There's been an uproar in New York all this week about an anti-abortion billboard in Soho. The billboard featured a little black girl with the message, "The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb." Launched by anti-abortion group Life Always, the billboard served as a controversial way to bring attention to the fact that black women have a disproportionately high abortion rate in New York City and nationwide. While that's clearly worrisome, suggesting that black women are a threat to black children for exercising their reproductive rights is extremely offensive. One of the top reasons women get abortions is because they can't afford to raise children. Rather than address this dynamic as well as the disproportionate number of African Americans who lack health insurance, Life Always chose to publicly disparage black women.
The good news is thanks to public outcry and condemnations of the billboard from people such as New York City Councilwoman Letitia James and the Rev. Al Sharpton, Lamar Advertising announced on Thursday that it would take the billboard down. The bad news is that similar billboards have already gone up in cities such as Los Angeles and Atlanta and that anti-abortion groups plan to roll out more across America.
The goal of the billboards isn't only to stigmatize black women but also to convince the black community that Planned Parenthood is targeting African-American neighborhoods for abortion services, a claim that the Guttmacher Institute disproved last month. Rather than spread conspiracy theories about genocidal plots to kill black babies, why not examine why the unplanned pregnancy rate among African-American women is so high and see what can be done to change this trend? It's particularly disturbing that right-wing, anti-abortion groups are spreading conspiracies about genocide considering that people of color have historically faced attacks on their reproductive freedom. Puerto Rican and Native American women are some of the groups who have historically been sterilized without consent.
African American women today aren't being forced into sterilizations or abortions, however. And if groups such as Life Always want black women to stop terminating their pregnancies, they need to support Planned Parenthood's efforts to care for uninsured black women, including educating them about contraception and pregnancy prevention. But too often, conservative Christian groups such as Life Always don't support these measures, even though married women and mothers make up a sizeable percentage of those who've had abortions. Of course not every woman who terminates a pregnancy does so as a result of financial difficulties or being uninformed about family planning, but many do. Accordingly, this is where anti-abortion groups should be putting their resources—not in outrageous, race-baiting billboards.