Democratic lawmakers are drawing battle lines against the Hyde Amendment. For many Democrats, this basic legislative measure preventing taxpayer money from paying for abortions is simply beyond the pale. What we’re told is that the Hyde Amendment isn’t just anti-abortion; it’s racist against Black Americans too.
Yet, there’s something strange about this new tactic taken by Democrats. Even as Democrats are ramping up their attacks on the Hyde Amendment, pro-life Black Americans continue to go on marches, organize protests and fight to defend pro-life measures and legislation.
When Democrats decry the Hyde Amendment as racist, they implicitly claim to speak for Black America. But the Democratic party’s pro-choice politics don’t speak for the numerous Black voices that oppose abortion. If there’s racism in play here, it might not be from those who defend the Hyde Amendment but rather from those who use their politics to shut down, marginalize and block out Black pro-life voices.
The truth is that many Black Americans, both Republican and Democrat, don’t find abortion empowering at all, and they don’t see increasing abortion access as a way to combat racism in America or help Black communities. For these Black Americans, modern abortion is part and parcel of a long and dark tradition of harm done to Black families, women, and children that stretches from Margaret Sanger’s eugenicist ideals to the Tuskegee Experiments and beyond. And when you look at the disproportionate damage abortion has done to Black communities, it’s not hard to see why.
There have been over 62.5 million abortions since Roe v. Wade went into effect. Black women obtain roughly 36% of all abortions, even though they are just 13% of the country’s population. That means approximately 22.5 million Black babies have been aborted in America. Despite what certain Democrats are saying, Black women don’t lack access to abortion; they are getting abortions at often five times the rate of white women. In some states, the Black abortion rate is even higher; in Mississippi, Black women account for 79% of the state’s abortions.
These numbers are truly staggering, but they still pale in comparison to the emotional and moral harm that comes from the loss of so much life. How do you measure the impact of 22.5 million deaths on Black communities, Black futures, and Black culture? These aren’t just 22.5 million babies who died in the womb; these are 22.5 million husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters who never lived to make their mark on the world.
When Democrats argue that the Hyde Amendment is racist, they are saying, in effect, that 22.5 million Black abortions are not enough. They are saying that the abortion industry needs more money to fund more abortions of more Black children. Is it any wonder that this kind of argument might raise more than a few eyebrows among Black Americans?
The sad reality is that the race-baiting rhetoric liberals have adopted has nothing to do with the fight against racism. In our current political climate, accusations of racism are politically useful. It doesn’t matter how little evidence of real racism there is; the accusation itself is enough to make the news and build political momentum. For liberals, a highly partisan position on abortion comes first; accusations of racism are just tools to shut down dialogue and keep the agenda moving.
It doesn’t have to be this way. For decades, pro-life voices were part of the mainstream in both the Democrat and the Republican parties. During this same time, Black Americans could stand up and say: “We don’t want more abortions,” and members of their own political party felt obliged to listen. Today, if you’re a Black Democrat and you don’t toe the pro-choice party line, it’s as if you don’t exist at all. A particularly egregious example of this is from the most recent election. Tennessee state representative John DeBerry was forced out of the Democratic party for his views on life – even though his views had not changed since he was first elected in 1994. Another recent example is Georgia state representative Mack Jackson who faced a Democratic challenger in his primary due to party leaders’ anger at his support for the state’s pro-life heartbeat bill.
There might not be an easy fix for the polarized and antagonistic nature of the contemporary abortion debate. But one thing is clear: the way Democrats are using racism to push their agenda and silence Black voices isn’t helping. In fact, it’s almost certainly making things much worse.
Going forward, Democrats need to drop the race-baiting posturing around the issue of abortion. If you’re going to speak for Black Americans, then you have to lift up every Black voice – not just the contingent of voices that is most convenient for your political agenda. To do anything less than that is perhaps its own kind of racism – racism of silence.
• Rev. Dean Nelson is the executive director of Human Coalition Action, and Sen. Katrina Jackson represents the 34th District of Louisiana.
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