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Feb 06 2012

God’s Body, God’s Plan: The Komen Foundation and Abortion as Black/Latino “Genocide”

By Sikivu Hutchinson

This is God’s body, the girl says. She is one of a group of middle school students participating in a youth workshop on misogynist images in media. The subject has turned to abortion, and her peers nod vigorously in agreement. Imani Moses, a high school senior who is facilitating the workshop as one of my Women’s Leadership Project students, challenges her to examine her position—“does God sleep, eat, live in and control ‘this body’ 24/7?” She asks, pointing to her own body. “No, this is my body, and I control it.” A ripple of unease goes through the room, as the girls chew on Imani’s defiance. Making the leap from God to self-determination is blasphemous for some. Yet, the persistence of these beliefs underscores the special peril the current fight over abortion rights poses for women of color.

Over the past several years, Black and Latino fundamentalist anti-abortion groups have vigorously aligned themselves with the white Religious Right in the battle to takedown family planning. Indeed, the recent furor over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to withdraw funding for Planned Parenthood highlighted the role of Eve Sanchez Silver, founder of a little known group called the International Coalition of Color for Life. According to the Los Angeles Times, Sanchez Silver, a former medical research analyst for and charter member of the Komen Foundation, has been a leading advocate against Planned Parenthood within Komen.

The International Coalition of Color for Life frames its mission as “protecting minority life from birth to natural death.” Its website is chock full of shrill abortion-as-God’s-scourge propaganda. To bolster its claims that abortion is genocide images of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger are stamped with Nazi swastikas. Historically revisionist assessments of Planned Parenthood conveniently omit the connection many early 20th century progressive Black activists made between family planning, birth control, abortion, and black liberation. Tellingly, prominent Nazis like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune and Ida B. Wells supported Sanger’s controversial work with the Birth Control Federation of America. As African American historian Dorothy Roberts contends in her book Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, “Sanger (may have) adopted the eugenicists’ view of the dangers of racial deterioration…but she rejected their biological explanation for its cause…she held uncontrolled fertility responsible for bringing children into conditions of poverty and deprivation.” Roberts unpacks the nuances of Sanger’s views and policies, noting that “it appears that Sanger was motivated by a genuine concern to improve the health of the poor mothers she served rather than a desire to eliminate their stock.”

However, by using Sanger as a smokescreen to vilify abortion, anti-abortion foes of color are really savaging women’s right to agency. Twenty first century women’s liberation demands that women of color have safe, legal, and unrestricted access to abortion. As reproductive justice organizations like Sister Song have made abundantly clear, contemporary women of color are not serviceable wombs for the agenda of patriarchy, the state or organized religion. It is precisely because of right wing opposition to universal health care coverage that Black, Latina, Asian, and Native American women are more likely to rely on the wraparound health care services that Planned Parenthood provides. Yet, in chastising bad Black and Latino women about the genocidal evil of abortion, groups like the International Coalition of Color want to keep women of color grossly misinformed and subservient. In one especially fraudulent Power Point slide on the group’s website, Sanchez Silver claims that Komen’s “Pink Money Cycle” actually increases breast cancer in women because abortions cause breast cancer. This particular bit of right wing fantasy is just as reality-based as climate change denial. There is no scientific evidence that abortion causes breast cancer, nor is their medical research to back the pro-death anti-abortion lobby’s persistent claim that induced abortion (rather than spontaneous abortion, i.e., miscarriage, or “God’s” preferred form of abortion) is more likely to lead to death.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has refuted the claim that abortion increases a woman’s breast cancer risk. According to the NCI: “The relationship between induced and spontaneous abortion and breast cancer risk has been the subject of extensive research beginning in the late 1950s. Until the mid-1990s, the evidence was inconsistent. Findings from some studies suggested there was no increase in risk of breast cancer among women who had had an abortion, while findings from other studies suggested there was an increased risk. Most of these studies, however, were flawed in a number of ways that can lead to unreliable results. Only a small number of women were included in many of these studies, and for most, the data were collected only after breast cancer had been diagnosed, and women’s histories of miscarriage and abortion were based on their “self-report” rather than on their medical records. Since then, better-designed studies have been conducted. These newer studies examined large numbers of women, collected data before breast cancer was found, and gathered medical history information from medical records rather than simply from self-reports, thereby generating more reliable findings. The newer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk.”

The fact remains that more women die during childbirth than they do from abortions. However, in the words of GOP patron saint Ronald Reagan, facts continue to be “stupid things” for Christian fascists. Thus the website also boasts that carrying a baby to full term protects women from developing breast cancer. Evidently if girls and women want to protect themselves from getting breast cancer later in life continuing a pregnancy by rape and/or incest is a viable immunizer.

