Billboards and Conspiracy Theories

The more news coverage the “Too Many Aborted” billboards in Atlanta get, the angrier I become.

It never ceases to amaze me how much time and money are spent trying to prevent women from obtaining abortions, rather than trying to support women when they have their babies.  If women could be sure that in this, the wealthiest country in the world, they would be guaranteed adequate housing, nutrition, medical care and education for their children, they might make different decisions when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.  The scant attention and resources paid by anti-abortion groups to these issues leaves me with no choice but to conclude that it is not about “respecting life;” it’s about controlling me.

But now the movement is targeting black women, and them’s fightin’ words.

When the Supreme Court hands down decisions that burden a woman’s right to make choices regarding her reproduction, that burden is disproportionately borne by poor black and brown women.  Wealthy white women have access to private health care should they need to terminate a pregnancy.  That luxury is not always afforded to the poor and working class, making those decisions anything but race-neutral.  When powerful whites try to control my reproduction, it starts feeling like a plantation up in here.

And now, anti-abortion whites are using racism against ME to further THEIR cause.  The billboards in Atlanta, as well as media projects like Maafa 21, suggest that abortion is all part of a grand conspiracy to eliminate black folks.  Legitimately distrustful of the government and medical establishment (due, in no small part, to racist and unethical governmental research projects like the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment), the black community is becoming increasingly receptive to the suggestion, despite the fact that the conspiracy theory–like most conspiracy theories–is based only on half-truths.

So, let me get this straight: white anti-abortion advocates get to capitalize on America’s very own racist past (and present) in their pursuit to control my black body?  The irony would make me laugh…if I wasn’t so pissed off.

20 thoughts on “Billboards and Conspiracy Theories

  1. esp. teach samou. i just wrote about this, but not nearly as succinctly. Now we have our own folks buying into the theory? Brothers please. Do not join the ranks of men trying to add pressure, guilt, shame and now conspiracy to one of the most painful and difficult decisions a woman may have to make.

    and why must people choose ANTI? Why not work FOR something? So when I pass this local abortion clinic and see the determined white male senior citizen standing/pacing in front, as he does EVERY day (regardless of weather conditions), with a wooden cross and a sign, aimed to shame, and humiliate someone who is already dealing with a whole range of overwhelming emotions, I wonder, Why can’t you take that same energy to tutor, to encourage, to volunteer, to be a resource and a gift? Why not try to make some mother/child’s life more tolerable? I will never understand that level of self righteous over-involvement.

    But I swear, if I see some brother out there with him, smelling like nag champa, with an afro the size of the moon and a tattered copy of Things fall Apart in his back pocket, talking about Abortion is an Agent of the Man…I will be forced to pull over, tied up my scarf, and get deep into my kung fu bag…on both of them.

    thanks for the post.

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  2. I have watched : Maafa21 , have you? It really opened my eyes. The producers of Maafa21 went directly to the source, researching the information from the papers of Margaret Sanger , Planned Parenthood, their board, and their eugenic supporters.. Maafa21 shows evidence that Margaret Sanger – founder of Planned Parenthood was a member of the American Eugenics Society (AES), spoke to their meetings, met with their VP’s and also spoke to the KKK (proof in Sanger’s autobiography). In addition, other Planned Parenthood members were Eugenics Society members, including Alan Guttmacher, who was at one time the Vice President of the AES. There is an interview in the film with an African American woman who was eugenically sterilized in North Carolina. One of the men who helped fund the North Carolina Eugenics Project was none other than Clarence Gamble the same person Margaret Sanger wrote to in a letter, “We do not want word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” Coincidence? Gamble also funded Sanger’s work and worked on her “Negro Project”. Maafa21 quotes directly from early civil rights leaders who warned that the placement of abortion clinics in their neighborhoods would be “Black Genocide”, and now the stats are proving this to be true. Maafa21 shows how in the Arkansas Eugenics Society headed by Mrs. Hilda Cornish later became a Planned Parenthood headed by the same woman. So Planned Parenthood in Arkansas was formerly a Eugenics Society Office and you support them? Maafa21 also includes racist audio of Republican President Nixon explaining why people vote for abortion – any guess? So, before you dis something you obviously have not seen, how bout watching it first. Get a copy of Maafa21 – here http://www.maafa21.com

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    1. This is the problem with conspiracy theories; every bit of evidence, no matter how tangential, or how out of context, is offered as proof of the conspiracy. If you suggest that it’s not true in its entirety, even though it may be true in individual parts, you’re part of the conspiracy!

