God’s Body, God’s Plan: The Komen Furor and Abortion as Black/Latino “Genocide”

“This is God’s body,” the girl says. She is one of a group of middle school students participating in a youth workshop on misogynist images in media. The subject has turned to abortion, and her peers nod vigorously in agreement. Imani Moses, a high school senior who is facilitating the workshop as a Women’s Leadership Project student, challenges her to examine her position—“does God sleep, eat, live in and control this body 24/7?” She asks, pointing to her own body. “No, this is my body, and I control it.” A ripple of unease goes through the room, as the girls chew on Imani’s defiance.

Making the leap from God to self-determination is blasphemous for some. Yet, the persistence of these beliefs underscores the special peril the current fight over abortion rights poses for women of color.

Over the past several years, Black and Latino fundamentalist anti-abortion groups have vigorously aligned themselves with the white religious right in the battle to take down family planning. In 2010, the Radiance Foundation launched a nationwide billboard campaign dubbed “TooManyAborted.com” that targeted communities of color with billboards characterizing abortion as “black genocide.” Mother Jones recently reported that a House Bill advocating the prohibition of “race-selection abortions” has been proposed to Republican lawmakers. The Bill argues that “abortion is the leading cause of death in the black community.”

Protecting Minority Life

Along those lines, the current furor over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to withdraw funding for Planned Parenthood highlighted the role of Eve Sanchez Silver, founder of a little-known group called the International Coalition of Color for Life. According to the Los Angeles Times, Sanchez Silver, a former medical research analyst for and charter member of the Komen Foundation, has been a leading advocate against Planned Parenthood within Komen.

The International Coalition of Color for Life frames its mission as “protecting minority life from birth to natural death.” Its website a model of abortion-as-God’s-scourge propaganda. To illustrate the linking of abortion with genocide, images of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger are stamped with Nazi swastikas.

Historically revisionist assessments of Planned Parenthood conveniently omit the connections many early 20th century progressive black activists made between family planning, birth control, abortion, and black liberation. Tellingly, such figures as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Ida B. Wells supported Sanger’s controversial work with the Birth Control Federation of America. As African American historian Dorothy Roberts contends in her book Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty,

“Sanger (may have) adopted the eugenicists’ view of the dangers of racial deterioration… but she rejected their biological explanation for its cause… she held uncontrolled fertility responsible for bringing children into conditions of poverty and deprivation.”

Roberts unpacks the nuances of Sanger’s views and policies, noting that “it appears that Sanger was motivated by a genuine concern to improve the health of the poor mothers she served rather than a desire to eliminate their stock.”

Facts are Stupid

By using Sanger’s memory to vilify abortion, anti-abortion foes of color are actually savaging women’s right to agency. Twenty-first century women’s liberation demands that women of color have safe, legal, and unrestricted access to abortion. As reproductive justice organizations like Sister Song have so eloquently argued, women of color are not serviceable wombs for the state, or for institutional religion. And in fact, it is precisely because of right wing opposition to universal health care coverage that Black, Latina, Asian, and Native American women are more likely to rely on the wraparound health care services that Planned Parenthood provides.

Yet, in chastising bad Black and Latino women about the genocidal evil of abortion, groups like the International Coalition of Color want to keep women of color grossly misinformed. In one especially fraudulent PowerPoint slide on the group’s website, Sanchez Silver claims that Komen’s “Pink Money Cycle” actually increases breast cancer in women because abortions cause breast cancer. This particular bit of right wing fantasy resembles climate change denial. There is no scientific evidence that abortion causes breast cancer, nor is there medical research to back the anti-abortion lobby’s persistent claim that induced abortion (rather than spontaneous abortion, i.e., miscarriage, or “God’s” preferred form of abortion) is more likely to lead to death. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has refuted the claim that abortion increases a woman’s breast cancer risk. According to the NCI: “newer studies consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk.”

The fact remains that more women die during childbirth than they do from abortions. But, as conservative saint Ronald Reagan confidently asserted, “facts are stupid things”—especially when you’re building a propaganda campaign. Thus ICC’s website also boasts that carrying a baby to full term protects women from developing breast cancer. Evidently if girls and women want to protect themselves from getting breast cancer later in life continuing a pregnancy by rape and/or incest is a viable immunizer.

Significantly, the Coalition of Color preaches a hellfire and damnation theme that is carefully crafted to exploit the cultural anxieties of “superstitious” people of color. Pregnant women who might be searching for reality-based options and resources for unwanted pregnancies are exhorted to just believe that God has a plan. The site claims that, “If you are a Bible-believing Christian yet you don’t believe that God can and will take care of you and your baby, His gift to you, then you are calling him a liar.”

Bulging numbers of African American foster care and homeless youth are apparently the result of the unwillingness of apostate black women to cling blindly to faith in God’s plan. In California, black youth represent nearly 30% of the foster care population, 50% of the homeless population, and 30% of those incarcerated in juvenile facilities. Yet religious right, anti-government activists are vociferously opposed to progressive health care, birth control, foster care, and school discipline policies; as well as to repealing racist sentencing laws and prisoner reentry policies. Is the Coalition of Color willing to accept responsibility for the scores of poor children of women of insufficient faith? 

Early Black and Latino family planning and abortion rights advocates understood that reproductive justice was crucial to dismantling a racist power structure. It was true then, as it is now. 

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Sikivu Hutchinson [@sikivuhutch] is the author of Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels and Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars. She is currently working on a novel based on the Jonestown massacre entitled White Nights.