March 3, 2010

Genocide? Ethnic Cleansing?? Really???

It's rare but not unusual for abortion foes to try and frame the fight over women's reproductive rights into an African American civil rights issue, but an alliance between conservative black Christians and pro-life advocacy groups have raised the stakes in recent weeks,  applying pressure to Congress and civil rights leaders.  That's coupled with a new documentary, Mafaa 21: Black Genocide in the 21st Century that claims the pro-choice movement deliberately targeted poor black women, with the goal of wiping the black population off the face of the earth before they make it out of the womb. Instead, it's prompted white conservative lawmakers to make ill-considered, apocolyptic remarks on the issue.

Slavery?  Genocide? If I were a conspiracy theorist on that level, I'd say the fast-food, liquor and tobacco industries have big head starts on that goal: African Americans suffer disproportionately from potentially fatal, yet preventable maladies like hypertension, heart disease, lung cancer and diabetes.  Mortality rates from obesity, cancer, heart attacks and strokes aren't as sexy, news-wise, as abortion, but the overall effect to an individual, family or community can be just as devastating.  

The facts on abortion aren't in dispute: black women represent only 19 percent of the American population, but make up nearly 40 percent of all abortion patients in the US, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the flip side of those dismal numbers are statistics showing African American teens are two to three times more likely than white teens to become pregnant -- with low-income teens especially susceptible.  Teenage mothers, in turn, are less likely to have access to quality prenatal care, much more likely to be broke and/or poor themselves and raising the their newborn children in poor circumstances, increasing the likelihood their offspring will add to another generation locked in a stubborn cycle of poverty.  Not to mention the disproportionately high number of out-of-wedlock births has been a chronic problem the black community has struggled to overcome.

The flip side of the debate came to mind recently while listening to my local NPR affiliate, which this week began an excellent three-part series on teen pregnancy.  WAMU's Kavitha Cordoza reports that after years of decline during the Clinton presidency, teen birth rates are on the rise again nationally.  While abortion is abhorrent to many, forcing young women to give birth when they aren't ready for it also has long-term consequences for them, and society in general.

The Christian right's attempt to use black America as a frame for their pro-life side of the abortion debate could have a ripple effect and influence the ongoing health care debate, creating a time bomb that could detonate just before the embattled bill crosses the finish line.  Adding a racial element to it is an attempt to push an emotional hot button for Democrats, and whipping up the Tea Party crowd and others on the far right.

Meanwhile, both the New York Times and the LA Times weigh in with some pretty good reporting.  The Times' link appears here, while its West Coast cousin's article can be found on this link.

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