      Yes, Sanger was affiliated with the eugenics movement, but it’s important to remember that the movement was almost mainstream at the time. Yes she spoke to the KKK–to educate their women about birth control. She recounts what a strange experience it was for her; the women didn’t really understand anything about their reproductive abilities. A recent New York Times article on the subject reminds us that black women wanted birth control, and wanted to be in control of their fertility, even before Sanger founded Planned Parenthood. Moreover, Sanger was allied with black leaders like MLK and DuBois, who praised her for her efforts to bring birth control to women of color.

      Moreover, let’s agree that Planned Parenthood was founded by someone who believed in things you don’t believe in. Is it really fair to dismiss the entire organization’s body of work today based on the beliefs of a founder who lived decades ago? Planned Parenthood isn’t going door-to-door. Black women are going to them. And for many women who don’t have the healthcare they deserve, or don’t have a private physician who can help them control their fertility, Planned Parenthood is doing good work. Just like wealthy women, poor women need condoms, and birth control pills, and information about their sexuality and how to protect themselves; those needs must be met by someone, and Planned Parenthood is doing the job.

      I read an article in which a college student who saw Maafa21 concluded, “well, I was pro-choice before, but now if I got pregnant, I’d keep my baby because of the conspiracy.” Oh, yeah, that’s just great. Don’t keep the baby because you’ve committed to obtaining the resources you need to support that baby; don’t keep the baby because you and the baby’s father have come to an understanding about how you will raise the child; don’t keep the baby because you’ve come up with a plan that ensures, to the best of your ability, that your child will have what he or she needs to become a fulfilled and productive member of society; don’t keep your baby because you believe in your heart that that’s the right thing for you to do. Keep the baby to thwart some conspiracy theory. Yeah, that really furthers the cause.

      What really drives me crazy about all of this is that while we’re all running around screaming about conspiracy theories, we’re ignoring larger issues. The great conspiracy to get me to have an abortion wouldn’t even work if I had the support I needed to have a child! Yes, there’s a conspiracy, folks, but it ain’t Planned Parenthood; it’s the assault on marginalized people in this country, based on inadequate housing, nutrition, education, and medical care. But the people behind Maafa21 and the Billboards (a white director, and a largely white pro-life group, respectively, neither of whom has done much to address the conditions that lead black women to seek abortions in disproportionate numbers) don’t care about that; they just care about controlling me. It’s an assault on my autonomy as a woman. I’ll be damned if I let a movement that doesn’t care about me or other people of color disingenuously appeal to my sometimes difficult experience as a person of color in an effort to control me.

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  3. Just a thought – I wonder if there is room for all these voices, and can we dismiss an organization for doing part of the work but not all of the work? I agree that the real issue is supporting mothers and families and not abortion per se, but does that mean that groups like this have to do that work? I think getting information out to people (however it needs to be accurate) is as important as doing the work to support women and families. Its very troubling that these billboards use fear of racism to bait women into keeping fetuses that they would otherwise abort – that’s undeniable. But what if it is somewhat true? What if abortion has been one of those things that while a blessing to women in a fight for equality has also become part of the death knell of the black community? Is that a discussion worth having?

