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Racist Anti-Abortion Billboards Hit Chicago

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Anti-abortion billboard enthusiasts Life Always have made their way to Chicago, with the first of 30 planned billboards going up yesterday at 5812 South State Street. Known for their "The most dangerous place for an African-American woman is in the womb" billboards, one of which was taken down in New York City after public outcry, the group is now targeting Chicago's own African American community under the guise of "caring" about babies. In black, red and green, the billboards feature an image of Barack Obama next to the words, "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted."


"The billboards have been placed in the black community with a picture of the first black president stating that black women are murderers of potential black leaders," says Cherisse Scott, a health educator and campaigns coordinator with Black Women for Reproductive Justice. "The billboards vilify black women for making the very hard decision of whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. To say that a black child is not safe in his or her mother's womb is not only racist, but heinous."

"The sponsors of these billboards are using race as a wedge issue to deny women the ability to make important personal medical decisions," adds Carole Brite, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. "...These billboards are offensive and disturbing. This is harmful to women in every community who need quality, affordable health care."

While Life Always claims that the high numbers of abortions among black women are proof that abortion clinics target African Americans, the Guttmacher Institute found that fewer than one in 10 abortion clinics are located in predominantly African American neighborhoods; 63%, on the other hand, are located in neighborhoods where more than one-half of the residents are non-Hispanic whites. In fact, the nearest Planned Parenthood that provides abortions is in the Gold Coast, 10 miles away from the new billboard.

More accurately, rates of abortion correspond to rates of unintended pregnancies. According to Planned Parenthood, African American women have almost three times the unintended pregnancy rate of white women, and African American teens have higher rates of pregnancy, birth and abortion than non-Hispanic white teens. So if we claim to care about African American children, let's talk about why the rates of unintended pregnancies are so much higher among this demographic.

"Our country's health disparities mean African American women are more likely to be uninsured or under-insured than white women, and are often forced to delay care because they lack the resources," says Carole. "Women who face barriers to health care experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy...Comprehensive sex education that includes talking about abstinence and access to quality preventative health care services are key to lowering the disproportionate number of unwanted pregnancies experienced by African American women and teens." 

It is an inescapable truth that the pro-life groups who advance such radical campaigns, policies and agendas are the least likely to endorse tangible ways to support mothers and babies. The African American infant mortality rate is more than twice as high as that for white infants; African American children are 69 percent more likely to be uninsured than white children, according to the CDC; over 60 percent of women who have abortions are already mothers. Yet these are the same groups who support drastic cuts in federal funding to Planned Parenthood, Title X, WIC, Head Start and other programs that would ensure access to comprehensive sex education, contraception, health screenings and pre- and post-natal care. Adoption is often suggested as the pro-life alternative to abortion; however, the significant costs to pregnant women who work to support themselves, yet may have limited or no access to paid sick leave and health care, are rarely discussed and even less often addressed.

If Life Always and similar groups actually "cared about the children," the dollars would be spent on providing these services, rather than erecting purposefully inflammatory billboards around the country. And if we're going to start fact-checking, one has to wonder what President Obama, who was born to a white woman, has to do with this campaign, which targets and villainizes black women and mothers. Men--fathers--are never the target of these pro-life campaigns.

"While it's true that there is a lack of reproductive and sexual health education for all communities, black women are different in that we have never had full control over our fertility," Cherisse points out. "We need to be strengthened by having continued access to the benefits of Title X funding, including birth control access, WIC, child support enforcement and comprehensive and reproductive health education in our schools and communities. We must also understand that...black women are by and large the head of their households. These women's disparities also include a lack of support around sexual violence, beginning at age 5."

Less quantifiable is the effect these billboards will have on the communities in which they are placed. When I called her, Cherisse had just picked up her son from school and was driving past the billboard, faced with the unfortunate task of explaining why there was a billboard stating that black mothers are guilty of murdering the next black president. "Black women have the right to thrive in our communities without groups who have private interests that have nothing to do with saving the lives of black babies...Having to drive past these billboards daily only subliminally enforces their messages and further drives a wedge in our community," she says. "I wanted to explain to my son what the billboards don't say, and how he is loved despite the fact that I had to make the very hard to decision not to grow our family for fear that I would not have the proper support to raise him. I also shared with him, an only child, that if I had had another baby, it is likely that I would not have been able to feed him, or make sure that we had  a decent place to live."

The effect of these kinds of messages cannot be underestimated. With radical anti-abortion legislation sweeping the nation, state by state, these groups have the power, money and mobilization to use scare tactics, lies and misinformation to spread their message. And what is their message? Who are they targeting? Is it black mothers, whom they are claiming are unfit to make decisions about their own bodies? Is it the communities in which these mothers live, in hopes that abortion will be sufficiently stigmatized and women too shamed to seek the health services they need? Is it the men who impregnated these women, in hopes that they will pressure their partners to give birth to babies for whom they are unable to care? Is it the communities around these clinics, in hopes that they will drive away crucial health care providers, a common pro-life tactic?

