By Nathalie Baptiste
Along with the faulty science, dated legal precedent and partisan claims in Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion ending abortion rights, he included a pernicious myth: Abortion is Black genocide.
“Some such supporters have been motivated by a desire to suppress the size of the African American population,” Alito wrote in the draft, published by Politico. “It is beyond dispute that Roe has had that demographic effect. A highly disproportionate percentage of aborted fetuses are Black.”
The idea that abortion is a secret tool for Black genocide has been pushed by anti-abortion activists and conservatives for years. Latching on to the statistic that the abortion rate for Black people is higher than any other racial group, activists have peddled the idea that pro-choice and reproductive rights are all part of a secret plot to reduce the Black population.
“It’s a false thing to say and it’s grounded in racism and white supremacy,” said Marcela Howell, the president and CEO of In Our Own Voice, a reproductive rights organization focused on Black people.
The argument suggests, Howell explained, that Black people “have no agency over our lives. We fell victim to Planned Parenthood and other people telling us to abort our children and commit genocide.”
Black people accounted for 38% of abortions in 2019, compared to 33% for whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Black people make up approximately 13% of the population, while white people make up 60%.
There are countless other factors at play here: Black people are less likely to have access to reproductive health care, comprehensive sexual education and health insurance, all of which leads to a higher abortion rate.
Still, the abortion-as-genocide argument lives on with anti-abortion extremists.
The anti-choice right often cites Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, a white nurse who advocated for birth control use. She also believed in eugenics and promoted birth control as a way to stop certain people deemed undesirable from having children. Planned Parenthood long ago denounced Sanger’s beliefs as racist and ableist — but that has not stopped right-wing conservatives from claiming that the organization is in the business of controlling the Black population.
In 2011, anti-choice activists put up a billboard in New York with a photo of a Black child. It read: “The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”
That same year, then-Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who was Black, said that Planned Parenthood’s mission was a “planned genocide.”
“The objective was to put these centers in primarily Black communities so they could help kill Black babies before they came into the world,” he falsely claimed.
But for all the concern about Black fetuses, anti-abortion activists have yet to show concern for the ever-increasing Black maternal death rate, which is also a product of lack of access to health care and structural racism. A report on 2020 pregnancy-related deaths found that the rate for Black people is triple that of whites.
World famous tennis superstar Serena Williams came close to death after giving birth to her daughter in 2017. When she tried to alert doctors that something was wrong, they were slow to listen to her demands. This is not an uncommon phenomenon.
And to Howell, the reason why it happens is not that dissimilar to the bogus argument that abortion is Black genocide: “Maybe she doesn’t know her own body.”
Of course, the leaked draft doesn’t mention Black maternal deaths while pontificating about Black fetuses. Alito isn’t exactly known for championing Black rights.
In April 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that unanimous juries are required before a state can convict someone of a crime. The ruling only affected the last two states who still used non-unanimous juries, Oregon and Louisiana. In the opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the practice of non-unanimous juries was rooted in racism. In the dissent, Alito complained that all the talk about racism was an unfair attack on the state.
So it’s hard to believe that Alito’s argument about protecting Black fetuses is anything but cynical.
The implication he makes in the leaked draft that Black people are committing genocide of their own people at the direction of outside forces is a racist one. The point of the argument isn’t really about concern for Black people and their children — racial disparities in health care, education and the economy tell another story. It’s a way to dress up a blatant attack on bodily autonomy as racial justice.
It’s a paternalistic argument that simultaneously victimizes and blames Black people for committing a moral crime. It’s not the first time conservatives have trotted this argument out, and it won’t be the last.
And now, if the draft opinion becomes final, they may have the Supreme Court to back them up.