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How "#UnbornLivesMatter" Ignores Communities That Lack Reproductive Health Care Access
Following the shooting deaths of two black men -- Alton Sterling and Philando Castile -- and the targeting of police officers in several U.S. cities, anti-choice groups have attempted to hijack the vocabulary of Black Lives Matter to attack access to reproductive care.
Since the movement’s inception, the phrase “black lives matter” has been a grass-roots response to issues of race, policing, and structural violence against non-white bodies. In reaction, anti-choice groups have attempted to co-opt Black Lives Matter activists’ rhetoric by promoting their own phrase, #UnbornLivesMatter, to spread misinformation about abortion and its accessibility for women of color.
Salon’s Amanda Marcotte described the discrepancies between those on social media “talking about the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile” and those tweeting with the hashtag #UnbornLivesMatter, many of which “focused on shaming liberals for believing there are more important things to worry about than women terminating unwanted pregnancies.” Marcotte traced the development of #UnbornLivesMatter and concluded that “while the hashtag surge was organized by a bunch of right wing fringe sorts, the grim fact of the matter is that this undermining, race-baiting language has trickled up to the more mainstream anti-choice movement.”
Indeed, even before #UnbornLivesMatter’s recent prominence, anti-choice groups have long alleged that higher abortion rates among black women reflect an attempt by Planned Parenthood to explicitly target black communities.
Clinic escort Pearl Brady told Vox that protesters “often target young women of color,” and patient advocate Amanda Patton said they shout things like: “‘Black babies’ lives matter!’” In a longer essay, clinic escort Lauren Rankin described the moment when two regular clinic protestors began using the language of Black Lives Matter to harass patients:
But about a month ago, something changed. Two of our regular protesters—both men, neither of whom are Black—turned up at the clinic, megaphone, Bible, and camera in tow. Nothing unusual about that. But from the back of their crossover vehicle, they pulled out two new signs, both featuring a Black infant. The signs read:
“Black life matters.”
“Hands Up, Don’t Abort!”
I felt paralyzed for a moment, genuinely stunned. My mind raced. Did they really just go there?
These two men have spent the better part of the last two years of their lives screaming at women who enter an abortion clinic. They and their hate-group (and I use that phrase deliberately) have filmed patients and companions as they enter the clinic, without their consent, and plastered those videos across the internet. These men associate with known anti-abortion terrorists, who have threatened violence against abortion providers.
And yet, they feel perfectly comfortable appropriating a grassroots, progressive movement for racial justice in order to further shame Black patients and their partners. These men parade these signs specifically to target and harm Black women who have abortions. These men are accusing Black women who have abortions of perpetrating racial genocide, of inflicting systemic violence against their own children.
These men are despicable, and they’re not alone.
Right-wing media figures have amplified and repeated claims of a racist rationale behind the provision of access to abortion care. For example, frequent Fox News commentator and former GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that Planned Parenthood engages in racist population control by placing “most of their clinics in black neighborhoods.” Beyond this, Carson has also criticized Black Lives Matter for supposedly excluding the black lives “eradicated by abortion.”
Rush Limbaugh has made similar arguments on numerous occasions, alleging that “Planned Parenthood [is] doing the job the [Klu Klux] Klan could never finish” and that supporters of the reproductive health organization endorse the abortion of “60 percent of black babies.” Limbaugh has even stated that “the original goal of Planned Parenthood was to abortion various minorities out of existence.”
Right-wing media have also frequently attacked the Black Lives Matter movement itself. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has labeled Black Lives Matter “a hate group” that wants police officers dead. Similarly, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera referred to Black Lives Matter activists as “a bunch of troublemakers” who were “attracting a lot of attention to themselves.”
According to a March 2016 fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute, women of color do experience higher rates of unintended pregnancy and more frequently elect to abort. Think Progress’ Kira Lerner explained that these numbers actually reflect “the difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively. A similar racial disparity exists for other health measures including rates of diabetes, breast and cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections.”
Women of color are particularly vulnerable to the loss of a provider safety net when Planned Parenthood clinics are forced out of communities. According to Planned Parenthood’s associate director of global communications, Lori Adelman, “Planned Parenthood is often the primary health care provider for Latinos and African Americans in this country.”
Black women are among the most adversely affected when access to Planned Parenthood and similar reproductive health care providers is denied. The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda reported that “black women have more than double the unintended pregnancy rate of white women,” which is particularly concerning given “the risk of death from pregnancy complications was nearly three and a half times higher for Black women than for white women.”
