Capitol Ideas

A Culture Mired in Callousness

The human cost of the high black abortion rate.

By From the February 2009 issue

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I write before Christmas, but our first African-American president should have been sworn in and the inaugural festivities completed by the time you read this. On a more somber note, an auxiliary bishop in Washington has drawn attention to something we don’t hear enough about: the terrible toll that abortion has taken on the black population.

A recent report by the Guttmacher Institute shows that black women now have abortions at five times the rate of white women. Among the 1.2 million babies aborted in the U.S. each year--at least it’s down from 1.6 million in 1990--37 percent are black, 34 percent are non-Hispanic white, and 22 percent are Hispanic.

“As an African American, I am saddened by evidence that black women continue to be targeted by the abortion industry," said Bishop Martin Holley. "The loss of any child from abortion is a tragedy, but we must ask: Why are minority children being aborted at such disproportionate rates?"

An answer of sorts was given years ago by the Black Panthers, a militant group (since defunct), who were vehemently opposed to abortion. When New York State legalized abortion in 1970, the Panthers warned that the “oppressive ruling class” would use the new law to unleash a black “holocaust.”

It’s hard to recall that many black leaders were once pro-life, among them the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of a higher order than the right to life,” he wrote in 1977. “But that was the premise of slavery.” By dismissing the importance of abortion, he also said, we were in danger of becoming “a Sodom and Gomorrah.” (He wouldn’t dare say that today!)

Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr., remembers when Jackson went around the country “calling abortion genocide.” She said, incidentally, that two of her famous uncle’s grandchildren were aborted. Other abortion opponents at that time included Julius Lester, Dick Gregory, and H. Rap Brown.

Bishop Holley says that abortion is the leading cause of death for blacks, with 13 million abortions so far. That is one-third of the present African-American population. With most Planned Parenthood clinics concentrated in inner cities, it is reasonable for Bishop Holley to believe that blacks are being targeted.

 How things have changed. In the 1960s, activists forced the closing of a Planned Parenthood clinic in a black Pittsburgh neighborhood and threatened riots if it were reopened. In Cleveland, a family planning clinic was firebombed and several others were closed in response to threats.

It is said that Jackson changed his position when he ran for president. Maybe, but there was also something else. The leadership realized that a black/feminist coalition would have the votes in Congress to deliver taxpayer dollars to constituent groups. Since then African American and women’s groups have stuck together, and there hasn’t been a peep about abortion from the Congressional Black Caucus. Dissenters like former Rep. J. C. Watts refused to join the caucus.

Maybe President Obama will pay attention but my guess is not. The issue just doesn’t compute for him anyway. Most blacks will vote for him whatever his position on abortion. But without his support on the issue, the feminists would turn on him.

Rhetorically and in every way, the “pro-choice” movement today is dominated by feminists. Their code words are part of our political discourse: “reproductive rights,” “reproductive freedom,” “reproductive health needs.” These are the pro-abortion euphemisms of our time. The Panthers, with their ruling-class talk, seem almost clear-headed by comparison. Today’s activists are within the citadel and what they demand is money and still more money. I personally would love to see the blacks turning against their feminist overseers, with whom they have so little in common. But it won’t happen. The black leadership has been showered with programs and money and sees no reason to change.

The underlying problem is the collapse of the black family--a consequence of the welfare that black leaders support. The self-interest of leadership groups is in this instance at odds with the interest of the rank and file. Publicity about group victimhood will fill coffers and help the bosses, but the rank and file will suffer because victimhood, whether real or imagined, is never beneficial to those who must play that role.

In 1950, about 15 percent of black children were born to unmarried mothers, but by 1965, with millions of new jobs available, that had increased to 24 percent. Fatherlessness was undermining the family. Warnings by Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan and others were attacked as “racist myths” and “blaming the victim.”

Since then, the black family “has unraveled in ways that have little parallel in human cultures,” Kay Hymowitz wrote recently. About 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers today, and before birth they are a constant target for abortion.

Obama gave a Father’s Day speech lamenting the fathers who are missing “from too many lives and too many homes,” and told of the price he had paid for growing up without a father. Yet Jesse Jackson lashed out and actually said he would like to castrate Obama.

Jesse sold out, that’s the problem. Blacks are paying the price and he (and other leaders) will have a lot to answer for.

A “coalition” welcoming Obama to Washington under the banner “Advancing Reproductive Rights and Health” has demanded another $1.5 billion. It includes African American Women Evolving, Inc. and Black Women’s Health Imperative. But mostly it was the usual feminist flock. (The Sierra Club, too, please note.) Obama owes them, as they see it. What do they want? More sex ed, more abortion clinics, and of course the defunding of all abstinence programs.

 

A STRUGGLE IS BREWING over the issue of conscience. The Bush administration issued a last-minute regulation shielding health care workers from reprisals if they refuse to participate in abortions on moral or religious grounds. It would cut off federal funds for hospitals and clinics that refuse to accommodate such conscientious objectors. Expect a big push to reverse the rule. According to Sen. Patty Murray, “It threatens the health and well-being of women and the rights of patients across the country.”

I went out to Fairfax, Virginia, to talk to John Bruchalski, an ob/gyn doctor who runs the Tepeyac Crisis Pregnancy Center. It’s a Catholic, pro-life, nonprofit center where young women come for help. It does no abortions and sometimes prevails on young women to bring the child to term, maybe put it up for adoption.

 Bruchalski’s practice is a constant struggle against a culture mired in callousness. “At its heart is the disrespect for the human person,” he said. He was thinking of the pregnant young woman who comes to a clinic and “is treated as an object rather than as a person.” After a cursory inspection, like a defective toy, she is recommended for an abortion. Then she is back on the street without comfort or a second glance. Such an irony that the women’s movement was founded by women who complained (with some justice) that as young women they had been treated as objects--sex objects.

As the government takeover of health care increases, Bruchalski said, so does the pressure for more abortions. The state can reduce its financial burden by deciding that only a certain amount will be spent on health care. They can cap costs and ration care and minimize future welfare. So abortion looks like a cost-saving device (as in the Soviet Union). But the psychic costs are high, Bruchalski warned.

For years, the population control movement has validated abortion. Were blacks really targeted? There’s more on all this in Intended Consequences: Birth Control, Abortion, and the Federal Government in Modern America (Oxford University Press), by Donald T. Critchlow. In a future article, I hope to write something on the history and ideology of population control. Meanwhile, someone I know wondered out loud: How would Jesse Jackson like it if Klan members showed up at the inauguration with signs reading: “Keep Abortion Legal” ?

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About the Author

Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages, and most recently Questioning Einstein: Is Relativity Necessary? (2009).