At the Intersection of Anti-Blackness and Patriarchy

| Reproaction

By: Tenaja Henson

It’s undeniable that harm exists within the anti-abortion movement at the intersection of patriarchy and anti-Blackness. Over the past few months, there have been many instances where the anti-abortion movement and their many allies have come out and said downright terrifying things to further their stance against abortion access. What is interesting is that there have been stark correlations of these comments having anti-Black or racist sentiment under the guise of anti-racism.

We as a society are collectively figuring out where to go from here with acknowledging systematic racism. The anti-abortion front has been deploying spin tactics to make their work seem more important than and simultaneously in line with movement work like Black Lives Matter, or propose that ‘unborn’ Black lives are more important than the real people being murdered and harmed by state-sanctioned police violence. The frequency of these comments has increased since the announcement in July of the removal of Margaret Sanger’s name from Planned Parenthood of Greater New York’s (PPGNY) Manhattan Health Center in New York City. Many people involved in the anti-abortion movement are trying to capitalize on PPGNY’s decision to remove Sanger’s name, the first of many shifts to address Sanger’s legacy and system of institutional racism, to condemn all Planned Parenthood affiliated health centers while co-opting the movement for Black lives to benefit their own patriarchal agenda.

The moral ethics of Margaret Sanger’s work have been in question for a while now,[1] some of which can be found in this incredible deep dive from Rewire News Group, because of her support of the eugenics movement in the 1920s. Questioning the role eugenics played in Margaret Sanger’s work is a just and reasonable thing to do. However, the anti-abortion movement using Sanger’s legacy to try and create the grounds for condemning all of Planned Parenthood is a calculated yet fragile ploy. Their obsession with Sanger’s sympathy for eugenics clearly leaves out the fact that the eugenics movement was almost universally accepted science at the time, hailed by many people that Americans still count as heroes, like, Theodore Roosevelt, Alexander Graham Bell, W.E.B. Du Bois, and even the inventor of Corn Flakes, John Harvey Kellogg.[2] Sangers’ ties to eugenics shouldn’t be viewed in isolation, nor should the work being done by folks at Planned Parenthood to move away from her problematic past be overlooked. These are the strategies that are crucial for reproductive rights to center marginalized communities, specifically Black people, as they have paved the way for this work to be done.

What doesn’t make sense are the words of anti-abortion organizations that are now coming after Planned Parenthood and attacking them based on Sanger’s name removal. I wrote recently about how Reverend Dean Nelson of the anti-abortion fake clinic chain Human Coalition, is demanding that Governor Roy Cooper shut down all Planned Parenthood health centers here in North Carolina. Another fake clinic organization, Care Net, has gone even further into the abyss with a terrifying analysis of Black people and abortion.

In a recent podcast, the CEO and of Care Net compared taking Margaret Sanger’s name off a Planned Parenthood community health center to renaming the Auschwitz concentration camp. This is not the first time that anti-abortion advocates have compared abortion to the Holocaust, and I am sure it will not be the last. As we mentioned in another Reproaction blog post, comparing abortions to the Holocaust is disrespectful and ignorant to the genocide of Jewish people. Also, to speak about abortion as a genocide against Black people perpetuates the racist stereotype that Black women are violent threats, demonizes the reproductive decisions of Black women, belittles victims of genocide worldwide, and erases the lynching and violence that Black people still face today.

The hosts of Care Net’s podcast discussed Margaret Sanger’s checkered legacy and offered misleading and incorrect statistics to disparage Planned Parenthood, claiming the organization ‘targets’ Black women for their services. They also demonized Black women, saying they get more abortions than white women because, they condescendingly assert, “Black women have been convinced that the life they are growing inside of them is less valuable than a white life.” To them, Black women seem to be ignorant pawns who are unable to make choices for themselves and their families. [3]

This racist narrative about Black women comes from an ingrained societal hatred of Black women. Multiple times throughout the podcast, the hosts spew anti-Black and sexist remarks about the experiences of Black women and their reproductive decisions. At one point, they use an analogy saying that, “If you told a woman who was about to have an abortion that the child they were going to have was going to be the richest person in the world, they wouldn’t have the abortion, nothing about their situation has changed, but the value of the life inside of them did.”

This kind of thought experiment assumes the class status of a person getting an abortion and equates the sole value of a fetus to monetary value, paying homage to the myth of the “welfare queen”, in which Black women are seen as lazy and greedy and only have children to gain funds from government programs.[4] The underlying themes of capitalism here remind us that oppressive systems want us to value capital gain over autonomous decision-making. Mind you, the hosts of this anti-abortion show are not people who can become pregnant, in which case they have no right to comment on the decisions of people can become pregnant. Overall, the episode reeked of lies, bigotry, patriarchy and anti-Blackness. I bring up anti-Blackness here to recognize that we are specifically discussing racism towards Black people. Anti-Blackness expresses the complexity of internalized and institutionalized hatred of Black people that denies the existence of humanness and value of Black life for the betterment of non-Black people of color and white folks.[5] This occurred in combination with the blatant patriarchal assumption that cisgender men are superior created a 15-minute podcast in which Black women specifically had dangerous and violent stereotypes placed upon them, under the guise of racial justice. We have been taught that women and birthing people cannot make decisions for themselves, and men need to make those decisions for us, whether we want to comply or not. However, we are learning now more than ever, allowing people to make decisions about their care for themselves creates the circumstances for best outcomes time and time again. Take the work of doulas for example: More and more Black people are working with doulas to help them advocate for themselves and create a plan specified to their needs during birth that protects their lives and the lives of their children. [6]

The intersection of oppression where patriarchy and anti-Blackness meet is a deadly force that is going to continue to harm and kill Black people. We see it in the Black maternal mortality rates, but it exists in many other aspects of life. Recently, Abby Johnson, an anti-abortion provocateur who directs and consults with fake clinics, recorded a video in which she said, “the police would be smart to racially profile my brown son.” [7] While, in this instance we are not seeing the effects of oppression on reproductive rights, we are still seeing the deep-seeded manipulation the anti-abortion movement propels through patriarchy and anti-Blackness. To break it down, patriarchy acts as an ideology that men are superior, more powerful, and smarter than all other genders. But when we mix that with anti-Blackness, we create a systematic, institutionalized, and deadly fear towards Black people, because now they are powerful and Black which makes them dangerous, harmful, or up to no good.

To top off the fragile racial analysis that the anti-abortion movement is trying to push throughout their work, they have begun to appropriate the language and design that the Black Lives Matter movement has been using for years. Across the United States there have been messages outside of Planned Parenthood health centers saying “Black Preborn Lives Matter”, “Baby Lives Matter”, and the Trump campaign even took to selling onesies the said “Baby Lives Matter”. [8] It’s abundantly clear the anti-abortion movement and their leaders are making an apathetic appropriation of messaging from a movement that is rooted in justice, freedom, and community. Whereas, their movement works to manipulate and take away essential healthcare from the people they say they care about.

It’s so obvious the anti-abortion movement feels threatened by the work of Black people and the movement work we create. Whether it is heartless comparisons to the genocide of Jewish people, perpetuating racist stereotypes about Black mothers, supporting the racial profiling of their own child, or the appropriation of the movement for Black lives, the anti-abortion movement is using last-ditch efforts to seem relevant in a context where communities are rightfully examining how to make positive changes to eliminate white supremacy and advance racial justice.  Fake, actually racist sentiments from an anti-abortion movement desperate to hijack the conversation for their own oppressive ends are harming the lives and wellbeing of Black families and Black communities.


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