Renee Bracey Sherman wrote after the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby -- which enabled certain classes of employers to deny contraception benefits to their employees -- that because of these higher rates of unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality, “when employers deny access to birth control, they are actually putting Black women’s lives in danger.”
In June 2016, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that Texas’ anti-choice law HB 2 was an “undue burden on abortion access.” In an amicus brief filed during the case, advocates outlined the disparate impact of anti-choice restrictions on women of color. They explained that “African-American women have been denied access to necessary reproductive healthcare services disproportionately” and this has impacted them “in numerous, measurable, and profound ways.”
Despite this disparity, anti-choice legislators have frequently invoked the language of racial equality to push their own agendas.
For example, in a speech demanding greater abortion restrictions, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-KS) attacked members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for condoning higher rates of abortion in black communities. He said: “There is no one more hopeless and voiceless than an unborn baby, but [the CBC’s] silence is deafening. I can’t hear them. Where are they standing up for their communities, advocating and fighting for their right to life?”
In Missouri, Rep. Mike Moon (R-MO) stole language from Black Lives Matter to promote his All Lives Matter Act -- a fetal personhood law which would enforce the scientifically unfounded belief that life begins at conception. Meanwhile, women have already been prosecuted for having miscarriages and stillborn births and for making attempts to self-abort, using laws that make actions taken by a pregnant person on her own body a criminal offense. For women of color, however, such laws also perpetuate harmful racial stereotypes.
As Christine Assefa wrote for Feminist Wire, Moon’s bill “suggests that the state of Missouri codify into law the assertion that Black women are killing their own children, are incapable of making decisions about their own bodies, and cannot control their sexual desires.” She continued that these codifications “perpetuate historical, violent, and harmful stereotypes of Black women that reveal the deeply-rooted relationship between race and sexual politics."
Beyond criticizing Moon’s bill, other reproductive justice advocates echoed these concerns about the hijacking of Black Lives Matter rhetoric to attack access to reproductive care.
Planned Parenthood's director of constituency communications, Alencia Johnson, told Salon, “To appropriate the Black Lives Matter movement in the midst of the brutal tragedies too many in the black community face from state violence is repulsive.”
Pamela Merritt, a co-director of the direct advocacy group Repoaction, argued that efforts by anti-choice groups to “to appropriate the language of Black Lives Matter are just the latest example of that movement's long history of pandering to their conservative and often racist base by insulting Black women and dismissing Black activism.” She concluded that this was particularly reprehensible when the “same movement is silent when Black children are shot and Black women are raped by police officers.”
In a July 12 article Think Progress’ Laurel Raymond summarized the concerns of reproductive justice advocates about the rising popularity of phrases like “unborn lives matter”:
"Black lives matter" provides a resounding answer to an unheard question: In the face of disproportionate policing and black deaths that are often unpunished and ignored, do black lives matter? Yes, they do. When other groups co-opt the phrase, they shift the focus away from this aspect of criminal justice -- and thus deemphasize the bigger problem at hand.
"Unborn lives matter" goes one step further: not only does it derail that focus, but it also puts the primary blame on black women for choosing to have abortions. Anti-abortion rhetoric focused on black women argues for them to have that control over their bodies taken away from them -- even as black women take to the streets to protest for control of their bodies from the police.
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Right-wing media personalities -- each with their own records of anti-LGBT smears -- used the June 12 Orlando massacre, in which a gunman wielding an assault weapon killed 49 people and injured 53 others at a gay nightclub, to lecture the LGBT community. The conservative media figures told them not to “focus on the gay community instead of the American community” and urged them to “come back home to the Republican Party.”
Numerous government officials and media outlets have identified the shooting as a hate crime. NBC News reported it was “both the deadliest terror attack inside the U.S. since 9/11 -- and the deadliest hate crime against a gay target in American history.” CNN’s New Day devoted a segment to elevating LGBT voices in the wake of the massacre, where it was described as a hate crime. Both President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton referred to the massacre as “an act of hate” against the LGBT community. Obama explained the significance that the attack occurred at a gay nightclub, calling it “a place of solidarity and empowerment,” while Clinton said, “We will keep fighting for your right to live freely, openly and without fear.”
Many right-wing media pundits, however, responded instead by lecturing members of the LGBT community about how they should react.
On Fox News’ Fox & Friends Sunday, Newt Gingrich -- network contributor and favorite for Donald Trump’s potential vice-presidential pick -- used the tragedy to say he hoped “the gay rights movement will come to realize that Islamic Supremacy is their mortal enemy.” In the past, Gingrich has chided the movement as “gay and secular fascism” wanting to “impose its will on the rest of us.”
