African-Americans and Abortion Articles




One of the signers, Loretta Ross, explains its history:
"This statement ... originated with a conference call organized by Donna Brazile, then executive director of the National Political Congress of Black Women,  because we were strategizing on how to respond to the Webster Supreme Court decision [the 1989 ruling that allowed individual states to restrict access to abortion]. On that conference call, we decided that what was most urgently needed was a statement giving African American women permission to talk about abortion (the original suggestion was made by Byllye Avery). We then published the statement, distributed about 1/4 million copies of it, and the rest is history."

Choice is the essence of freedom. It’s what we African-Americans have struggled for all these years. The right to choose where we would sit on a bus. The right to vote. The right for each of us to select our own paths, to dream and reach for our dreams. The right to choose how we would or would not live our lives.

This freedom – to choose and to exercise our choices – is what we’ve fought and died for. Brought here in chains, worked like mules, bred like beasts, whipped one day, sold the next – for 244 years we were held in bondage. Somebody said that we were less than human and not fit for freedom. Somebody said we were like children and could not be trusted to think for ourselves.

Somebody owned our flesh, and decided if and when and with whom and how our bodies were to be used. Somebody said that Black women could be raped, held in concubinage, forced to bear children year in and year out, but often not raise them. Oh yes, we have known how painful it is to be without choice in this land.


The Politics of Race and Abortion: Is the Pro-choice Movement Ready? 

©Loretta Ross, National Coordinator, SisterSong 

April 26, 2010 

In February 80 billboards suddenly appeared in Atlanta proclaiming that “Black Children are an Endangered Species.” 

This cynical attempt to manipulate the black community was the opening salvo in a targeted attack on abortion rights that surprised reproductive justice advocates in Georgia and launched a media firestorm. The architects of this campaign, who profess their concern for future of the black race, claim that abortion is genocide and that providers deliberately use coercive tactics in soliciting African American as well as Asian American women. Their outrageous charges have propelled legislation in Georgia that criminalizes abortion providers who terminate pregnancies because of the “race or sex” of the fetus. 


Black Abortion: Breaking The Silence

For a PDF of the Article Black Abortion: Breaking The Silence, click here.

Amnesty for Whom? Abortion as a Human Right: 

Amnesty International’s Big Decision 

© Laura Jiménez, SisterSong 

Originally published in Collective Voices, Vol. 2 Issue 6, Winter 2007 

At its international meeting in Mexico in August 2007, Amnesty International (AI) will decide upon the position the organization will take in regard to supporting certain abortion rights, including whether or not to advocate for better health care for women who have complications from botched abortions and whether to support legalizing abortions in cases of sexual abuse or a pregnancy’s risk to the mother’s life. It also may pursue the removal of criminal penalties for those who seek or provide abortions. 

AI has subsequently been challenged by the Congres


African Americans Underrepresented in Anti-Abortion Movement 

© SisterSong 

Originally published in Collective Voices, Vol. 2 Issue 5, Summer 2006 

In January 2006, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the low representation of African Americans in the anti-abortion movement. Black women make up only twelve percent of the female population in the United States; however, one-third of abortions are performed on Black women. Currently, federal and state data show that Black women have about three times as many abortions as white women. Although statistics show that a growing number of Black and Latino men are opposed to abortion, few people of color (especially women) are active participants in the anti-abortion movement. According to Rev. John Ensor of Heartbeat International, Blacks believe the pro-life movement is “a white, Republican, conservative movement.” The Post-Dispatch also reported that some antiabortion supporters recommend that organizations position minorities in leadership roles and make a serious effort to diversify its membership in order to strengthen the movement. 




(Originally printed in Abortion Wars: A Half-Century of Struggle 

edited by Rickie Solinger) 

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Only justice can stop a curse. 

Alice Walker 

This essay reviews the activism of African-American women in the abortion rights movement, highlighting the past fifty years.1 Many observers mistakenly view African-American women’s struggle for abortion rights and reproductive freedom in the 1990s as reflecting a relatively recent commitment. More accurately, this activism should be placed in the context of our historical struggle against racism, sexism, and poverty. 

