As black history month 2012 begins, black women and reproductive rights again in the spotlight

As black history month 2012 begins, black women and reproductive rights again in the spotlight

February is Black History Month, and this year, its focus is Black Women in American Culture.

But some conservative legislators seem to have missed the message: Instead of celebrating the achievements of women like Michelle Alexander, author of the ground-breaking "The New Jim Crow," they're yet again discussing legislation to stem the apparent tide of "black abortions."

On Monday, Mother Jones obtained a memo from a member of the U.S. House of Representatives that argues for a "prenatal discriminiation bill" that called "abortions the leading cause of death in the black community."

While black women do have a disproportionately high abortion rate--black women have 30 percent of all abortions--critics see these kind of bills as an attempt to control the reproductive rights of black women.

"One of the really tricky things that this debate gets into is that the black abortion debate touches on really big issues for black women," including forced steralization, the whole pro-choice debate, said Jamilah King, news editor for Colorlines, "but this sort of legislation really sensationalizes the issue."

It's part of a "paternalistic attempt to try and control black women's bodies," continued King. "Given our history in this country... it's a very basic human right to be able to determine what happens to our body."

And women of color aren't only being targeted nationally--around this time last year, Chicago's South Side saw a rash of billboards targeting black women and saying "every 21 minutes, our next leader is aborted."

Meanwhile, the scandal surrounding the Komen breast cancer charity--in which the group withdrew funding breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood centers around the country under political pressure, and then reversed its decision--will also hit low-income women, and women of color, hardest. African-American women under 40 have a higher chance of developing breast cancer than white counterpart.

What does it mean that these are the conversations we're having about black women in the first week of Black History month?

"The bodies of black women and who had the power over them has always been a defining question," King said. "It shows that black women are still very central in the discussion of what it means to be black in America."

What do you think? How has the current political climate affected black women? What are the stories missing about black women? Who are your favorite black female cultural icons?

Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below, or tweet The Chicago Reporter at @chicagoreporter. Then tune in to the Barbershop show on Vocalo's 89.5 Friday at noon to hear the show and your questions.

Photo credit: Black History Album

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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  • Harriett Tubman

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