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    1. Your last question is definitely a conversation worth having. As you note, however, I refuse to have it with anyone using half-truths (or full out lies, in my opinion) and fear. Moreover, groups like this do not have to do all the work, but I do question WHAT work they are doing, at all. What is it they’re doing, really, other than forcing their worldview on me? It seems to me if you won’t address why I’m having an abortion (indeed, don’t even care), then you deserve neither to stop me from having an abortion nor to talk with me about my decision. And if you’re not fighting for the rights of the life you so adamantly insisted I carried after that life is brought into the world, then what purpose do you serve, really?

      As to the question you pose, in what way would abortion be the death knell of the black community? Do you mean we’re losing numbers, population-wise? Do you mean we’re losing people who could make contributions to our community, and the world at large? I think abortion is not so much the death knell as it is the death toll of our community. The rates at which black women have abortions says something about the failure, demise even, of our community as black people.

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  4. Death toll, death knell – they most likely go hand in hand. As a community, we’ve failed us, but as a society, black women have also been failed. I think their point, as it appears to me, is not just to stop women from having abortions. But they also want us to understand, as a community, what abortion has done to us. The billboards I’ve seen on the news are not just targeted at women who might have an abortion, but to the issue of aborting black babies en masse.

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    1. What is it that you think abortion has done to us? I don’t think abortion has done anything; rather, abortion is a response to other things that have been “done to us,” from within and outside of, our communities. I’m curious about your response to that question…

      This is an interesting difference in perspective on the billboards. I don’t think they’re really about aborting black fetuses en masse; that is, I don’t think the people behind the billboards think that aborting black fetuses is necessarily the problem. Rather, I think they have a problem with abortions in general, and are trying to recruit black people to their cause, hence the hook of the “black genocide” theme. The group admits themselves that they’ve been trying for years to recruit more black people, but have been unable to do so. So, they hired a black marketing director who came up with this idea. Hey, whatever works, right? And that’s what disgusts me so; it’s not really out of care for our community, or out of care for black babies. It’s about whatever furthers their cause, even if it preys on our fears.

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  5. I was responding to your sentence: “The rates at which black women have abortions says something about the failure, demise even, of our community as black people.” I agree. When I said “what abortion has done to us” I’m speaking about the impact the wide availability has had on our community, as a black community. I’m in no way saying that it should not be widely available. But just like many so-called good things (integration, etc.), the widespread availability of abortion has also has its downsides. I don’t believe that high rates of abortion among black women – higher than white women in almost anyway you slice the data – is only a “response” to exogenous forces with no negative effects of its own on the black community. Is our high abortion rate simply and only a response? Across all income levels? The only agents in this equation are not black women/mothers. I believe other institutions play a direct role in rates of abortion, not simply an indirect role through things like poverty. That doesn’t seem right to me. My only point is that it’s more complicated, and worth discussing the negative effects of widespread abortion on black communities.

    One being the two things you’ve mentioned – lack of population growth could lead to lack of political power. Of course I’m not saying it necessarily must, or that even in this case that it has, but it might. Let’s talk about it. Perhaps more cavalier attitudes about sex and baby-making also correlate with widespread availability of abortion. That has obviously had a nasty impact on our communities – young black women fastest growing group getting HIV, for example. When I hear of other medical procedures – like forced C-sections, hysterectomies, and tube-tying – all affecting black women and women of color at higher rates and more prevalence than other women, an argument can be made that widespread availability of abortion is also another way to restrict the production of black babies.

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    1. I think it is no coincidence that Planned Parenthood centers are more likely to be found in poorer neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color. White, upperclass women go to private doctors for private procedures… some of which go undocumented, for the right price.

      These clinics, like liquor stores, bodegas & chicken spots, both cater to needs/demands of the people AND maybe reflect something else? Why can’t we find health food stores in the hood? Is it from lack of demand, affordability, or something else?

      95% of PP’s services are not related to abortion. (this is a number I’ve used in debates, but have not recently checked stats, forgive me). So, with that, they are essential in the services they provide to those who cannot afford other care. But, my spidey sense will NOT ignore the prevelance of these clinics in neighborhoods of color. Sorry, I cannot.

