Over the last month in Atlanta, about 80 large billboards that depict a seemingly distressed child and the bleak message, “Black Children are an Endangered Species,” have been posted throughout neighborhoods with a majority African American population; the billboards direct people to the website, TooManyAborted.com, which links abortion and reproductive health providers to eugenics and racially-motivated population control. The implication is more than a little disturbing -- it’s dangerous. Like a smear campaign gone haywire, the billboards’ backers, Georgia Right to Life, the Radiance Foundation, and Operation Outrage, use blatant disinformation tactics to vilify and demonize advocates for reproductive health and choice.
Women’s health advocates are fighting back. Ms. Foundation grantees, SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW! and SisterSong, are part of a coalition of organizations aggressively challenging the billboards’ message. [Support their efforts here and here.] The fact is that of the 15 abortion providers in Georgia only four are located in predominantly African American neighborhoods. What's more, Georgia’s relatively high abortion rate among African American women accounts in part for the reality that the state, and Atlanta specifically, acts as a hub for women seeking abortion services from neighboring states where accessibility to safe and legal abortions is becoming increasingly rare.
Ultimately, of course, it is the underlying unequal access to health and education that have the most devastating impact on the sexual and reproductive health of women of color. On February 12, SisterSong’s Heidi Williamson told NPR’s Morning Edition [see player below] "The enemy is not black women, the enemy is poverty. The enemy is uninsured children and not properly funding education so that we can make sure there are comprehensive sex education programs and pregnancy prevention programs."
And these billboards are only the surface of the problem – the exterior face of a full-on legislative racist and sexist campaign against abortion. The billboards’ creators are all strongly supporting recent legislation, Georgia House Bill 1155, which seeks to ban the alleged solicitation of women of color by abortion providers. According to SisterSong [see their fact sheet and talking points (pdf)], the bill’s language is “inflammatory” and its premise “unfounded.” It would delay and complicate access to essential health services by requiring that all providers prove that they are not ”soliciting” African American women, and it would effectively challenge the legality of abortion by amending the racketeering laws to include abortion providers—classifying them as “organized crime”.
The billboard and legislative campaigns represent a tandem assault on the minds and bodies of women of color in Georgia. They both use inflammatory accusations and condescending propositions [see this great piece on RH Reality Check] to obscure the underlying issues that force many low-income women and women of color to make difficult decisions about their pregnancies. In fact, they assume that African American women are not capable of making independent decisions regarding their health; they capitalize on the anti-choice contingent’s crusade to limit sexual health education; and, most frighteningly, they manipulate this knowledge gap for their own purposes. As SPARK says, “Black women know what is best for our lives, our families, and our communities and are capable of making these decisions without a coordinated assault by organizations that are not genuinely committed to addressing the host of social issues confronted by the black community.”
To support the campaign against the billboards (which, in another twist, are owned by CBS Outdoors, the outdoor advertising division of CBS Corporation, which has increasingly been tooting the anti-choice horn) or the legislation, check out SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW! and SisterSong for action alerts.
Read more about the one-sided media coverage and the efforts of Loretta Ross (SisterSong) to speak back.