It is to my great disappointment that Congress and State representatives have launched investigations against Planned Parenthood in light of the scandalous videos from the Center for Medical Progress that have been released in the last two weeks. The videos accuse the reproductive planning organization of illegally trafficking fetal tissue. These videos are just two of the many videos that will be released in the upcoming weeks to try to incriminate the organization. Planned Parenthood has been targeted by anti-abortion extremists with these kinds of videos for decades.
As a journalist, as a Black woman and as an American voter, I am deeply disturbed by this sequence of events for four main reasons. One, the videos that David Daleiden, the founder of the anti-abortion group behind the video, released lack journalistic ethics and do not actually incriminate Planned Parenthood of illegal activity. Two, as much as he wanted to nab Planned Parenthood for their fetal tissue donation program, the reality is that using fetal tissue for medical research is a highly valuable scientific imperative that has been saving lives and making breakthroughs for years. Three, this latest scandal has shown that once again, GOP presidential candidates have no qualms about jumping on a bandwagon filled with bullshit to throw Planned Parenthood under the bus just because they think it will get them ahead in next year’s big popularity contest. Finally, attacks on Planned Parenthood’s services and breast cancer research is ultimately an attack on Black women because we are impacted by breast cancer fatalities and unwanted pregnancies more than women of any other racial group in the United States.
Before I touch on the race factor, I want to break down the political motivations behind Daledien’s decision. What he did was obviously a calculated move. He knew that last week, Congress would be voting on a bill to provide funding for breast cancer research. This funding would have partly gone to the Komen Foundation, a group that provides breast cancer screenings to Planned Parenthood patients. Even though the bill passed and the allegations from Daleiden’s video were proven bogus, Republicans were still able to cut the Komen Foundation from the group of funding recipients amidst their reignited war on Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program. If Republicans get excited enough by more secretly recorded videos featuring unsuspecting Planned Parenthood employees and other antics from anti-abortion extremists, we could face another government shutdown. Conservatives could impede all spending bills until government funding for Planned Parenthood is obliterated.
Almost immediately after the scandal broke, politicians from the Republican party started airing out statements on social media and talk show panels condemning Planned Parenthood, reminding voters that they’ve worked to defund the organization in the past. Governor Rick Perry of Texas came out saying that he’s here to “to protect human life and the health and safety of Texans.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called Planned Parenthood a “morally bankrupt business” and demanded Congress take steps so that it doesn’t receive “one penny of taxpayer money.” Even Carly Fiorina tried to school us on feminism, saying: “This isn’t about ‘choice.’ It’s about profiting on the death of the unborn while telling women it’s about empowerment.”
I have to give it to them—Republicans and anti-abortion activists know that people are naive enough to believe anything as long as you repeatedly tell them it’s true—even when you don’t believe it yourself. But this entire charade is infuriating because this conversation doesn’t just have implications for Planned Parenthood or their rallying cry against abortion and contraceptives as a whole. The race to become president is being run on women’s backs and there seems to be no one in the Republican party who cares. Nobody cares about women’s health or about the complex, varying reasons and life experiences that drive women to seek out birth control options.
I’m not blindly defending Planned Parenthood here. My views on the organization are contextualized by their troubled history with communities of color. As Dorothy Roberts explains in Killing the Black Body, Planned Parenthood has championed birth control as a tool of freedom for White women since 1916. For Black women, however, birth control has historically been a resource sponsored by the government to discourage us from having offspring, sometimes forcing us into sterilization. This fact is maddening and painfully ironic. Innumerable Black women were forced into bearing children within the institution of slavery to produce labor and, in turn, create a profit for America’s White plantation owners just a century earlier. So for Black women, when we’re talking about the origins of “birth control” we’re not talking about women’s choices for our bodies. We’re talking about eugenics, about the government’s practice of controlling the population to accomplish what Roberts eloquently refers to as “social objectives.” Even though Planned Parenthood’s Founder Margaret Sanger was aligned with some of the teachings of W.E.B. DuBois in bettering the Black community, she contributed to ideologies encouraging the erasure of oppressed people. Sanger’s work was grounded in the idea that reproduction in marginalized communities needed to be inhibited because those communities were the source of social evils.
Miraculously, however, the tides have virtually flipped. Now, Planned Parenthood’s work is incredibly important to Black women’s reproductive health options. The rate at which we utilize Planned Parenthood’s services is comparable to our population size in America. In 2013, 14 percent of Planned Parenthood’s clients were Black while the US census estimated that African Americans make up 13.2 percent of America’s racial make-up. The reason why we use their services so much is because we’ve always been disadvantaged in getting affordable, high-quality healthcare, we’re twice as likely to have an unwanted pregnancy as a White woman and we’re 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than White women at every stage of diagnosis.
For Black women, dealing with unplanned pregnancies in the 21st Century isn’t even just about a lifestyle choice—it’s sometimes about life or death. In an email exchange with Abortion Activist Renee Bracey Sherman, she explained to me that Black women (especially in the Southeastern part of the United States) have exceptionally high maternal mortality rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had found that as of 2011, Black women are three times more likely to die of childbirth-related issues than White women. This is true even though we don’t significantly have higher rates of medical conditions that generally cause maternal mortalities.
Furthermore, for some women, especially the many without health insurance, clinics like Planned Parenthood are our only access to healthcare. So as Republicans have been successfully leading campaigns year after year to close down clinics that do far more than just abortions—places that provide us with birth control and medical services—they’ve been increasing our risk of death and leaving us without alternatives to protect ourselves. The best they have been able to come up with are phony crisis pregnancy centers filled with unlicensed, Evangelical Christians that are getting paid with our tax dollars to shove biblical verses down women’s throats.
“As of 2011, Black women are three times more likely to die of childbirth-related issues than White women.”
The kicker in all this is that abortion or not, it does not matter what a woman decides for herself. She will be labeled and judged for the rest of her life for her choice, whether that’s life as a single, childless woman or life as a single, economically-disadvantaged mother. We can all be used as puppets for politicians and conspiracy theorists’ disposal. If people like Daleiden, Perry and Cruz would accept that reversing their stance and allocation of funds on anti-abortion efforts could drastically decrease the demand for abortions in the first place, the world would be a much better place for everyone. It’s such a shame that they’re too power hungry, misogynistic, selfish and short-sighted to realize that.