Significantly, the Coalition of Color preaches a hellfire and damnation theme that is carefully crafted to exploit the cultural anxieties of “superstitious” people of color. Pregnant women who might be searching for reality-based options and resources for unwanted pregnancies are exhorted to just believe that God has a plan. The site claims that, “If you are a Bible-believing Christian yet you don’t believe that God can and will take care of you and your baby, His gift to you, then you are calling him a liar.” Bulging numbers of African American foster care and homeless youth are apparently the result of the unwillingness of apostate black women to cling blindly to faith in God’s plan. In California Black youth represent nearly 30% of the foster care population, 50% of the homeless population and 30% of those incarcerated in juvenile facilities. Yet Religious Right charlatans that preach an anti-government mantra are vociferously opposed to progressive health care, birth control, foster care and school discipline policies, as well as to repealing racist sentencing laws and prisoner reentry policies. Is the Coalition of Color willing to accept responsibility for the scores of poor children of women of insufficient faith? Or what about those holy rollers who trusted in God’s plan but can’t quite accept that experiencing rape and incest is a gift? Black and Latina women live in hyper-religious communities that have disproportionately high rates of rape and sexual assault. Restricting abortion access is clearly part of God’s plan.

Early Black and Latino family planning and abortion rights advocates understood that reproductive justice was crucial to dismantling racism and white supremacy. Christian fascists of color want to revert to a medievalism that would enslave and dispossess Black and Latino families and children, pimping women of color as Old Testament sacrificial lambs.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars and the forthcoming Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels.

 

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    … prominent Nazis like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune and Ida B. Wells …

    One word here does not fit in with all the others…

  2. 2
    fredericksparks

    Great thorough deconstruction of the anti-choice crowds manipulations

  3. 3
    pf

    My grandmother had 14 children and lived in grinding poverty. Each of her daughters and granddaughters has had 5 children or less, dictated mostly by what they felt they could afford (and by if they wanted children at all).

    And five is the upper limit for the ones who are very well off indeed. It’s not just the money that limits it, it’s also how many times you want to be stuck doing diapers and feeding every so many hours, as well as staying able to give each child the attention you feel you missed out on.

    So yeah, yay birth control!

    That anyone would still advocate for “god’s plan” as a serious option just blows my mind.

    That they would lie and manipulate, and try to use racial tensions as a vector for their mindrot, that doesn’t surprise me at all.

  4. 4
    Cuttlefish

    Thought you’d be amused and enraged by the following, which is more than just tangentially related:
    http://mobile.wnd.com/2012/02/author-blacks-too-smart-for-atheism/

    It’s Ray Comfort, which tells you more than you wanted to know–in part, doing his part to spread the “abortion is the Black Holocaust” myth. While tying it to both atheism and Hitler.

    Like I said, it’s Ray Comfort.

    1. 4.1
      blackskeptics

      Thankfully he was eviscerated in the comments section for the knuckle-dragging troglodyte he is

  5. 5
    Alyson Miers

    Thus the website also boasts that carrying a baby to full term protects women from developing breast cancer. Evidently if girls and women want to protect themselves from getting breast cancer later in life continuing a pregnancy by rape and/or incest is a viable immunizer.

    To be fair, I am aware of some evidence that going through a full-term pregnancy, especially at a fairly young age, lowers a woman’s lifetime risk of breast cancer. Whether she’s had any abortions makes no difference.

    However, it does not lower the risk to zero, and since breast cancer can still happen to women who became mothers in their youth, most women are not inclined to see cancer as a punishment for having failed to honor God’s plan. Moreover, since continuing an unwanted pregnancy will most assuredly toss a monkey wrench into your life in the here and now, most young women prefer to take their chances with getting cancer in their 50s over having children conceived by rape or coercion in their teens or 20s.

    (And I’ll bet the website doesn’t say anything about the increased short-term risk of breast cancer during and shortly after pregnancy.)

    1. 5.1
      Didaktylos

      Have any studies been done concerning incidence of breast cancer among women known to have had natural micarriages?

  6. 6
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    A ripple of unease goes through the room, as the girls chew on Imani’s defiance.

    I sometimes wonder how often the thinking in situations like this, especially for young people, is “only people with disregard for others and rules think they their agency is their own /are atheists or freethinkers /consider abortion an option”. Good people aren’t like that, right?

    To bolster its claims that abortion is genocide images of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger are stamped with Nazi swastikas.

    Headdesk.

    Thus the website also boasts that carrying a baby to full term protects women from developing breast cancer.

    I just came across this claim for the first time quite recently. I have yet to see a proposed mechanism for this, or for abortion causing breast cancer.

    “If you are a Bible-believing Christian yet you don’t believe that God can and will take care of you and your baby, His gift to you, then you are calling him a liar.”

    Because God has been doing such an incredible job of this already, right? Why would this suddenly change after you have a baby? Did it happen for other people you know? Does it seem to be happening for humanity in general? If not, is it because billions of people didn’t believe quite hard enough (but you, you can do it)?
    —-

    Another excellent article, as always. You have a unique way of connecting multiple domains of facts and ideas.

  7. 7
    mmmmm

    “To bolster its claims that abortion is genocide images of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger are stamped with Nazi swastikas.”

