The Underlying Racism in the Pro-Life Movement By: Marissa Bishop
In 1860, the Pro-Life movement started to gain support and recognition in and out of the White House. The United States Government introduced a large amount of legislation restricting access to abortion throughout the country, and many citizens took to the streets in support of the new legislation. While the constant push for reproductive control was active in the 1860s, it was not until March 3, 1873, when The Comstock Act was passed by Congress, that the Pro-Life movement achieved a new type of victory. The Comstock Act was a law written by Anthony Comstock that restricted access to contraception, birth control, and abortions, while also criminalizing speaking out against the words of the Comstock Act, an act that built a wall around female reproductive rights (Burnette). The 1860s was a period in American History where slavery was on the verge of abolition, with the Union and the Confederacy fighting in the Civil War. The increase of anti-abortion policies happened alongside the anti-slavery movement. anti-abortion and anti-slavery were two completely different movements; yet, both closely corresponded with one another. The paths of the two movements crossed due to the underlying racism within the Pro-Life movement. Whether economically, morally, or socially, there are numerous racist undertones that lie within the pro-life stance.
Abortions were a prominent part of society in Ancient Rome practiced amongst the poor, slave, merchant, and lower classes. While abortion policies had supporters in Ancient Rome, there were also people who were against the idea. Many Christian citizens in Ancient Rome believed that abortion was not a crime aginst life itself, but rather a crime of deception against the husband. Since many Christians in Rome held these beliefs, there were laws against abortion implemented, and punishments for abortion performed. (Kourkouta, et all). Pro-Life policies have been present in World History since the time of Ancient Rome, so why is it that anti-abortion policies did not begin in American history until the 1860s?
With the anti-slavery movement on the rise, plantation-owning families grew concerned about their economic future; the abolishment of slavery would deplete their main workforce, which was heavily rooted in the mandatory, unpaid, hard labor of Black slaves. The only way to ensure their farm’s economic safety in terms of the workforce was to illegalize abortion, contraception, and birth control. The criminalization of contraceptive care and abortion rights would help secure the Southern workforce in two ways. One being that White mothers had no way to get rid of the child, and fathers could force children to work on the plantations; the other way being rape. If a slave owner raped a slave, resulting in a pregnancy, then the slave owner owned another body, his child, to either sell or put to work. Allowing the slave owner ownership of another person, which they could use to raise their economic bar even higher. The criminalization of abortion was used in their society to fulfill the needs brought on by the abolishment of slavery and to recover from a wide economic gap.
Prior to the Civil War, while abortion was still legal, midwifery was a common occupation held within the female community, with half of them being Black women. However, with the abolishment of slavery, white, male gynecologists became well-rounded in the practice of delivering children. They sought to end midwifery, claiming the practice was a degrading means of obstetrical care and that the concept of abortion and contraception was wrong (Goodwin). These gynecologists viewed themselves as alpha males, taking over the duties of Black and indigenous midwives throughout the country. Recently, historians have discovered that these gynecologists not only sought to take over the duties of midwives but also their bodies. With little to no use of anesthesia or pain control medication in general, they forced Black women to participate in non-consensual medical experiments. While these experiments and surgeries took place before the Comstock Act, after the bill was implemented, the gynecologists were given much more medical freedom when it came to reproductive experiments. The sad realities of these experiments often get overlooked by medical achievements, while victims like Lucy get erased in History. Lucy was an 18-year-old Black woman and a patient of Dr. James Marion Sims, a man often referred to as the “Father of Modern Gynecology.” Lucy was one of the victims of forced, gynecological care. Shortly after giving birth, Lucy found herself unable to control her bladder, and Sims took advantage of her medical state. She was completely naked while perching on her knees, bending down on her elbows, with her head resting in her hands. Lucy endured an hour-long procedure, where she was kicking and screaming in pain, Sims wrote that her “agony was extreme.” The surgery gave Lucy blood poisoning, and Sims “thought she was going to die,” (Holland).The Transition made from female-run midwifery to white male run gynecology played a major part of the growth of the Pro-Life movement, which ended up hurting hundreds of lives.
