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How "#UnbornLivesMatter" Ignores Communities That Lack Reproductive Health Care Access
Following the shooting deaths of two black men -- Alton Sterling and Philando Castile -- and the targeting of police officers in several U.S. cities, anti-choice groups have attempted to hijack the vocabulary of Black Lives Matter to attack access to reproductive care.
Since the movement’s inception, the phrase “black lives matter” has been a grass-roots response to issues of race, policing, and structural violence against non-white bodies. In reaction, anti-choice groups have attempted to co-opt Black Lives Matter activists’ rhetoric by promoting their own phrase, #UnbornLivesMatter, to spread misinformation about abortion and its accessibility for women of color.
Salon’s Amanda Marcotte described the discrepancies between those on social media “talking about the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile” and those tweeting with the hashtag #UnbornLivesMatter, many of which “focused on shaming liberals for believing there are more important things to worry about than women terminating unwanted pregnancies.” Marcotte traced the development of #UnbornLivesMatter and concluded that “while the hashtag surge was organized by a bunch of right wing fringe sorts, the grim fact of the matter is that this undermining, race-baiting language has trickled up to the more mainstream anti-choice movement.”
Indeed, even before #UnbornLivesMatter’s recent prominence, anti-choice groups have long alleged that higher abortion rates among black women reflect an attempt by Planned Parenthood to explicitly target black communities.
Clinic escort Pearl Brady told Vox that protesters “often target young women of color,” and patient advocate Amanda Patton said they shout things like: “‘Black babies’ lives matter!’” In a longer essay, clinic escort Lauren Rankin described the moment when two regular clinic protestors began using the language of Black Lives Matter to harass patients:
But about a month ago, something changed. Two of our regular protesters—both men, neither of whom are Black—turned up at the clinic, megaphone, Bible, and camera in tow. Nothing unusual about that. But from the back of their crossover vehicle, they pulled out two new signs, both featuring a Black infant. The signs read:
“Black life matters.”
“Hands Up, Don’t Abort!”
I felt paralyzed for a moment, genuinely stunned. My mind raced. Did they really just go there?
These two men have spent the better part of the last two years of their lives screaming at women who enter an abortion clinic. They and their hate-group (and I use that phrase deliberately) have filmed patients and companions as they enter the clinic, without their consent, and plastered those videos across the internet. These men associate with known anti-abortion terrorists, who have threatened violence against abortion providers.
And yet, they feel perfectly comfortable appropriating a grassroots, progressive movement for racial justice in order to further shame Black patients and their partners. These men parade these signs specifically to target and harm Black women who have abortions. These men are accusing Black women who have abortions of perpetrating racial genocide, of inflicting systemic violence against their own children.
These men are despicable, and they’re not alone.
Right-wing media figures have amplified and repeated claims of a racist rationale behind the provision of access to abortion care. For example, frequent Fox News commentator and former GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that Planned Parenthood engages in racist population control by placing “most of their clinics in black neighborhoods.” Beyond this, Carson has also criticized Black Lives Matter for supposedly excluding the black lives “eradicated by abortion.”
Rush Limbaugh has made similar arguments on numerous occasions, alleging that “Planned Parenthood [is] doing the job the [Klu Klux] Klan could never finish” and that supporters of the reproductive health organization endorse the abortion of “60 percent of black babies.” Limbaugh has even stated that “the original goal of Planned Parenthood was to abort various minorities out of existence.”
Right-wing media have also frequently attacked the Black Lives Matter movement itself. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has labeled Black Lives Matter “a hate group” that wants police officers dead. Similarly, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera referred to Black Lives Matter activists as “a bunch of troublemakers” who were “attracting a lot of attention to themselves.”
According to a March 2016 fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute, women of color do experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy and more frequently elect to abort. Think Progress’ Kira Lerner explained that these numbers actually reflect “the difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively. A similar racial disparity exists for other health measures including rates of diabetes, breast and cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections.”
