Right-wing media and abortion opponents should confront the anti-blackness of their movement

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Citation Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Right-wing media has disregarded and even been complicit in promoting the anti-Black rhetoric in the anti-abortion movement. Abortion opponents and right-wing media have co-opted language from the civil rights movement to whitewash their own extremism, ignored the racism of historical anti-abortion figures, and have accepted white supremacist groups, rhetoric, and conspiracy theories into their movement. Furthermore, right-wing media and abortion opponents have perpetuated anti-Blackness by amplifying inaccurate narratives about “Black genocide” and promoting a false equivalency between the constitutional right to abortion with slavery. Right-wing media’s continued complicity in this anti-Black racism through its coverage of the anti-abortion movement only exacerbates the problem.

Rewire.News recently reported on the anti-Blackness in the March for Life, an annual anti-abortion rally that centered this year’s theme around the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women voting rights. Rewire.News addressed the historical revisionism of the anti-abortion movement’s celebration of suffragettes. From Rewire.News: 

In a video promoting this year’s march, March for Life honors women’s suffrage movement leaders Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul for “[birthing] the 19th Amendment” and for speaking out against abortion as “the ultimate exploitation of women.” But by valorizing the women’s suffrage movement (and its convenient ties to anti-choice politics), March for Life is celebrating well-known anti-Black figures and the passage of an exclusionary bill.

The suffrage movement is often sanitized of its white supremacist history. Though it is widely regarded as a pivotal step for women’s rights, what is often ignored is not only the racism and exclusion within the movement but also the anti-Black women at the helm of the movement. For one, when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, it only really empowered white women with the right to vote. Black women were disempowered by provisions like the poll tax, literacy tests, and violence at polling places, some of which were addressed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Meanwhile, Asians couldn’t vote until 1952, and all Native Americans were finally allowed to vote in 1965.)

Moreover, the suffrage movement continually excluded women of color from their advocacy. Black women were routinely asked to march separately at suffragist rallies. Notably, in 1913, at a huge suffragist parade in Washington, organizers demanded that Black women march in the back versus marching with their state delegations like other participants. Paul is quoted saying, “As far as I can see, we must have a white procession, or a Negro procession, or no procession at all.” Organizations like the National American Woman Suffrage Association barred Black women from attending their conventions.

Anthony and Paul, the two suffragists name-checked in March for Life’s promotional video, were very publicly anti-Black. Both disparaged and clearly disdained Black people, felt that they were unworthy of rights, and encouraged Black women to minimize their fight for voting rights so white women could secure the vote. Anthony is famously quoted saying, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.”
 

The anti-abortion movement has echoed right-wing media by appealing to white supremacists and their rhetoric

In addition to providing the historical context of racism in the anti-abortion movement, Rewire.News explained how the anti-abortion movement has appealed to white supremacists. In 2018, Tennessee Right to Life organized a march that the neo-Nazi group the Traditionalist Worker Party attempted to join. The racist organization has openly expressed contempt for Black Americans, and in 2016, its founder Matthew Heimbach pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after he was filmed attacking a Black protester at a Trump rally. Tennessee Right to Life leadership issued a public statement opposing participation from the racist group. More recently, white supremacist group Patriot Front participated in Chicago's March for Life rally in January, seemingly without disapproval from anti-abortion leaders, though the racist group was expelled by organizers in 2018’s march.

White supremacy and its rhetoric have emerged in other aspects of the anti-abortion movement, as well. In 2019, the Trump administration awarded Obria, a religious organization that operates a network of anti-abortion clinics, a $1.7 million grant to provide family planning services. However, The Guardian found that Obria’s founder and CEO, Kathleen Eaton Bravo, had employed racist and xenophobic rhetoric in a 2015 interview similar to the white supremacist “great replacement” theory. This conspiracy theory alleges that white Americans are being “replaced” by nonwhite and non-Christian demographics. In the interview with The Catholic World Report, Bravo stated: 

Take the example of Europe. When its nations accepted contraception and abortion, they stopped replacing their population. Christianity began to die out. And, with Europeans having no children, immigrant Muslims came in to replace them, and now the culture of Europe is changing.

The US faces a similar future. In only two of the past 40 years have we replaced our population. We’re on the same track as Europe. The church and family are in crisis. Children are at the core of the family; in fact, without children, we don’t need families. In a few decades we’ll be in the same place as where Europe is today.
 

This narrative of “replacement theory” is regularly raised by right-wing media with false and racist claims about the dangers of demographic changes and declining birth rates. For example, Fox News' Tucker Carlson fearmongered about “the George Soros solution” to decreasing birth rates in Hungary, which he described as attempts to “import a replacement population from the Third World.” Carlson also claimed, “At this rate, unless something changes dramatically, there will be no more Hungarians.” In another instance, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt suggested abortion bans are policy solutions to correct the declining birth rates in America. Staunch abortion opponent and white nationalist Rep. Steve King (R-IA) also pushed this fearmongering rhetoric on CNN's New Day when he asserted, “you cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies. You've got to keep your birth rate up.”