    Which is interesting, because I looked up her Wikipedia page and found Margaret Sanger was actually anti-abortion, and formed her views working in the slums in the Lower East Side where she witnessed the harm of unplanned, multiple pregnancies and dire poverty. While she was undoubtedly a eugenicist and racist as well, it needs to be put into context of the times and it taken into account ultimately she was motivated by a desire to improve the lives of women.

    It’s the ultimate irony is that her views would correspond with theirs in this respect, yet they spend much time vilifying her.

    “Sanger was opposed to abortions, both because they were dangerous for the mother, and because she believed that life should not be terminated after conception. In her book Woman and the New Race, she wrote, “while there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.”

    “Historian Rodger Streitmatter concluded that Sanger’s opposition to abortion stemmed from concerns for the dangers to the mother, rather than moral concerns.[99] However, in her 1938 autobiography, Sanger noted that her opposition to abortion was based on the taking of life: “[In 1916] we explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way — it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun.” And in her book Family Limitation, Sanger wrote that “no one can doubt that there are times when an abortion is justifiable but they will become unnecessary when care is taken to prevent conception. This is the only cure for abortions.”

    1. 7.1
      mmmmm

      Sorry, forgot link – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Sanger

      1. blackskeptics

        Thanks for further nuancing the Sanger question

    2. 7.2
      Tsu Dho Nimh

      At that time, it was definitely the safer way. Abortion was illegal, therefore done clandestinely, and the death rate among the poor was horrendous. Pre-antibiotics, too, which made any infection into a life-threatening situation.

      Rich folk, on the other hand, always knew of a doctor who did a good job and charged high prices for his silence.

  8. 8
    Upright Ape

    It is rather convenient that they fail to mention Sanger’s books were burned by Nazis, don’t you think?

  9. 9
    Tsu Dho Nimh

    “If you are a Bible-believing Christian yet you don’t believe that God can and will take care of you and your baby, His gift to you, then you are calling him a liar.”

    Classic blame the victim statement, with a double-bind setup. If she keeps the baby and ends up a single mom on welfare, it’s because she didn’t believe in God enough.

  10. 10
    LeetheGirl

    I really tire of all the fool’s anti-abortion crap.

    We had a presenter talk on the subject in my high school years ago. It was a very open high school and I’m sure they were not planning on him mentioning this; he kept it until the end and talked about many other subjects before.

    He first asked us our opinions on abortion by asking us to point to one side of the gym if we were pro and the other side if we were anti. Most of us were pro.

    He then fed us this sob-story of a young man who, at another mystery-school, had voted anti and then went back stage to tell him how his mother got pregnant when she was young and considered aborting but decided to go ahead and have her child and keep it.

    I wish I had been the smart-ass then that I am now. If I had I would have stood up right then and there and asked the presenter if he found it interesting that in his story that young woman had a choice. She could have aborted and chose not to, to have her baby, keep it, and raise it. Anti-abortion is about the removal of choice.

    I’m still pissed about it. How dare this a-hole present this crap to us and try to make us kids feel guilty for our opinions. If I wanted a preacher I’d go to church.

    Ugh sorry… ranting… grumble…

    1. 10.1
      F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

      Oh, they always have those just-so stories. The ones that include the circular argument based on existence are the best. (I would be so sad if I hadn’t been born, we’re lucky to live in a universe that allows life to exist thanks to god; those ones.)

      1. LeetheGirl

        Agreed. ;)

        And my favourite part about that, and this has a morbid-warning on it, is that if he hadn’t been born he never would have felt unhappy about anything. He wouldn’t have cared!

        Wow… is that as awful as it look? lol

        1. Stacy

          No, it’s not awful or morbid–it’s just the truth.

          They make such a big deal of “what if your mom had aborted you!?” The answer is, “I wouldn’t be here–same as if my parents had decided they weren’t in the mood the night I was conceived.”

          It isn’t a tragedy that somebody who never existed never existed! Death can only be a tragedy for a being with a brain who experiences and cares about his or her life.

  11. 11
    dubliner

    The irony is that Planned Parenthood are probably responsible for decreasing abortions far more effectively through no cost and low cost contraception than all forced birthers and all their protests put together.

    1. 11.1
      blackskeptics

      Yes, and that “paradox” underscores the evil medievalism of the right wing

  12. 12
    scotthill

    Excellent article, Sikivu!

    1. 12.1
      blackskeptics

      Thanks Scott!

  13. 13
    San Ban

    It’s these same people that convince ignorant minority youth that condoms cause impotence and the pill is a white conspiracy to exterminate blacks. Education is the key to reversing the effect of these disgusting lies. Thes same groups oppose that, too!

    1. 13.1
      interrobang

      the pill is a white conspiracy to exterminate blacks

      By that logic, I’m a self-exterminating white person. (Race traitor!)

      ‘Scuse me, I need to take a little white pill to exterminate the bad headache I got from trying to parse that idea. It’s “Huwha?” all the way down, as far as I can tell.

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