Women of color are particularly vulnerable to the loss of a provider safety net when Planned Parenthood clinics are forced out of communities. According to Planned Parenthood’s associate director of global communications, Lori Adelman, “Planned Parenthood is often the primary health care provider for Latinos and African Americans in this country.”
Black women are among the most adversely affected when access to Planned Parenthood and similar reproductive health care providers is denied. The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda reported that “black women have more than double the unintended pregnancy rate of white women,” which is particularly concerning given “the risk of death from pregnancy complications was nearly three and a half times higher for Black women than for white women.”
Renee Bracey Sherman wrote after the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby -- which enabled certain classes of employers to deny contraception benefits to their employees -- that because of these higher rates of unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality, “when employers deny access to birth control, they are actually putting Black women’s lives in danger.”
In June 2016, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2 was an “undue burden on abortion access.” In an amicus brief filed during the case, advocates outlined the disparate impact of anti-choice restrictions on women of color. They explained that “African-American women have been denied access to necessary reproductive healthcare services disproportionately” and this has impacted them “in numerous, measurable, and profound ways.”
Despite this disparity, anti-choice legislators have frequently invoked the language of racial equality to push their own agendas.
For example, in a speech demanding greater abortion restrictions, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-KS) attacked members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for condoning higher rates of abortion in black communities. He said: “There is no one more hopeless and voiceless than an unborn baby, but [the CBC’s] silence is deafening. I can’t hear them. Where are they standing up for their communities, advocating and fighting for their right to life?”
In Missouri, Rep. Mike Moon (R-MO) stole language from Black Lives Matter to promote his All Lives Matter Act -- a fetal personhood law which would enforce the scientifically unfounded belief that life begins at conception. Meanwhile, women have already been prosecuted for having miscarriages and stillborn births and for making attempts to self-abort, using laws that make actions taken by a pregnant person on her own body a criminal offense. For women of color, however, such laws also perpetuate harmful racial stereotypes.
As Christine Assefa wrote for Feminist Wire, Moon’s bill “suggests that the state of Missouri codify into law the assertion that Black women are killing their own children, are incapable of making decisions about their own bodies, and cannot control their sexual desires.” She continued that these codifications “perpetuate historical, violent, and harmful stereotypes of Black women that reveal the deeply-rooted relationship between race and sexual politics."
Beyond criticizing Moon’s bill, other reproductive justice advocates echoed these concerns about the hijacking of Black Lives Matter rhetoric to attack access to reproductive care.
Planned Parenthood's director of constituency communications, Alencia Johnson, told Salon, “To appropriate the Black Lives Matter movement in the midst of the brutal tragedies too many in the black community face from state violence is repulsive.”
Pamela Merritt, a co-director of the direct advocacy group Repoaction, argued that efforts by anti-choice groups to “to appropriate the language of Black Lives Matter are just the latest example of that movement's long history of pandering to their conservative and often racist base by insulting Black women and dismissing Black activism.” She concluded that this was particularly reprehensible when the “same movement is silent when Black children are shot and Black women are raped by police officers.”
In a July 12 article Think Progress’ Laurel Raymond summarized the concerns of reproductive justice advocates about the rising popularity of phrases like “unborn lives matter”:
"Black lives matter" provides a resounding answer to an unheard question: In the face of disproportionate policing and black deaths that are often unpunished and ignored, do black lives matter? Yes, they do. When other groups co-opt the phrase, they shift the focus away from this aspect of criminal justice -- and thus deemphasize the bigger problem at hand.
"Unborn lives matter" goes one step further: not only does it derail that focus, but it also puts the primary blame on black women for choosing to have abortions. Anti-abortion rhetoric focused on black women argues for them to have that control over their bodies taken away from them -- even as black women take to the streets to protest for control of their bodies from the police.
