They’ve been called out, sued over, and otherwise panned as racist and offensive whenever they pop up, but somehow, anti-abortion activists can’t seem to resist targeting African American communities with their own personal billboards while trying to convince that particular group not to terminate pregnancies. This time, the campaign is happening in Cleveland, Ohio, where Ohio Right to Life has embarked on a personal quest they have dubbed “concentrated urban outreach.” As part of that outreach, the group has purchased two different billboard messages, one declaring abortion “violence,” another urging men to “support women” and remember that “Fatherhood begins in the womb.”
“African Americans experience a shockingly disproportionate number of abortions,” Katherine McCann, public relations manager at Ohio Right to Life said in press release announcing the campaign. “We constantly hear about the racial disparities in infant mortality, gun violence and voting. Our goals with this campaign are to spread awareness about the racial crisis of abortion, and most importantly, to save lives in Cleveland, Ohio’s abortion capital.”
ORLT is correct in that there are racial disparities in the abortion rate. The African American population in the state represent nearly 42 percent of all abortions despite being only 13.4 percent of the residents. Yet their approach to addressing this issue — by pushing a campaign to try to guilt those with an unwanted pregnancy to give birth or convince their partner to do the same, rather than address the issues causing these unwanted pregnancies in the first place, such as inadequate access to affordable birth control options due to anti-abortion activists’ attempts to cut off family planning funding — leaves their sincerity in wanting to fix “disparities” in doubt.
Reproductive justice advocates in the area for one are not letting ORTL get away with their blame and shame tactics in Cleveland. A new advocacy group, New Voices Cleveland (NVC), has sent a letter to the president of ORTL demanding the group remove the billboards, which they call harmful, and urging ORTL to look to real solutions to assist women of color in the state. “New Voices Cleveland is outraged at your current billboard campaign targeting Black communities on the east side of Cleveland,” the group wrote in their letter. “These billboards are part of a troubling history of exploiting and controlling Black women’s bodies for political gain. These billboards and the associated fatherhood campaign are intended to shame Black women as a means to restrict access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive healthcare. We call upon the entire community of Cleveland to trust Black women for the decisions we make for ourselves and our families.”
“Ohio Right to Life, we know that your agenda is not in the best interest of Black women and our families. Your attempt to use Black women as political pawns in your ideological battle ends today,” NVC declared.
Local media has already taken an interest in the racial politics at play, with columnist Connie Schultz calling the billboards “race-baiting for life.”
“Both billboards telegraph a sinister message, that black women are witless dupes who cannot be trusted to make their own decisions for their own bodies,” writes Schultz. ”One accuses black women of murder; the other urges black men to overrule and intervene.” Noting that similar billboards have been purchased, erected and criticized in the past, Schultz states, “Those billboards failed to dissuade the majority of black women who supported abortion rights, and the same will be true of this round. Apparently, Ohio Right to Life loves to waste donors’ money.”
Attacks on abortion from a racial basis have been happening for decades, from accusations of abortion and birth control as a eugenics plot to more recent lawsuits stating that because more people of color access abortion, funds being provided to them to do so should be cut off. While African-American anti-abortion activist groups like Radiance Foundation have continued to push genocide claims, reproductive justice groups like SisterSong have steadily pushed back those arguments and reinforced every person’s need to control her own body and reproduction as the only means of true freedom.
Is Ohio Right to Life really seeking to represent the best interests of people of color when it comes to their reproductive health? If so, they should be fighting more to get access to low cost health care, birth control, child care and schools, rather than focusing on funding crisis pregnancy centers, defunding family planning clinics, reducing assistance for low income families needing supplemental benefits and advocating for outrageously high tax credits for families seeking to adopt while doing nothing to up benefits for families to help them keep their children.
Instead, they just keep buying billboards.
Photo credit: New Voices Cleveland Facebook