Taking on anti-choice racism

April 7, 2011

Marilena Marchetti reports on the opposition to a hateful anti-choice campaign.

CHICAGO--On March 29, the latest attack in the onslaught of hateful campaigns against women's access and right to abortion touched down in the neighborhood of Englewood, a predominantly low-income, African American community on Chicago's South Side.

At a press conference for an anti-choice ad campaign sponsored by Texas-based Life Always, three billboards were unveiled that feature an image of Barack Obama with the words, "Every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted." The ads direct people to a website called ThatsAbortion.com.

Pro-choice community members and grassroots organizers were present on the day that marked the beginning of an anti-choice blitz that aims to install a total of 30 billboards in the coming weeks. The group denounced the scientifically debunked message that abortion causes breast cancer and claimed that abortion is part of a eugenics campaign orchestrated by Planned Parenthood.

When the group's first campaign of racist, anti-choice billboards descended on Georgia in February 2010, public pressure succeeded in having some taken down; the same was achieved in New York this past February. The confrontational tone of pro-choice women and men who attended the March 29 press conference armed with a petition for the billboards' removal promised even greater resistance to come in Chicago.

The ad's message to Black women is clear: It is your fault we don't have more Black leaders (never mind racism and poverty). And, shame on you if the lack of financial means, the lack of social support or the lack of desire to raise a child get in the way of carrying out your duty to reproduce.

Aside from the blatant disregard for women's right to self-determination, Life Always reeks of hypocrisy. The organization apparently has loads of cash to advocate for the rights of fetuses, but actual living women and children are of no concern. According to reports, Rev. Stephen Broden, the Life Always board member who traveled to Chicago from Texas to address the press, has ties to Tea Party groups and heavyweight right-wing groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council, who endorsed his failed 2010 run for U.S. Congress.

Broden is one of those who promote a "balanced budget"--but the Balanced Budget Act would cut social programs that provide essential services for women and families, including child care, health care and food subsidies. For people like Broden, demonizing abortion goes hand in hand with justifying an economic system that complicates so many people's lives while disproportionately benefiting a tiny corporate class.

Gaylon Alcaraz from the Chicago Abortion Fund, an organization that assists low-income women in Chicago in obtaining abortions, had this to say about the Life Always billboards:

Not only are [the billboards] racist and demeaning, but they don't offer real choice to women in the community. Directing women to a website doesn't support the community, It would be different if they weren't outsiders, if they were doing work in the community.

They have a racist, anti-choice agenda and don't really care about women. The [thatsabortion.com] website is supposed to be an alternative but without real resources what can actually be done?

Unveiling the billboards with the backdrop of a garbage-filled lot and telling young, poor women not to abort when they are surrounded by depression and poverty is ironic--especially because their name is "Life Always." They don't do real engagement in the community. They just want to put billboards up without doing any real work.

THE CHICAGO Abortion Fund and Black Women for Reproductive Justice, in partnership with other community members and organizations, are taking a dual approach to the billboards, which addresses community and political issues. On April 23, a "clean-up-the-lot" and resources fair will be held at the site adjacent to the billboards. The event will be followed up with a speak-out, where the real life stories and demands of women in the community can be shared and heard.

According to Alcaraz, "Right now, we are working with a few people to see if [the billboards] are even legal. Groups are working together to get them down. The primary concern is to use this as a teaching moment to enter the community and provide it with resources from a variety of organizations."

Across the country, abortion rights are under attack with renewed vigor--and the tactics of the anti-choice movement increasingly include the racist targeting of minority communities. In fact, the same day the billboards in Chicago were unveiled, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB 2443 into law--the first law in the U.S. to make providing an abortion based on the race of a fetus a Class 3 felony.

HB 2443 is unnecessary; there is no record of any woman in Arizona seeking an abortion on the basis of race. Instead, the racists in Arizona reside in the state government--those who passed SB 1070, the bill that sought to require racial profiling of suspected undocumented immigrants by law enforcement officials.

This criminalization of women and their doctors for carrying out a legal medical procedure is done in the service of advancing a broader right-wing agenda that advocates austerity for the majority and bloated wealth for the few.

The response from the Chicago community is a sign that more and more people are ready to fight back against the attacks on our bodies and quality of life.

House Resolution 3, a bill passed in Congress that would defund family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood, incited the nationwide, grassroots action "Walk For Choice" on February 26. In anticipation of the April 8 due date for budget reconciliation, a rally on the National Mall to support women's health is scheduled to take place.

As a fellow activist once noted, "There is nothing more powerful than an angry woman." One can only imagine an entire movement of them--and their partners and families.

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