How the Right is Co-Opting #BlackLivesMatter to Roll Back Repro Rights

About Cole Parke

The Right Wing’s success in reframing and co-opting social justice movements for the advancement of its own agenda has derailed more than one progressive campaign. With skillfully manipulative messaging, improved healthcare access and reproductive freedom have been redefined as murderous, genocidal crusades; LGBTQ people have been twisted into dangerous, perverse threats to women and children; economic justice efforts are distorted as handouts for lazy, work-averse people.

The Right’s new target? Black Lives Matter.

With the Black Lives Matter movement sparking actions, demonstrations, and conversations around the country, the Right is carefully plotting strategies to divert energy and attention away from racial justice, seeking to preserve the status quo at all costs, and—if they’re crafty enough—gain ground on their own conservative agenda.

As protesters marched and demonstrated from coast to coast following the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson—the man responsible for the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager—the Right hastily put forward alternative narratives. Among them is an emerging effort to convert the “Black Lives Matter” rallying cry into an anti-abortion campaign.

In December, the Illinois Family Institute—one of many state-based conservative “family policy councils” working to implement a right-wing social and political agenda at the state level—published a blog post entitled, “’Black Lives Matter’ … or do they?” The author, Fran Eaton (a White woman), argued that “the real threat to America’s Black community are abortionists much more than law enforcement officers.” Eaton claims that since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, “16 million tiny Black lives have perished in abortion clinics.”

too many aborted billboardTo back up her reframing of the Black Lives Matter movement, she turns to two of the anti-abortion camp’s favorite Black surrogates: Ryan Bomberger, co-founder of the Radiance Foundation, and Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and director of African American Outreach at the anti-choice Catholic organization Priests for Life.

Bomberger’s organization is infamous for its controversial “Too Many Aborted” billboard campaigns, which began cropping up around the country in 2010. Signs proclaiming “Black Children are an Endangered Species” and “Abortion Makes Three-Fifths Human Seem Overly Generous” were placed in predominantly Black neighborhoods, making no secret of their strategy to target Black women.

bomberger graph

Infographic from the Radiance Foundation

 

As Dorothy Roberts outlined in her seminal 1998 book, Killing the Black Body, there is indeed a long and devastating history of women’s fertility and reproduction being controlled by the state, particularly among communities of color. In some cases, these attacks on reproductive freedom have been furthered not just by conservative White legislators, but also by Black spokespeople.

Sadly, this multi-pronged, insider/outsider assault continues still today, as exemplified by Bomberger and King’s efforts to further restrict access to safe and healthy abortions that are free from shame and condemnation. Increasingly, these ongoing attacks are taking shape in the form of “race and sex-selective abortion bans”—laws that would prevent healthcare providers from performing abortions if they suspect the person seeking care is doing so based on the anticipated race or sex of the fetus.

Race & Sex-Selective Abortion Bans—Stealing the Civil Rights Act

Prior to 2010, only two states banned sex-selective abortions: Illinois passed a ban in 1979, and Pennsylvania passed a similar law in 1982. Beginning in 2008, however, leaders in the anti-choice movement began mobilizing constituents behind this new tactic.

In 2008, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), proposed H.R. 7016, the Susan B. Anthony Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA). In a press conference, Franks claimed his strategy was to simply extend standard civil rights protections, encapsulated in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to unborn Americans. “Sex and race discrimination are already forbidden,” he said. “We took everything applicable from the 1964 Civil Rights Act and applied it to the unborn.”

Franks was joined by Alveda King and several other anti-choice spokespeople, including Steven Mosher, head of the right-wing Population Research Institute. In an article published shortly after H.R. 7016’s introduction, Mosher wrote:

I propose that we—the pro-life movement—adopt as our next goal the banning of sex- and race-selective abortion. By formally protecting all female fetuses from abortion on the ground of their sex, we would plant in the law the proposition that the developing child is a being whose claims on us should not depend on their sex.

This sense of contradiction will be further heightened among radical feminists, the shock troops of the abortion movement. They may believe that the right to abortion is fundamental to women’s emancipation, but many will recoil at the thought of aborting their unborn sisters. How can they, who so oppose patriarchy and discrimination on the basis of sex, consent to [the] ultimate form of patriarchy and discrimination, namely, the elimination of baby girls solely on account of their sex? Many, it is safe to predict, will be silent, while others will raise their voices, but with less conviction.

While the pro-aborts are stammering and stuttering, we pro-lifers will be advancing new moral and logical arguments against the exercise of the “right” to an abortion solely on the grounds of sex or race. For those who are immune to moral arguments, we can also use the examples of China and India, where sex-selective abortion is creating enormous societal problems. The debate over sex- and race-selective abortion will also help to focus the public’s attention on how unregulated the abortion industry is. In these and other ways, the debate over this legislation will not subtract from, but add to, the larger goal of reversing Roe v. Wade and, ultimately, passing a Human Life Amendment. – “A New Front in the Abortion Wars

Franks, considered one of the most conservative members of Congress, has persisted in his efforts, reintroducing the bill in 2008, ’09, ’11, ’12, and ’13. In 2013, Franks also proposed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks based on the medically-disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point. That bill, which still lacked sufficient support when it was re-introduced in January of this year, will likely be back up for consideration soon.

Franks’ home state of Arizona is the only state to have passed a race-selective abortion ban. This legislation is currently being contested by the ACLU on behalf of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

As NAPAWF explains:

These bills are part of a deceptive attempt to slip anti-choice measures under the radar. They claim to promote racial and gender equity, when in reality they aim to chip away at reproductive rights by exploiting negative stereotypes about women of color. Using the language of equality, anti-choice conservatives hope to foster nontraditional alliances with true advocates for women and people of color, in order to gain broad support for their agenda.

As in Illinois, Arizona has its own family policy organization, the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). CAP was originally known as the Arizona Family Research Institute, and from 1988-1993, Franks served as the organization’s executive director. Now one of the most influential political groups in the state, CAP is a member of CitizenLink, a nationwide network of right-wing state level lobbying groups and the policy arm of Focus on the Family. CitizenLink currently lists “fully associated” groups in 38 states.

With the exception of Oklahoma, every other state to have successfully passed sex-selective abortion bans thus far (Arizona, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania) has one of these CitizenLink-affiliated groups working hard to derail movements toward social justice and advance the Right’s fundamentalist Christian agenda.

The Right’s media-messaging machine is well resourced and ready to co-opt and distort all struggles for social justice, including the Black Lives Matter movement. With high-profile Black surrogates like Bomberger and King out in front, and national support from organizations like Focus on the Family, CitizenLink, Radiance Foundation, and Americans United for Life, the anti-abortion movement is gaining ground—already this year, state lawmakers have introduced more than 300 bills designed to chip away at civil liberties and reproductive freedom.

It can be difficult to translate truth from the Right’s manipulative reframing, but Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, offers an easy litmus test: “If those who oppose abortion truly believed that black lives matter, they would be standing beside reproductive justice activists, and join our unequivocal assertion that the right to choose an abortion is just as important as the right to have children and parent them in healthy, thriving communities. Equality and justice can never be rooted in stigma, shaming, or violence, and it’s time the anti-choice movement recognized that.”

Cole Parke, research analyst at PRA, studied theology at Texas Lutheran University, earned their Master’s in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, and has been working at the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality as an activist, organizer, and scholar for more than a decade. Their research and writing examines the infrastructure, mechanisms, strategies, and effects of the Religious Right on LGBTQ people and reproductive rights, both domestically and internationally, always with an eye toward collective liberation.