The latest local attack on women’s reproductive rights was recently launched in Englewood on Chicago’s South Side by the anti-abortion group Life Always. Following their first controversial attempt in New York, the group brought their hypocritical message to our city with a billboard that includes a picture of President Obama’s face and the words “Every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted.”
Citing the higher rate of abortion among African-American women, Life Always defended the billboard; Derek McCoy, a board member at Life Always, stated, “Our future leaders are being aborted at an alarming rate. These are babies who could grow to be the future Presidents of the United States, or the next Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington or Maya Angelou.” (The counter-argument to this hardly needs to be stated: regardless of the race of the fetus, for every “future leader” that might be aborted, so might a future murderer.)
Of the thirty billboards that are planned for Chicago, the majority will be located in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, supposedly out of concern for the well-being of the women in these communities. Spokespersons for Life Always claim that Planned Parenthood in particular is targeting African-American women with the goal of reducing the black population, in effect participating in a widespread eugenics movement. Planned Parenthood of Illinois responded by calling the billboards “an offensive and condescending effort to stigmatize and shame African-American women while attempting to limit their ability to make private, personal medical decisions.”
And herein lies the specific problem with Life Always’ claims: they discount the disparity in education and access to reproductive services and health care that exists in this community. The abortion rate among African-American women is not higher because they are the targets of a secret plan executed by Planned Parenthood—it is higher because statistically speaking, these communities have schools that receive less funding and therefore have less comprehensive sex education and do not have the same affordable access to things like effective birth control. The solution is not to shame women into having babies that they may not have the means—financial or otherwise—to care for, but to prevent unwanted pregnancies to begin with and to provide support for those who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant but willing to care for a child. Gaylon Alcaraz, executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, relayed a similar message, saying, “A woman once said to me, ‘Where are all these people when I need a baby sitter or when I’m looking for a job?’ They don’t provide support.”
These billboards encapsulate the hypocrisy that is rampant in the anti-choice movement. It gives no thought to the type of life that these potential children might have; not every woman wants nor has the ability to care for a child, and adoption is not, unfortunately, always a good option. While the majority of adoptive parents in the United States are white, statistically only 1% of these parents adopt black children. Simply suggesting that unwanted babies be given up for adoption is an unrealistic solution.
What this debate comes down to once again, as always, is that women who have abortions are exercising their legal right to have sovereignty over their bodies. If Life Always was truly concerned with the African-American community, they would be striving to eliminate economic and social disparities rather than wasting time with shock tactics on billboards.