A Saturday Shocker: Space for Black Pro-Lifers

The front page of Saturday's Times brought a new visibility to the black pro-life movement. The headline was "To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case." The subtitles were "High Rates Are Cited: Message Ties Procedure to Slavery, Genocide and Lynchings."

The story by reporter Shaila Dewan began by focusing on Georgia Right to Life hiring a black outreach coordinator, and how the "anti-abortion movement," long seen as "almost exclusively white and Republican," is encouraging "black abortion opponents" to become more active. She explained that their new black employee, Catherine Davis, was "delivering the message that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill blacks."

Dewan granted that blacks have a much higher abortion rate, but somehow this "old news" is getting "exaggerated new life" on the Internet:

The factors fueling the focus on black women - an abortion rate far higher than that of other races and the ties between the effort to legalize and popularize birth control and eugenics - are, at heart, old news. But they have been given exaggerated new life by the Internet, slick repackaging, high production values and money, like the more than $20,000 that Georgia Right to Life invested in the billboards.

Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that black women get almost 40 percent of the country's abortions, even though blacks make up only 13 percent of the population. Nearly 40 percent of black pregnancies end in induced abortion, a rate far higher than for white or Hispanic women.

The pull quote on page A11 said "Arguing that abortion clinics are located so they can prey on minorities." Dewan allowed the "conspiracy theory" to be unfurled, but worked to unravel it with a "pro-choice" advocate:

Abortion opponents say the number is so high because abortion clinics are deliberately located in black neighborhoods and prey upon black women. The evidence, they say, is everywhere: Planned Parenthood's response to the anti-abortion ad that aired during the Super Bowl featured two black athletes, they note, and several women's clinics offered free services - including abortions - to evacuees after Hurricane Katrina.

"The more I dug into it, the more vast I found that the network was," Ms. Davis said. "And I realized that African-American women just did not know the truth, they did not understand the truth about the abortion industry."

But those who support abortion rights dispute the conspiracy theory, saying it portrays black women as dupes and victims. The reason black women have so many abortions is simple, they say: too many unwanted pregnancies.

"It's a perfect storm," said Loretta Ross, the executive director of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta, listing a lack of access to birth control, lack of education, and even a high rate of sexual violence. "There's an assumption that every time a girl is pregnant it's because of voluntary activity, and it's so not the case," Ms. Ross said.

But, she said, the idea that abortion is intended to wipe out blacks may be finding fertile ground in a population that has experienced so much sanctioned prejudice and violence.

Dewan and the Times don't seem to realize that what Loretta Ross suggested is merely a different "conspiracy theory," that there is a "storm" of lack of social services like free condoms and bad education. That theory could be defined as treating black women as "dupes and victims." (They also fail to understand it sounds typically liberal to absolve individuals of their own sexual behavior. If it was a "perfect storm" that led women inexorably to sex and becoming pregnant, then why doesn't the Times look at cultural rainfall, like sex-drenched music and TV?)

Throughout the story, Dewan went looking for "scholars" to rebut the pro-life case. But in this argument, Dewan made no attempt to suggest abortion clinics are not more heavily located in minority neighborhoods. Perhaps she knows this is why the "prey on minorities" line resonates. Why wouldn't the Times view the abortion industry's money-making designs on poor black neighborhoods in the same way they view industries like alcohol and tobacco marketing heavily to minorities?

The lamest line in the story tried to excuse or water down the point that Planned Parenthood found Margaret Sanger favored limiting the lesser races:

Scholars acknowledge that Sanger did ally herself with eugenics, at the time a mainstream movement, but said she believed that birth control, sterilization and abortion should be voluntary and not based on race. She was also allied with black leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois and Dr. King, who praised her efforts to bring birth control to black families.

"It's unfair to characterize those efforts as racially targeted in a negative way," said Ellen Chesler, a historian and Sanger biographer, who is now on the board of Planned Parenthood.

Dewan really shouldn't suggest that Chesler's response is simply that of a "scholar" if she's on the board of Planned Parenthood. That should be considered an official Planned Parenthood rebuttal. Dewan somehow didn't have the space to let the subjects of the story quote Sanger's actual words and let the Times reader decide.

The Times story never wavered on labeling. "Pro-life" only occurred in the names of pro-life groups and in their quotes. The story had 11 uses of labeling negatives, "antis" and "opponents" and "foes" (not including three in the headlines and captions), while the other side were "supporters" of "abortion rights."