The fact is, when methods of fertility control have been available and accessible, African-American women have advocated for and used these strategies even more frequently than their white counterparts.2 For example, when family planning was first institutionalized in Louisiana in 1965, Black women were six times more likely than white women to sign up for contraception.3 


Abortion and the Politics of Prevention 

© Betsy Hartmann, Population and Development Program at Hampshire College 

Published in Collective Voices, Vol. 2 Issue 7, Spring 2007 

On November 7, voters in South Dakota voted to defeat a referendum whether to adopt the state’s draconian law banning abortion. Reproductive rights activists from all over the country converged on the state to help mobilize pro-choice voters in an impressive grassroots effort. The stakes for women’s health and human rights were very high indeed. 

In the corridors of power, however, the liberal conversation about abortion has taken a different turn. In order to woo anti-abortion voters to the Democratic Party, prominent democrats like Hillary Clinton are engaged in re-framing the abortion debate in terms of prevention. Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, an opponent of abortion, collaborated together on the Putting Prevention First Act. The act’s central premise is that most unintended pregnancies and abortions can be prevented if we eliminate barriers that prevent women from having access to affordable and effective contraception. According to Clinton, abortion is “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women.” 


Historical Timeline of Reproductive Rights in the United States

1973    (January 22) The U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Roe v. Wade.

 Roe v. Wade challenged a Texas statute that made it a crime to perform an abortion unless a woman's life was at stake. The court struck down the Texas law and recognized that the constitutional right to privacy "is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy". By a 7-2 vote, Roe established that:

  1. Abortion is encompassed within the right to privacy.
  2. Restrictions on abortion must be narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interest.
  3. Before viability, the state's interest in fetal life is not compelling.
  4. Even after viability, when the state's interest in fetal life becomes compelling, the state must allow abortions necessary to protect a woman's life or health.
  5. The state's interest in maternal health becomes compelling at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy.
  6. A fetus is not a "person" under the Fourteenth Amendment, nor may the state justify restrictions on abortion based on one theory of when life begins.
  7. In Roe, the Court defined "health" to include "all factors - physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age - relevant to the well-being of the patient.

          Justices White and Rehnquist dissented in both cases.



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On The Issues Magazine - Fall 2008

Re-enslaving African American Women
by Loretta Ross

I have spoken on many campuses in the wake of the “Genocide Awareness Project,” which displays posters at colleges to create controversy among young people about Black abortion. Students are understandably confused when presented with seemingly fact-based information that claims that Black women are the scourge of the African American community. I provide accurate historical and contemporary information about Black women’s views on abortion.


Margaret Sanger and the African American Community

Compiled by Anna Holley, SisterSong Intern – July 2010

Opponents of abortion promote myths and half-truths about Margaret Sanger in the African American community and elsewhere. This brief research summation is meant to dispel such falsified information distributed by those opposed to abortion and who are determined to distort her impressive historical legacy of enabling reproductive freedom for all women as a pioneering advocate for birth control. Sanger’s opponents use quotes taken out of context, exaggerations and outright falsehoods to paint a grim and racist picture of Sanger. It is important that we, as African American women, examine the historical evidence for ourselves to avoid the pitfalls of historical revisionism. While some falsify the evidence, others attempt to whitewash uncomfortable facts. We consulted with experts on Sanger’s life, reviewed primary historical source documents, and received valuable assistance from the archivists at Smith College and New York University.


A Short History of African American Women and Abortion

©Muna Abdullahi

July 2010


Loretta Ross’ “African American Women and Abortion” essay closely examines the active role Black women have played in the reproductive rights movement from the early 1800s to now. African-American women’s roles, efforts and contributions in the movement are often times plagued by racist and sexist ideologies, and overlooked and overshadowed by their white counterparts. This brief summary of her longer essay is intended to provide an overview of Black women’s determination to control their reproductive destinies over time and despite many obstacles. This historical evidence counters the more recent claims by anti-abortionists that African American women are incapable of making responsible decisions for themselves about their bodies and their families. We can learn from our foremothers that:

  1. African American women have always fought for dignity, respect, and self-determination over their bodies.
  2. Opposition to family planning for women has a long-standing history and a set of well-financed opponents.
  3. Ideas of race-based eugenics still contaminate thinking about whether people of color have the human right to have children or not have children, and to parent the children we have.
  4. Black women can overall all obstacles, insults, and are fierce members of the Reproductive Justice movement.



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