Religious Activism Behind Anti-Abortion Movement Outreach to Blacks

Last week’s New York Times story about the courting of blacks to the anti-abortion movement — by anti-choice activists claiming, in effect, that higher rates of abortion among African Americans is a kind of genocide — highlights the result of years of coalition-building between conservative black activists and the religious right.

The Times piece describes, among other things, the Georgia billboard campaign claiming that “black children are an endangered species,” but doesn’t address the data, dissected earlier in the week by Shani O. Hilton at The American Prospect, that black women have a disproportionately higher abortion rate because they have disproportionately lower access to reproductive health care.

 

A key claim of the “black genocide” claims is that abortion is targeted at blacks in particular, and that reproductive rights advocacy has ties to the eugenics movements of the early to mid-20th century, through which thousands of black women were involuntarily sterilized.

The efforts to conflate forced sterilizations with Planned Parenthood, or Planned Parenthood with eugenic ambitions, though, have been discredited. In her book, The Means of Reproduction, RD contributer Michelle Goldberg shows that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger — a frequent target of proponents of the eugenics argument — at times did use “dubious language that reeks of racism to modern ears,” but was operating within what was at the time “a respectable pursuit on both the left and the right,” in the scientific world, and academia. Nonetheless, Sanger continues to provide, writes Goldberg, “rich fodder to the contemporary antiabortion movement eager to tar family planning as a tool of genocide.”

Screenings of the documentary film, Maafa 21: Black Genocide in 21st Century America, have been hosted by The Frederick Douglass Foundation, the Network of Politically Active Christians, and Global Outreach Campus Ministries. The Times piece says the film “meticulously traces what it says are connections among slavery, Nazi-style eugenics, birth control and abortion, and is being regularly screened by black organizations.”

The organizations screening the film have close ties with the religious right. The Network of Politically Active Christians, an adjunct of Wellington Boone Ministries, is housed in the offices of the Family Research Council, and has been a key player in religious right coalition-building with black conservatives. In reporting a story about Bishop Harry Jackson (now the religious right’s chief player in fighting the District of Columbia’s marriage equality law) three years ago, I met Dean Nelson, NPAC’s executive director, who described NPAC’s history and ambitions. In 2004 — when Karl Rove had ambitions of increasing the Republican Party’s share of the black vote — Boone traveled the country with FRC’s Tony Perkins and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, campaiging for Republicans and gay marriage bans. NPAC was founded, Nelson said, to recruit black conservatives who want to govern from a “biblical perspective” to run for office.

When I met Nelson in 2007, he told me that NPAC was modeling a Frederick Douglass leadership institute on both the late D. James Kennedy’s Center for Christian Statesmanship, which hosts off-the-record luncheons for members of Congress and their staff to “share their faith in Jesus Christ and how that faith impacts their work,” and Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute, the premiere training ground for conservative activists. The Frederick Douglass Foundation, which Nelson co-chairs, is hosting its second annual leadership summit in Washington later this month.

Timothy Johnson, the Frederick Douglass Foundation’s chairman, who is also vice-chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, described the group to me today as a “Christian organization” intended to give voice to black Republicans, and providing a training ground for candidates. 

About the film, Johnson said, “In the black community, if you start giving them some purity, if you tell them, if you believe what happened at Tuskegee was true, that people were injected with syphillis then you must be at least willing to consider that it might be true that eugenics is linked to Planned Parenthood,” as the film claims to document.

He told me today that screenings of the Maafa 21 film have been “awesome” because “people are pissed.” The self-described proud black Republican continued, “They’ve been lied to. They’ve been hoodwinked. If you know anything about black history, that’s one of the things that Malcolm X used to say that all the time.”

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email