Following the release of the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s report on the 2012 terror attack on a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, -- which was the culmination of an investigation lasting “two years and [costing] more than $7 million,” -- journalists are pointing out that the report “failed to unearth anything so damning as to change many minds about the events of that tragic night, or who is to blame for them,” and that “there doesn't seem to be a smoking gun when it comes to Hillary Clinton's culpability.”
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ABC News' moderators did not ask the candidates about climate change or anti-choice domestic terrorism during the December 19 presidential debate, but did find time to inquire about whether the role of the presidential spouse should change.
On November 27 a gunman killed three at a Planned Parenthood clinic. He subsequently said he was trying to ensure there were "no more baby parts" and described himself as a "warrior for the babies" in court. The attack started a debate over the link between violent rhetoric directed against women's health providers and terrorist attacks on those clinics.
On December 12, leaders from every country in the world struck a historic climate change agreement in Paris to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Moderators David Muir and Martha Raddatz did not raise either of these topics during the debate, but did find time to ask all three candidates about the role their spouses would have if they were elected. CNN's moderators previously ignored both the Planned Parenthood attack and the climate agreement during the December 15 Republican primary debate.
Newly-elected Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) came under fire for accepting the position under the condition that he be able to spend time with his family, while also opposing a federal paid family leave policy. When he appeared on CBS' Face The Nation and ABC's This Week, both interviewers neglected to ask Ryan about his opposition to paid family leave policies, which benefit employees, employers, and the economy.
On October 20, Paul Ryan announced that he would run for Speaker of the House as long as a number of conditions were met, one being that he would not "give up [his] family" for traditional requirements of the job, such as "spending hundreds of days on the road raising money for Republican candidates." After Ryan's announcement, Politico noted that "when it comes to federal policies on family leave, Ryan has opposed virtually every measure proposed over the past several years."
Since announcing his candidacy for Speaker of the House, Ryan has been widely criticized for his hypocrisy on family leave. EMILY's List asserted that Ryan is "totally in favor of family-friendly workplace policies for Speakers of the House named Paul Ryan." Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, issued a statement criticizing Ryan for having "refused to sign on to two bills that would provide Americans time to care for a loved one during a routine or even a serious illness, namely, the Healthy Families Act and the FAMILY Act. When Rep. Ryan had the opportunity to vote for paid time for federal employees to bond with a new child, he voted no - twice." Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project told Politico "Paul Ryan is rightly concerned about his job's impact on his spouse and children ... yet [he] isn't willing to guarantee that all workers ... have the necessary tools to balance their work and family obligations."
Ryan made the rounds on the November 1 Sunday talk shows the week after the Speaker election. Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday, and State of the Union asked Ryan about his opposition to federal paid family leave legislation, noting his condition that he not give up his own family time. However, ABC's Martha Raddatz and CBS' John Dickerson of This Week and Face the Nation, respectively, neglected to question Ryan's hypocrisy, even as Raddatz mentioned his family as part of his hesitation to take on the job, and Dickerson asked Ryan what he told his children about the new position.
Paid family leave was brought up earlier this year in President Obama's State of the Union address. Economists have found that increasing paid parental leave could incentivize more women to join and remain in the labor force, boost the economy, increase wages, and keep families out of poverty and reduce their reliance on public assistance.
ABC's Martha Raddatz debunked GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson's claim that Planned Parenthood engages in racist population control by targeting black communities.
On the August 16 edition of ABC's This Week, Carson spoke with Raddatz on the campaign trail in Iowa. Raddatz asked Carson about his controversial comments he made on August 12, when he said Planned Parenthood is targeting African-American communities to control their population by placing "most of their clinics in black neighborhoods." Raddatz debunked this claim, saying, "Planned Parenthood estimates that fewer than five percent of its health centers are located in areas where more than one-third of the population is African-American":
NPR also debunked Carson's statement in an August 14 fact check:
In 2014, the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research center, surveyed all known abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood clinics, in the U.S. (nearly 2,000) and found that 60 percent are in majority-white neighborhoods.
