Last Tuesday, I went to Coffman Union with the sole purpose of buying a sandwich. As I crossed the bridge, I noticed a fairly large group of people clustered in the lawn area. Failing to see the sign that said “Warning: Graphic Images Ahead,” I went over to investigate and immediately lost my appetite. Blown up pictures of aborted fetuses were scattered everywhere. The particularly graphic ones showed a fetus chopped up in a bowl or dismembered and thrown in a bloody pile. “Vote Pro-Life” or “ABORTION” was written in block letters at the top of each one. At a panel table, members of Students for Human Life offered brochures for pregnancy care centers and step-by-step instructions on how to convince a friend not to get an abortion. Created Equal, the group that brought the display, had a pamphlet with quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “I Have a Dream” sandwiched between a picture of a fetus and a fully developed baby.
I stood there and watched the madness. The concepts of equality and diversity were at the forefront of the campaign. There was talk of “black genocide,” “eugenic plots to eliminate diversity” and “age discrimination.” Not surprisingly, the issue of unwanted pregnancy and its higher prevalence among women of color was completely ignored. Analyzing the conditions that produce unwanted pregnancies has never been a priority of the pro-life movement, although the numbers reveal a reality we cannot avoid.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate among black women is almost five times that of white women. For Hispanic women it is double the rate of white women. Unsurprisingly, these numbers correspond to disproportionately high unintended pregnancy rates in both groups. These inconsistencies largely result from unequal access to effective means of birth control. In 2002, 15 percent of black women at risk for unwanted pregnancy were not using contraception, compared with 12 percent of Hispanic women and 9 percent of white women. These figures show that nationally, half of all unwanted pregnancies result from the small proportion of women who are at risk but not using contraceptives. Lack of access is not the only problem. For many low-income minority women, it is a matter of being unable to afford the more effective, but expensive, birth control methods. Unstable living conditions can also push birth control lower down on a priority list when the sole concern is surviving.
These disproportionate statistics extend across a wide range of health indicators. Blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to have diabetes. Hispanics — male and female — have higher incidences of stomach and liver cancer than whites and have a higher mortality rate from these cancers as well. Rates for STIs, AIDS and cervical cancer are also more concentrated in communities of color.
What these statistics ultimately expose is racial and class inequality that not only affect abortion — but general health care and beyond. Low-income minority women get more abortions because they do not have the money, resources or lifestyles that allow them to have consistent, safe access to birth control. Abortion seems to be the only option for those who do not have a support network, cannot afford to take maternity leave or do not have the time to deal with social services. Since illegalizing abortion does not help prevent unwanted pregnancies, it will only force women to get abortions through dangerous, illegal services. According to the World Health Organization, 78,000 women around the world die from unsafe abortions every year. It is obvious that illegalizing abortion will only cause this number to grow. Women of color will be especially targeted, though their lives are not a priority in the pro-life campaign.
No amount of misplaced Martin Luther King Jr. quotes or Created Equal propaganda can cover up the inherent racism within the pro-life movement. These claims only act as a distraction from the fact that most pro-life advocates are white Christians that face a completely different set of circumstances than that of low-income, minority women. The lengths to which they will go to avoid the reality of inequality are frightening. One of the brochures from Tuesday’s demonstration said, “One woman who called said, ‘We didn’t plan this baby and can’t afford it.’ In actuality, she was aborting out of anger at her husband for not shouldering any of the responsibility in planning their family.” Rhetoric like this not only dismisses the main reason women get abortions; it also forces a Christian family ideal on a population with a widely diverse set of beliefs, many of whom Christian ideologies do not apply.
Abortion did not just sprout up out of nowhere. It has its roots in racial and economic inequalities that will not just disappear with a change in legislation. The unfortunate reality is that not all women are equal when it comes to rights over their own bodies. The goal should be to change this — to make it so every woman has access to safe, accessible, legal means of birth control, regardless of race or economic status. Voting pro-life will not save or help anyone; it will only enable people to turn a blind eye on the women that die from dangerous abortion procedures. Under the law, these women will be considered criminals. This is not the kind of “equality” we should strive for. If all women are truly created equal, it should be legal for them to make informed, safe decisions about their own bodies.
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