths from abortion than there are from corona, but we are not fighting that battle.”
“We are picking and choosing who matters and who doesn’t,” she said.
Here’s what else supporters of the anti-abortion agenda hide with their rhetoric about Black lives: the fact that some anti-abortion activists promote racist views today.
Let’s break it down: Far-right extremists such as those responsible for the 2019 mosque shooting in New Zealand, as well as the 2018 synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, have a conspiracy theory known as “the great replacement” — described by a New York Times columnist as “a racist and misogynistic [notion] that holds that white people face existential decline, even extinction, because of rising immigration in the West and falling birth rates among white women (caused, of course, by feminism).”
Promoters of that far-right view want restrictions and bans on abortion because they want more white babies. “Great replacement” believers celebrated the 2019 attempt by Alabama politicians to ban abortion, and anti-abortion politicians have bought into “great replacement” rhetoric; in Florida, a state senator said on a 2019 radio show that “When you get a birth rate less than 2% [as seen across most of western Europe], that society is disappearing … [and] being replaced by folks that come behind them and immigrate.”
The fact is, the goal of limiting reproductive freedoms has led some anti-abortion activists to embrace racists — and vice versa. A case in point: Rep. Steve King of Iowa, one of the most outspoken anti-abortion politicians in Congress, received praise from a leading figure in the 2017 neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Va., for tweeting about “our civilization” facing a threat from “somebody else’s babies”:
Pictured above: White nationalist Richard Spencer, writing on Twitter on March 12, 2017: “The 15 Words: [C]ulture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies.” [Note: The mention of “15 Words” dog-whistles a neo-Nazi slogan known as “the 14 Words.”]
There is no “Black genocide.” There is no “great replacement.” Both of these concepts are fictions — conspiracy theories designed to conjure support for an unpopular agenda.
In the real world, the idea of “Black genocide” by abortion is rooted in the continuation of the reproductive oppression of Black women. This idea exploits our communities’ very real history of medical mistreatment and infantilizes Black women.
Pictured above: Nia Eshu Martin-Robinson, speaking at the 2016 Power of Pink conference
Black women’s decisions about our reproductive health boil down to damned if we do, damned if we don’t. We’re told we can only have children if we “can afford it” — otherwise we’re “welfare queens,” demonized by conservatives as drains on society (meanwhile corporations and the rich squeeze our labor and natural resources to depletion, taking billions in tax breaks). There is no support for mothers: no mandated paid maternity leave, no affordable childcare, states that still haven’t expanded Medicaid, and an administration still trying to overturn the Affordable Care Act — in the middle of a pandemic. Black women are dying bringing children into this world. Our children are thrown in jail or shot by police and denied the chance to experience the full humanity that white children expect as their birthright.
We’re also vilified and shamed when we make a decision to terminate a pregnancy. Under the guise of caring about life, conservatives are forcing us to walk through protestors — or to drive hundreds of miles to the few-and-far-between health centers that have survived regulation after regulation from state politicians opposed to safe and legal abortion. Because America exploited our labor, denying us education and opportunities to accumulate wealth for centuries, 25% of Black women rely on Medicaid for health care. Due to the Hyde Amendment, the federal government bars those of us who rely on Medicaid from using federal tax dollars to pay for an abortion. They do not care about our lives.
But we do. We are full human beings, capable of making our own decisions about our bodies, pregnancies, and our lives. It’s long past time for the world to recognize it and support it.
To some, this argument might sound radical, but it’s not new. The Reproductive Justice movement is the essence of how theories of Black feminism and intersectionality become practice. It’s about protecting and advancing Black people’s ability to fully make our own reproductive decisions: to parent, to not parent, and to raise our children in safe and thriving communities. The Reproductive Justice Movement has long been ahead of traditional reproductive rights organizations in declaring that bodily autonomy and access to reproductive health care are human rights.
Pictured above: Participants in the Women's March in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2017
Because the war against white supremacy is fought on Black women’s bodies, we stand unapologetically at the forefront of movements — whether it’s for reproductive freedom or for Black liberation. We organize, we create resource after resource, we march to exhaustion, we cry and we comfort and we bring joy. Trust us, stand with us — or get out of our way.
And one more time for the people in the back: Stop telling us what to do with our bodies.
Photo at top by Flickr user Miki Jourdan; used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.