      Do Black women receive different OB/GYN care? As a whole, yes. As a whole, we receive less time in doctors’ offices, more invasive surgical recommendations, have higher pre-mature birth rates, etc. To ignore that racism exists in the medical field is naive. To suggest that all doctor willfully and knowingly treat Black women different is a stretch. The tricky thing about racism and prejudice and such is that, for most, it is something so deeply ingrained into their psyche, they are likely not aware of their own actions.

      And we’re suffering because of it.

      When I got the results at OBGYN that confirmed I was pregnant, one of the first questions she asked was “Do you want to continue the pregnancy?” I thought nothing of it because I assume she asks everyone that question. I didn’t think “Oh, is she trying to get rid of another Black child?!” The choice was mine. As a woman, as a Black woman, and as a potential mother to be. When I said yes, she said “Cool, here’s what we’re going to do” and so began my care.

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  6. To be clear – I’m not defending these particular people or the billboards themselves. And maybe their motives are wrong. But the message is not that far-fetched.

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    1. Meh; my eyebrows always go up when people suggest that women have such a cavalier attitude towards abortion that they equate it to other forms of birth control like the pill, and so engage in sex more recklessly. Abortions aren’t pleasant and they bump up against some very hard moral questions; I find it hard to believe that the availability of abortions has led to irresponsible sexual behavior among women; the idea offends me, actually.

      I thought about political power and population numbers when I suggested it, although I’m not sure it’s a strong argument. Lots of other defects in the political system that prevent power for blacks…

      I didn’t get your reference to C-sections; how does that restrict the production of black babies? It might indicate that black women are in less control over how their babies come into the world, but the baby still comes into the world, no? I haven’t seen much data on the rates of C-sections among the races, but my understanding is that, particularly in the United States, all women are subject to pressure to have C-sections at alarming rates. To the extent that black women are having more, maybe it reflects a power differential between doctors and patients of color. We fought our doctors for hours before having a C-section, but only because we had spent 9 months letting our doctors know that even though they were the professionals, we expected to be in control of all decisions. At the end of the day, I consented to the C-section, but feel good about it being OUR decision (as much as it could be, anyway, when you don’t have a medical degree!).

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      1. C-sections are surgery, making them inherently more dangerous to the mother than vaginal births. Just another example of, like you say, the power differential between women of color and medical profession.

        I’m not trying to say that abortions are pleasant. What I am trying to say is that when people think they have options to fix what might be irresponsible behavior, they may be more likely to engage in that irresponsible behavior. May be. Like the Plan B pill – if you know that’s an option, wouldn’t you be more likely to take the chance? As the risk of a behavior decreases, then perhaps the likelihood of that behavior increases. I don’t understand why that is so offensive. I’m not saying it’s necessarily true for every woman, or for women as a group. But when we say that abortion gave us more “reproductive freedom” that means that we are now able to engage in behaviors that we couldn’t choose to NOT lead to baby-making, and now we can choose for it to no longer have to lead to baby-making. That just is what it is. Again, I believe that is the way it should be.

        There is some data that suggests that teenagers in countries were abortions are not as restricted for teens as they are here (Sweden for example) may have higher abortion rates due to more cavalier attitudes about sex. This is in addition to what Michelle discusses below – less knowledge about sex in general – but knowing there is an option, at least contributes to taking less responsibility.

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      2. There is a strain of paternalism that runs through much of the rhetoric surrounding abortion. In decisions that burden a woman’s ability to obtain one, to laws requiring that women obtain a sonogram, or pictures of her fetus before the abortion, to required consent forms informing her it’s possible that her fetus can feel pain, there is the suggestion that a woman could not have possibly taken this decision as seriously as she should have. I think that paternalism exists in a way that it would not if men were the ultimate decisionmakers regarding abortion. It’s like Aliya said; abortion is one of the most painful and difficult decisions a woman may have to make. It offends me when people suggest that woman are not taking that seriously, and that’s why it bothered me when you suggested that abortion leads women to take on more cavalier attitudes about sex.