The themes shown within the actions of gynecologists in the 1860s are still reflected in society today. An investigation in two California prisons showed that 148 women of color were sterilized in 2006-2010, from inside the two facilities' walls. Many of the inmates stated that it was forced and mandatory sterilization (Lennard).
There are many differences that appear within each and every community, including ethnic and racial differences. However, the differing economy from various communities is often overlooked. According to the 2017 USA Census, the Black community has a lower average income than any other major minority group, at about $40,000, which is about $21,000 below the average income for all races. If the world turned to anti-abortion outlooks, Black women would be the most affected, since they make up half of the abortion rates in total due to financial challenges. On average, families spend around $17,000 on a child each year, but that number can differ depending on child care, education, and medical issues. The expense of children always puts an economic toll on families. However, in cases of unwanted pregnancy and parenthood, the family is generally unable to establish an economic plan for the child. An unplanned pregnancy often places families below the poverty line, digging an economic trench with a near-impossible escape. Stripping abortion care will be a general downfall for the economy, but particularly the Black population, as they are already facing an economic crisis, but the abolishment of abortion would turn the crisis into an emergency.
In the general population, 50% of teen mothers will not receive a high school education before the age of 22. If abortions became criminalized then society will see a massive increase in teen pregnancy rates, especially within the Black community, causing more woman, especially within the Black community, to not achieve a high school education. A common stereotype within the Black community is that many of them dropout of high school, not finishing their education. This stereotype introduces a different stereotype that the Black community is stupid or uneducated. The flaws that lie within these stereotypes are extreme since 88% of Black people graduate high school, which is simply a 3% difference from the percentage of white high school graduates. While the stereotype that Black people are uneducated is false, the illegalization of abortion would only build upon the stereotype and increase the rate of female high school dropouts within the Black community. Racism, bigotry, and all forms of hatred are built off of stereotypes of a community, not on the community itself. We all have our part in decreasing the rate of hatred, keeping abortion legal is a vital part of doing that within our society.
Another major aspect of the Pro-Life movement is the defunding of Planned Parenthood. Many people take this stance against this organization because they believe that the defunding will cause a decrease in abortion rates, but the truth is that the defunding of the organization will just cause a decrease in health care within the Black community. To Black women, not having reproductive care and accessibility is not a new story, it might as well be the oldest story in the book, but the defunding of Planned Parenthood will simply be a new chapter. Black women have more than eight times as many cases of gonorrhea than white women, five times as many chlamydia cases, and four and a half times as many syphilis cases. People often hear about Planned Parenthood and strictly think of abortion; however, abortion only accounts for 3% of Planned Parenthoods services, while STD/STI screening makes up nearly 45% of their services, and contraceptive care, 31% (Evans). The defunding and inevitable removal of the Planned Parenthood organization would be devastating for women all over the country, but the effects on the black community in particular due to the higher number of STD/STI cases within the Black population.
In society today, we tell our children not to judge a book by its cover, yet we do the same thing when it comes to social rights. We take a glance at what an issue does to one group of people but completely overlook and override the challenges the issue opposes on another group of people. People of color are often looked at by white supremacists as dolls, with which they can poke, prod, and play with. It’s sickening that their reproductive choice was forcefully taken away. The pro-life stance is more than just not agreeing with the science of abortions, the pro-life stance is stripping the choice, the decision, and the freedom of the women when it comes to reproductive choices. If those choices are stripped away, it will be a step backward in the strive towards equality, chance, and rights for al
l, and our community will end up with more gynecologists like Dr. James Marion Sims, and more patients like Lucy. We look at controversy through a single frame and we do not zoom out to see the full picture or consequences. People who take the pro-life position often choose to ignore the racism and bigotry involved with their stance. However, racism has camouflaged itself within the pro-life movement socially, economically, and morally. Throughout history, we have undermined and overlooked racism in the pro-life stance, but it is time that as a society we wake up, open our eyes, and see the full frame.