Also on Fox & Friends Sunday, former Fox contributor and failed GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson exhorted gay people to avoid being too “ideologically driven” in order to start looking “very carefully” at “radical elements … for their own survival.” Carson has a history of bigoted remarks against LGBT people, which include comparing the gay community with practitioners of bestiality, saying marriage equality could destroy America like “the fall of the Roman Empire,” and asserting that sexual orientation is a choice because “a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay.”
Fox’s Todd Starnes wrote June 13 that the attack was not about “the LGBT community,” but “the American community,” and denied that the president was “affirming and announcing solidarity with the LGBT community.” Starnes has appeared on anti-gay hate group media and has frequently included comments from the hate group Family Research Council in his own Fox reporting. In 2011, Starnes warned that proponents of marriage equality may try to make “traditional marriage” a hate crime, and he espoused several disparaging comments about LGBT people in his 2012 book Dispatches From Bitter America.
On his website, anti-LGBT Fox contributor Erick Erickson criticized “the way the media chose to report on the event … [as] a tragedy in the gay community.” Calling it “an unnecessary dividing line,” Erickson claimed that “the divisions and focus on the gay community instead of the American community” would reduce the tragedy’s impact on American anti-terror policy. Erickson concluded (emphasis added), “The chain of events that led a terrorist to an arsenal then to a nightclub without the FBI noticing is far more relevant and important right now than the agendas of various activists.”
Erickson has repeatedly compared the LGBT community to “terrorists,” including ” in a 2015 blog post titled “The Line Between Islamic Extremists and Gay Rights Extremists” that asserted “the divide between Islamic extremists and gay rights extremists is at death. They meet on the line of destruction.” In the wake of the June 17, 2015, mass shooting in a Charleston, S.C. church, Erickson claimed that Americans can no longer distinguish "normal from crazy and evil from good," citing society's acceptance of transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner.
The Resurgent’s Steve Berman wrote that “the LGBT community does deserve our special protection … against Muslims who follow an evil ideology sprung from their holy books.” While admitting that he “certainly do[es] not” agree with “the LGBT political agenda,” Berman concluded by threatening LGBT Americans: “I would gladly stand guard, AR-15 in hand, at any gay bar to protect these Americans, with whom I disagree, but will defend with my life. I do this because I love them like Jesus loves them. When the time comes for choosing enemies, I pray that LGBT Americans would choose very carefully.”
Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza tweeted, “Maybe gay activists will start to realize that playing with snakes -- which is to say, coddling Islamic radicals -- can be quite dangerous.”
Maybe gay activists will start to realize that playing with snakes--which is to say, coddling Islamic radicals--can be quite dangerous
— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) June 13, 2016
D’Souza publicly outed gay classmates during his time at Dartmouth College in the early 1980s and in 2008 penned an op-ed contrasting gay rights and democracy. D’Souza wrote, “Gays do have the right to marry. They have the right to marry adult members of the opposite sex! What gay activists want is something else: the right to marry members of the same sex.”
Conservative blogger Jim Hoft, who in the past hurled anti-gay smears against openly gay Obama administration appointee Kevin Jennings, used the massacre in a June 13 Breitbart News piece to urge gay people to vote for Donald Trump, writing:
I’ve been a conservative activist for years. But today I’m coming out as a conservative gay activist.
In the past few years I’ve built one of the most prominent conservative websites in America. I created The Gateway Pundit because I wanted to speak the truth. I wanted to expose the wickedness of the left. I was raised to love my country. Today I serve my country by defending her from the socialist onslaught.
I can no longer remain silent as my gay brothers and sisters are being slaughtered at dance clubs.
There is only one man who can lead this nation and protect all gays and all Americans. His name is Donald Trump.
I pray that gays will come back home to the Republican Party – no more death.
Striking a different tone, the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD), an organization that works to support LGBT Muslims, stressed that the tragedy “cannot be neatly categorized as a fight between the LGBT community and the Muslim community.” In its statement, MASGD called on Americans “to resist the forces of division and hatred, and to stand against homophobia as well as against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.” From the June 12 statement:
This tragedy cannot be neatly categorized as a fight between the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community. As LGBTQ Muslims, we know that there are many of us who are living at the intersections of LGBTQ identities and Islam. At moments like this, we are doubly affected. We reject attempts to perpetuate hatred against our LGBTQ communities as well as our Muslim communities. We ask all Americans to resist the forces of division and hatred, and to stand against homophobia as well as against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry. Let us remember that the actions of a single individual cannot speak for all Muslims. Let us also remember that there are many straight Muslims who have been strong allies to the Muslim LGBTQ community. We see the beauty in our cultures and our faith traditions, and we have experienced love, acceptance and support from many in our Muslim communities.