        I agree that the point of having control over our reproductive abilities is, in part, to allow us to have more options regarding sexual acts that can lead to conception. That being said, there is an emotional, physical, psychological, and analytical jump between the birth-control pill, or even the morning after pill, and an abortion. While the former might allow us to take sex less seriously, my opinion is that the latter does not.

        As for countries like Sweden, I would suggest that they have a more relaxed and healthy (I purposefully chose not to use the word ‘cavalier’) attitude towards sex, which accounts for the increased availability of abortions to teenagers. As I understand it, those countries also have lower incidence of STDs, and less unwanted pregnancies. I would guess that casual sex there is not due to the availability of abortions, but rather to more relaxed attitudes about sex overall. I don’t know what to say about higher abortion rates (do they really have disproportionately more abortions?), except that there may be plenty of reasons for that. We might have higher abortion rates if we didn’t make it so difficult for women to get them; I don’t know that the higher rates are necessarily due to more cavalier attitudes.

        You’re right; C-sections are major abdominal surgery, something I think we fail to appreciate because the procedure is so prevalent. But vaginal births can be risky business, too. The interesting thing about C-sections is that doctors tend to view them as the “safer” option; or at least they do in my state. OB-GYNs here are not required to carry malpractice insurance (there’s a state compensation fund), but fear the suits anyway, and so encourage C-sections that they can schedule and control more easily. I think C-sections can be safer short term, to the extent that “safer” means “more controlled.” Long-term, however, there are disadvantages for both mother and child that we haven’t really come to fully understand. If given the option, I would always prefer a vaginal birth. I do, however, understand how terribly wrong things can go, when they do go wrong.

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      3. “Meh; my eyebrows always go up when people suggest that women have such a cavalier attitude towards abortion that they equate it to other forms of birth control like the pill, and so engage in sex more recklessly. Abortions aren’t pleasant and they bump up against some very hard moral questions; I find it hard to believe that the availability of abortions has led to irresponsible sexual behavior among women; the idea offends me, actually. ”

        ORJ, I say prepare to be offended, because unfortunately, there is truth to this.

        The birth control pill AND abortion being federally legalized HAS led to an increase in reckless sexual behavior. Why? Because the deterring factors (consequences of this behavior) have been accounted for. We’re all about action and consequences. Socially, being unmarried and pregnant was like a death sentence. However, with the advent of the Pill, the acceptance of divorce, and the legalization of abortion, that social consequence can now be avoided. People HAVE been more “reckless” in their behavior, though I might debate about the idea of recklessness as it relates to sexual behavior, especially among women, when the same standards might not be held for men. But I digress. The numbers of people having sex before marriage have soared. The numbers of people having abortions have soared. STD/STI transmission has soared. Those are direct results of more rampant sexual activity.

        And while most women who abort are married and/or have them for medical reasons other than unwanted pregnancy (fetal problems, health of the mothers, etc), there are still those who turn to abortion as birth control. Its horrible, yes, but it does happen often enough, and I would try to not be personally offended by it.

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      4. I agree, Benee–there are always people who function as the outliers. I’m not offended at the few women who think of abortion as a form of birth control (and, really, I’m still not convinced they’re out there, but I’ll concede the possibility that they do exist…); I’m offended at the notion, underlying much of the anti-abortion movement, that most women don’t think about these things hard enough. As you noted, most of PP services are not related to abortion, and most women who decide to obtain an abortion do so for reasons other than just an unwanted pregnancy. So the state can take their forced sonograms and outrageous consent forms and just shove it!

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    2. “OB-GYNs here are not required to carry malpractice insurance (there’s a state compensation fund), but fear the suits anyway, and so encourage C-sections that they can schedule and control more easily. I think C-sections can be safer short term, to the extent that “safer” means “more controlled.” Long-term, however, there are disadvantages for both mother and child that we haven’t really come to fully understand. If given the option, I would always prefer a vaginal birth. I do, however, understand how terribly wrong things can go, when they do go wrong.”