And what if Life Always got its way, and access to safe, legal, affordable abortions was taken away? "Before legalized abortion, black women were 13 more likely to die from illegal abortions than white women," Cherisse points out. "These billboards target black women, period, and frame us as the perpetrators of genocide. If we are continuously denied access to the full range of reproductive health services, including abortion, we will never be able to achieve total reproductive autonomy."

What all of these campaigns, legislation and protests have in common is that they infantilize and shame women, implying that we are not fit to make decisions about our own lives and bodies. They use hurtful, hateful rhetoric to disempower women from making important decisions that will affect the futures of ourselves and our families.

"Already, several groups and community members are speaking out against the billboards," Carole says. "Through a unified voice, we hope the sponsors of the billboards know that African American women and Chicago's communities will not stand by these billboards." 

As people, we should be outraged that this message spreads, unchecked, across our country. As Chicagoans, we should be furious that it has made its way to our doorstep. Such rhetoric has no place in a community that respects the choices, freedom and autonomy of its citizens.

Life Always was approached for comment on this article, but phone calls were not returned. The post will be updated if Life Always responds.

For more information, visit the Trust Black Women campaign, a coalition of African American and black organizations seeking reproductive justice. Change.org has also started a petition to bring down the billboards. 

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7 Comments

gwill said:

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The billboard is in bad taste.

But before you use Planned Parenthood as a counter, they have their own problems with being labeled a racist organization from founder Margaret Sanger’s eugenic beliefs.

Cassandra Gaddo said:

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I think it's only fair to judge Planned Parenthood by the work they currently do and mission they currently serve. The work they do to help men, women and children in every community and income level is considerable, and anyone with an in-depth knowledge of their work would be hard-pressed to find cause to call them racist.

gwill said:

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I agree to judge PP by what they currently do. However, it's not hard-pressed to find cause if someone wants to label them as such. Anybody can read the underlying foundations of the organization which cannot be surgically separated from it's current form.

Chenjesu said:

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Abortion is nothing more than government-sanctioned murder. You can spin it, justify it, dress it up to make you feel better about it, it doesn't change the reality. Not saying all abortion should be banned, but let's not call it a 'reproductive health service' like we're ordering a cheeseburger at Mickey Ds. That is, unless you're into 'culling the herd'.

Why are unintended pregnancies so high amongst the black populace? Thank Lyndon Johnson's 'Great Society' initiatives for that one.

Trust Black Women's 'Reproductive Justice' campaign? Ha. And what's her typical lefty answer to fix black illegitimacy rates? Pour boatloads of money in to 'educate', free screenings and baby care. All on the taxpayers dime. What a racket. As Obama said, they wouldn't want to be 'punished with a baby', you know.

And there's your money quote Gaddo, this whole thing might 'disempower' women. There's your holy liberal sacred cow that must never be stymied. Cuz God Forbid women are ever disempowered of anything, even over the lives of the most helpless amongst us, unborn children.

Cassandra Gaddo said:

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The concept of abortion as "government sanctioned murder" is predicated on the belief that life begins at conception. If you believe that life does not begin at conception (in line with the current legal standard), then yes, abortion is simply a reproductive health service, one which 1/3 of American women will have in their lifetime. Therefore, society benefits from it being safe, legal and accessible.

Consequently, the rights of women and their families -- people -- of course take precedence over the rights of embryos.

Abstinence-only sex education is already government funded, and has been proven time and time again to be woefully ineffective at lowering rates of pregnancies or STDs. Therefore, pro-choice advocates believe that public schools should offer medically accurate, age appropriate sex education. The money is already being spent, but it should be spent more wisely.

For every one federal dollar spent in preventative health care (education, contraception, regular health check-ups, etc), it saves $4 in tax payers money down the line. Same thing with pre- and post-natal care. Spend a little money now, save a lot of money later. Again, it's about making a smarter use of money that will be spent either way.

Lastly, I'd just like to clarify that the group is Black Women for Reproductive Justice. "Trust Black Women" is a larger campaign created to combat Life Always' billboards.

Bobart said:

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If you ask me, there aren't enough abortions in low income communities. We should be funding them. It will reduce crime and gov't expenditures. The black community isn't pushing abortion enough.

Cassandra Gaddo said:

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It's not about "pushing" women of any ethnicity or income level to get or not get an abortion. It's about making sure every woman has access to factual, medically accurate, unbiased information in order to make the best decision for themselves and their families.

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