Right-wing media and abortion opponents have tried to co-opt civil rights and abolitionist language

Not only have right-wing media and anti-abortion groups amplified white supremacist rhetoric, they have also attempted to hijack language from the civil rights and abolitionist movements. Increasingly, anti-abortion extremists disavow the “pro-life” label, instead referring to themselves as “abortion abolitionists.” These abortion opponents favor the “ideological purity” of eliminating abortion altogether rather than restricting access with incrementalist approaches. Appropriating language from both the abolitionist and the civil rights movements, so-called abortion abolitionists attempt to make their extremism more tolerable by consistently “compar[ing] themselves to anti-slavery abolitionists.”

Right-wing media also seize on the opportunity to whitewash and co-opt the language of the civil rights and abolitionist movements. Right-wing news outlets such as The Federalist and National Review are quick to tokenize and appropriate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s image to claim he would support harsh abortion restrictions when, in fact, King was a vocal supporter of Planned Parenthood and reproductive freedom

Right-wing media and the anti-abortion movement promote the false claim of “Black genocide”

Abortion opponents and right-wing media also consistently propagandize falsehoods about abortion that are immersed in anti-Black racism, such as falsely claiming that abortion advocates promote “Black genocide.” Dan Forest, the Republican lieutenant governor in North Carolina recently invoked the myth during an event celebrating King, stating, “There is no doubt that when Planned Parenthood was created, it was created to destroy the entire Black race." Furthermore, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant used similar rhetoric in a 2018 press conference, “implying that black women are participating in ‘the genocide of 20 million African American children’ through legal abortions.” 

Right-wing media have amplified this falsehood. For example, Fox News host Laura Ingraham, referred to Planned Parenthood on her podcast as “slaughtering African Americans.” Ingraham's sidekick Raymond Arroyo echoed her sentiment, repeating alarmist claims about “Black genocide." Similarly, Pat Robertson has boosted this false narrative, alleging that Planned Parenthood is “an organization that's trying to set up Black genocide.” Anti-abortion outlets such as LifeNews.com have attempted to co-opt Black History Month by pushing this false claim
 
Declarations of “Black genocide” are unfounded and racist, no matter how many times right-wing media outlets attempt to claim otherwise.
 
Reproductive rights advocates have consistently called out this falsehood as erroneous. Laurie Bertram-Roberts, executive director of Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, refuted Bryant's allegations, stating, “Black women are not committing genocide when the same women he’s talking about are the mothers of black children.” Bertram-Roberts explained to ThinkProgress how the anti-abortion movement seldom “frames white women — who have the most abortions in the country — as having committed genocide” and instead uses this tactic to shame and stigmatize Black women. As ThinkProgress wrote, abortion opponents and right-wing media “tether abortion and racism because of the real history of medical racism" of the anti-abortion movement, such as the “coerced sterilization of people of color throughout the 20th century.” Attorney Shyrissa Dobbins clarified in the National Black Law Journal that the falsehood “depends on denying Black women their humanity and their agency to make medical decisions regarding their reproduction." 

Right-wing media and abortion opponents use a false equivalency comparing slavery to abortion access 

Furthermore, right-wing media and abortion opponents perpetuate anti-Blackness by advancing the false equivalency between the constitutional right to abortion and slavery. In January, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos used this fallacy when she praised the Trump administration's unwavering support for anti-abortion causes at an event hosted by Colorado Christian University. The Colorado Times Recorder quoted DeVos' speech:

“[Former President Abraham Lincoln] too contended with the pro-choice arguments of his day. They suggested that a state’s choice to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it,” DeVos told the crowd. “Well, President Lincoln reminded those pro-choicers that is a vast portion of the American people that do not look upon that matter as being this very little thing. They look upon it as a vast moral evil.”

This is not an isolated incident: Right-wing media figures consistently regurgitate this anti-Black falsehood. In May 2019, Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy employed the falsehood, comparing present-day arguments for abortion rights to another time “in American history where one group of powerful people” made judgments on “who is sufficiently human enough so they can do whatever they want with them," whereas “pro-lifers. … Feel like they’re the abolitionists of our day." Matt Walsh of The Daily Wire also exploited this falsehood in 2018, declaring that “pro-lifers are modern abolitionists and pro-Choicers are modern slaveholders.”

February is Black History Month, and it is vital for media outlets to understand and call out the inherent anti-Blackness in the anti-abortion movement and avoid the trap of simply accepting the anti-Black lies and talking points in right-wing media.