      You cannot be serious. C-Sections as safer than vaginal births? Major abdominal surgery as safer than what your body is made to do? WHAT?? Ok, if that’s the way you want to define safety, but that’s like saying putting in a pacemaker is safer than letting your heart beat for itself because the pacemaker is in control. Maternal death in the US is on the rise, and partly because of an increase in C-sections. And because once you have one, many doctors won’t allow you to have a vaginal birth for subsequent children. C-sections are in no way safer than vaginal births.

      I do agree with you that it is a paternalistic attitude to say that women don’t think about abortions enough and the requirements of the sonograms and consent forms are too much for a grown woman to have to be subjected to once she’s made her decision.

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      1. I wasn’t suggesting that I think C-sections are safer. I was trying to suggest (apparently not very clearly) that to the extent that doctors believe a process that is “in control” is a safer one, then yes, C-sections might be said to be safer. It can seem safer to schedule the C-section, to quickly open the abdominal wall, pull the baby out, sew everything back up, and keep steppin’. No waiting for hours, no worried observations of the baby’s heart rate for hours on end, unsure of whether the heart rate pattern is one for concern, no fear that a baby is stuck in the birth canal, or has a cord around his/her neck, or will swallow meconium, etc. I don’t believe that, and I wouldn’t opt for one, as I think I mentioned. And I’m fully aware of the complications; I had one, remember??? I also noted that there are complications from C-sections that we haven’t even come to understand. But in a profession that’s taught to control everything, and to second guess mother-nature in favor of modern medicine, I understand why doctors, especially ones with the perverse incentives in my state, would prefer it. I’m also willing to admit that vaginal births aren’t risk-free either.

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  7. I’m all about prevention. Unfortunately, from 2000-2008, prevention education and other prevention methods were all but completely defunded. In the 90s we saw steady decline in HIV contraction and infection rates as well as teen pregnancy. In fact, Black teens were the only ones to see a decrease in teen pregnancy. Abortion rates held steady, but dipped here and there. Enter the abstinence-only folks and BAM!! everything begins to increase again. The “moral” majority care more about thumping their Bibles than saving lives and reducing harm.

    Prevention is the KEY. Prevention happens when people are educated about sexuality, sex, safe sex, reproduction, harm reduction, etc. That won’t happen without adequate funding. Now, with a new president and government, we have to lobby to get that funding reinstated because there are GREAT organizations doing this kind of work that are stretched to the limits because of funding issues.

    On this abortion issue… I guess my head is spinning about it. Whenever we look at negative statistics in the Black community, we are floored by the high percentages. Percentages will always be high because we’re a minority, but the disproportionate rate at which we are affected by some things forces us to examine WHY these phenomena exist. Call them conspiracy theories, call them whatever, but we have to at least think critically about them. I think LaToya is right in that there should be room for all voices, and all sides can and should debate. But data can be skewed to serve ANY POV, so then we’re back to square one.

    I don’t like the idea of the Black religious folks taking up this banner. Why? because they do NOTHING to stop folks before they get to the point of needing abortion. Preaching that abstinence bullshit (yes, its bullshit to me) is a WASTE of time. By age 44, 95% of people have had sex at least once before marriage. Let’s not act like that “wait till marriage” nonsense matters to anyone (in significant numbers) anymore.

    So, it is the responsibility of these moralistas to address the issue not from a Biblical, dogmatic POV, but rather a realistic, practical one. Acknowledge their constituents are having sex, acknowledge that sex leads to babies (AND STIs… we wont go into them ignoring HIV), and take preventative measures to not even have to reach the abortion point.

    To jump on the “abortion is killing the Black community” bandwagon isn’t helpful or sensical. Black people are killing Black people, with guns, food, drugs, ignorance, etc. What about that?!?

    Our children already flood the foster care systems… and then the jails. How many of these pro-life folks are adopting and fostering Black babies? How many are part of the solution and not just condemning the problem? I’m of the belief that until you adopt an unwanted child, I don’t want to hear SHIT about how abortion should be illegal.

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