[R]esponding to a request for demographic information, the organization said that in 2013, 14 percent of its patients nationwide were black. That's nearly equal to the proportion of the African-American population in the U.S.
UPDATE: An August 18 post by Glenn Kessler for The Washington Post's Fact-Checker blog also deemed Ben Carson's claim that Planned Parenthood targets black communities to be false. Giving the claim "four pinnoccios," Kessler explained that "the evidence shows that a relatively small percentage of clinics are in black-majority neighborhoods - or even in neighbothoods where blacks are more than one-quarter of the population."
ABC News left out key facts about Governor Scott Walker (R-WI)'s changing stance on immigration during their interview with the GOP presidential hopeful.
On the February 1 edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, guest host Martha Raddatz prompted Walker to discuss his proposals on immigration, asking "What would you do about the 11 million undocumented who are still here?" Walker replied that "We for sure need to secure the border. I think we need to enforce the legal system. I'm not for amnesty, I'm not an advocate of the plans that have been pushed here in Washington... we need to find a way for people to have a legitimate legal immigration system in this country, and that doesn't mean amnesty."
But this is a significant change in Walker's position on immigration. Previously, he questioned the need for greater border security, and supported a pathway to citizenship that was advocated by lawmakers in Washington.
As The Washington Post reported, during a 2013 interview with the Wausau Daily Herald editorial board, Walker advocated for a focus on "a saner way to let people into the country" rather than a focus on border security (emphasis added):
"It's all is about the 11 million [undocumented immigrants]," Walker said. "You hear some people talk about border security and a wall and all that. To me, I don't know that you need any of that if you had a better, saner way to let people into the country in the first place."
Walker added: "If people want to come here and work hard in this country, I don't care if you come from Mexico or Canada or Ireland or Germany or South Africa or anywhere else. I want them here."
In the same interview, Walker said "I think they need to fix things for people who are already here, find some way to deal with that." When asked specifically about the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country, and whether he could "envision a world where with the right penalties and waiting periods and meet the requirements where those people could get citizenship," Walker replied "sure ... I mean I think that makes sense."
Media figures across the board have endorsed right-wing author Dinesh D'Souza's latest film, America: Imagine a World Without Her, despite the fact that the film is based on a book with extreme, racist rhetoric. Here are five media figures who have given D'Souza's works their stamp of approval.
Broadcast and cable Sunday political talk shows featured previously debunked myths about the September 11, 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
ABC News is falsely suggesting there is a contradiction between the Obama administration removing references to terrorist groups in Libya from talking points about the September 11 attacks on diplomatic facilities in that country and pointing to President Obama's statements that those attacks were an "act of terror."
The original September 14 version of a set of talking points compiled by the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis stated that "Islamic extremists with ties to al Qa'ida participated in the attack," and specifically suggested the involvement of the group Ansar al Sharia. Those specifics were subsequently removed, with the final version of the talking points stating only that "extremists participated" in the attacks.
In closed congressional testimony following his resignation as CIA director, Gen. David Petraeus reportedly said that these specifics had been "removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them." Administration officials have also said that there were other intelligence and legal concerns with naming the suspected perpetrators:
"The points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack," said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. "There were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly."
Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants -- a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.'s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.
Indeed, ABC News has reported that in an email in response to the initial talking points, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland "objected to naming the terrorist groups because 'we don't want to prejudice the investigation.'"
By contrast, in his September 12 and September 13 remarks, President Obama described the attacks as an "act of terror," but did not specify who the perpetrators of that act might be. Presumably such comments would not alert the perpetrators that they were being tracked or jeopardize the criminal probe in the same way that the naming of the specific group might.
Despite that clear distinction, ABC Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz and White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl both suggested that the White House is trying to "have it both ways."
In their reports on subpoenas issued by the Senate Judiciary Committee over the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, media outlets uncritically quoted the White House claim that "[i]t's unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation" to suggest that Democrats were solely responsible for the committee's action. In fact, three Republicans voted with the Democrats to approve the subpoenas.