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Former Fox News contributor Dr. Ben Carson will reportedly be included on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “committee to handle the selection process” of a vice presidential running mate. Fox helped launch Carson’s own failed presidential campaign while he served as a network contributor despite the extreme comments he repeatedly made on the network.
Carson, who suspended his own presidential campaign several months ago, endorsed Trump in March. According to a May 4 report in The New York Times, Trump has indicated that he'll include Carson on his vice presidential selection committee.
Much like Donald Trump, Carson had a beneficial relationship with Fox News. As a network contributor, Carson was encouraged by Fox figures to launch his own bid for the White House. Sean Hannity hosted Carson on his Fox News show and asked him if he would ever run for president, then announced, "I would vote for you in a heartbeat." Carson even thanked Fox News in a 2014 speech for providing him a platform to push his own beliefs, saying, “We’d be Cuba if there were no Fox News.”
Fox frequently defended Carson during his presidential campaign, following Carson’s lead and claiming that media were unfairly scrutinizing his past. In November 2014, Fox News reportedly terminated Carson's contract, yet the announcement came over a month after Fox News senior vice president Neil Cavuto told Carson on air, "I think you're running for office now."
Carson has a history of making extreme and inflammatory comments. He has claimed that the outcome of the Holocaust would have been different “if the people had been armed,” fabricated a story about being admitted to West Point, said he believes Joseph built Egypt’s pyramids to store grain, and compared advocates of marriage equality to pedophiles.
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Republican Candidates Have A Record Of Supporting Measures That Disenfranchise Communities Of Color
Debate moderators at the nine Republican (and six Democratic) presidential primary debates so far have not asked a single question regarding voting rights or restrictive voter ID policies despite the Republican presidential candidates' long histories of supporting policies that undermine voting rights.
The February 25 Republican debate, hosted by CNN and Telemundo, presents a particularly important opportunity to question candidates on their stances regarding voting rights, as it will be "the only RNC-sanctioned Republican debate broadcast by a Spanish-language network," catering to an audience that is likely familiar with voting rights discrimination.
The absence of questions regarding Republican candidates' positions on voting rights and voter ID laws during the first nine Republican debates -- hosted by Fox News, CNN, CNBC, Fox Business, ABC News, and CBS -- was especially jarring during the first one, which was hosted by Fox News on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
While Democratic debate moderators have not asked questions about voting rights either, it is the Republican candidates who have a long history of undermining voting rights:
Evidence strongly discredits the candidates' alarmist rhetoric about voter fraud and the need for voter ID laws, which disproportionately disenfranchise racial and ethnic minorities and economically disadvantaged voters. And experts agree that such laws tackle a "virtually non-existent" problem: Voter impersonation is "more rare than getting struck by lightning," data shows that the systems already put in place to verify voters actually work, and election experts have explained both that rare instances of double voting seldom turn out to be fraud and that they would not be prevented by strict voter ID laws.
There is no shortage of questions moderators could ask Republican presidential candidates about voting rights, given their public support for measures that would make voting more difficult for minorities. Since Spanish-speaking media play a crucial role in informing the increasingly significant Latino vote, tonight's Telemundo debate presents an important opportunity to hold politicians accountable.
Media Matters searched the Time magazine transcripts of the August 6, 2015, September 16, 2015, November 11, 2015, and January 15, 2016, Republican debates, the Washington Post transcripts of the October 28, 2015, December 15, 2015, January 28, 2016, and February 13, 2016, Republican debates, and the CBS News transcript of the February 6, 2016, Republican debate, as well as the New York Times transcript of the October 14, 2015, Democratic debate, the Time magazine transcripts of the November 14, 2015, February 4, 2016, and February 11, 2016, Democratic debates, and the Washington Post transcripts of the December 19, 2015, and January 17, 2016, Democratic debates for the terms "voting rights," "voter ID," "disenfranchise," and "voter fraud."
Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson are scheduled to attend the National Religious Broadcasters' "Proclaim 16" Convention, which will run from February 23 to 26 in Nashville, TN. The annual convention has a history of anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim content, and this year convention will feature three anti-LGBT hate groups, a panel sponsored by the Islamophobic extremist organization behind Trump's proposed Muslim ban, and multiple notoriously anti-gay extremist speakers.
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