The selective crusade against black women's abortions.

Science, technology, and life.
March 8 2010 7:29 AM

Black Death

The selective crusade against black women's abortions.

"BLACK CHILDREN ARE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES," the billboards proclaim. Posted in dozens of locations in Atlanta's black neighborhoods, they direct readers to toomanyborted.com, a Web site that denounces abortion as a racist conspiracy. Through them, the pro-life movement is sending a message that it cares about the lives of black people. But does it?

The Web site plays every race card in the deck. It says "abortion is the tool [racists] use to stealthily target blacks for extermination." It calls on readers to "expose the insidiousness of the pro-abortion agenda and its real target: the black community." It touts the support of "Dr. King," a niece of Martin Luther King Jr. "I know for sure that the black community is being targeted by abortionists for the purpose of ethnic cleansing," she asserts.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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What's the basis for these charges? The campaign points to eugenic ideas and influences in the early birth-control movement. But its chief evidence is abortion rates. "Abortions in the black community occur at 3x the rate of those among the white population and 2x that of all other races combined," the site points out. "The truth screams loud and clear—we are killing our very future."

The numbers are provocative. But there's something odd about the billboards. The child who appears beside the text is fully born. Abortion doesn't kill such children. What kills them, all too often, is shooting. If you wanted to save living, breathing, fully born children from a tool of extermination that is literally targeting blacks, the first problem you would focus on is guns. They are killing the present, not just the future. But the sponsors of the "endangered species" ads don't support gun control. They oppose it.

Two months ago, the Violence Policy Center issued an analysis of black homicide rates based on the latest FBI data. The national U.S. homicide rate is 5.3 per 100,000 people. Among whites, it's 3.1 per 100,000. Among blacks, it's 20.9 per 100,000. That's four times the national rate and seven times the white rate. In 82 percent of black-victim homicides in which the fatal weapon can be identified, it's a gun. And 73 percent of those gun deaths are inflicted by handguns.

The report calculates that in 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, blacks were 13 percent of the U.S. population but suffered 49 percent of all deaths by homicide. And the problem has been getting worse: From 2002 to 2007, the number of young black males killed by guns increased by more than 50 percent.

Maybe that's why blacks, unlike whites, strongly favor gun control. In a Pew poll taken last year, whites said by a plurality of 50 percent to 44 percent that it was more important to protect the right to own guns than to control gun ownership. But an overwhelming majority of blacks, 72 percent to 20 percent, said it was more important to control gun ownership.

Where do the sponsors of the "endangered species" ads stand on this question? With the white folks. The billboards are in black neighborhoods in Atlanta, but the money is coming from Georgia Right to Life. Visit GRTL's Facebook page, and you'll see the people who run it. The woman who speaks on behalf of the ads is black. She's in the last photo. See that guy standing next to her? That's Dan Becker, the group's president. Eighteen years ago, he ran for Congress in Georgia's rural and overwhelmingly white 9th congressional district. He campaigned against abortion, but that wasn't the issue he led with at a candidates' forum on July 29, 1992. "In his opening remarks, Becker said abortion is not the battleground," the Walker County Messenger reported. Becker told the audience, "There are other battlegrounds that need to be settled. Others will involve invocation of a higher power. The First and Second Amendments are being attacked."

Becker isn't the only Second Amendment enthusiast at GRTL. Click the next photo on its Facebook page, and you'll meet Mike Griffin, the group's legislative director. Four years ago, Griffin ran for the Georgia House of Representatives in District 29, another white rural area. "My conservative stands on social issues obviously aren't appreciated by liberals, pro-abortion groups, anti-gun groups, or the ACLU," Griffin boasted to local voters. But "the vast majority of Northeast Georgians are good, salt-of-the-earth, God-fearing people who believe just like I do."

When Griffin joined GRTL, the group's previous legislative director, Kevin Harris, left to become GOP chairman for the 9th congressional district, where Becker had run for Congress. In a message to fellow Republicans, Harris celebrated Sarah Palin's selection as the party's vice-presidential nominee: "She is proudly pro-second amendment, pro-life, pro-military, pro-spending cuts, pro-tax cuts, pro-drilling for oil, pro-family, and pro-religion." Abortion got a mention, but guns got top billing.

I could go on, but you get the point. Finding gun lovers in the pro-life movement is like shooting fish in a barrel with a semiautomatic weapon. That includes the people behind the "endangered species" ads. That doesn't mean their opposition to abortion or gun control is insincere. It's totally sincere. What's insincere is their rhetoric about higher fatality rates among blacks. If they really cared about that, you'd see it in the way they talk and think about gun control. Instead, they've talked and thought about gun control exactly as you'd expect from white politicians in rural north Georgia. The contrary opinions of black people, the black fatality rate from firearms, and the carnage of gun violence in Atlanta have made no difference.

Now they're all worked up about racism in the early birth-control movement. Please. People who live in glass hoods shouldn't throw stones. Go check out Ku Klux Klan sites around the Web. "We believe in the right to bear arms against all that threaten our home and family," says one. "We have first and second amendment rights," says another. "The so-called gun control bills enacted by the government are nothing but anti-self defense laws designed to disarm law abiding White citizens," says another. Klan marches, Klan rallies, Klan interviews—the boys in the hoods do love their weapons. Just two weeks ago, they spoke out against gun control at a rally in Georgia. If the sympathy of racists makes abortion a conspiracy against blacks, the same is doubly true of guns.

You could protest that gun control isn't that simple. You could argue that although the right to firearms is often abused, it can be exercised responsibly, and it's dangerous to let the government take it away. You could point out that gun control has been used in the past to subjugate blacks. And you could challenge attempts to take away black homeowners' guns, in the name of their safety, as insidious paternalism.

That's exactly what conservatives have said about the Violence Policy Center's report on black gun deaths. "The VPC and the left-wing foundations that bankroll it have decided that black-on-black crime is unacceptably high, and they believe the best way to handle that is to make it more difficult for African-Americans to legally obtain handguns," scoffs Bob Owens, a right-wing blogger whose article has circulated on pro-gun Web sites. "The goal of [VPC] in this report is the goal of the group in every report it has ever issued: an erosion of gun rights for all Americans."

But you could say the same about the "endangered species" campaign: that it exploits racial data and racial anxiety to advance an agenda that would take away everyone's rights. And you'd find evidence for that suspicion on its Web site, which criticizes not just abortion but "sex education," "our modern-day Birth Control culture," and "the false liberty of 'reproductive freedom.' "

Yes, there are too many aborted. But there are also too many shot. And when you read what the people behind the billboards have said about gun control, it's hard to take seriously what they say about abortion.

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