Veterans of the anti-abortion movement, as well as others newly galvanized by the incoming administration, convened in Washington, D.C. yesterday for one of the largest of the anti-abortion rallies in years, the 44th annual March for Life. The crowd of thousands, predominately white and near even mix of men and women, marched to the Supreme Court and the Capitol buildings to show the government they won’t back down on their cause.
But in attendance, there were also a few church-based minority groups, and for them, the religious justification for the anti-abortion movement is compounded by a belief that abortion clinics have an agenda: to target pregnant women of color.
Speaking at the anti-abortion rally ahead of the march, Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah mentioned a photograph she saw of a young black woman holding a sign that read “I survived Roe v. Wade.”
“This young woman beat the odds and was born into a world that far too often favors the abortion of a black girl over the life of a black girl,” Love, a black woman herself, said.
She went on to decry organizations that profit from abortion and “allow our children in the inner cities to feel that they can only be empowered with a life by ending a life.”
It wasn’t the first time a conservative politician of color has suggested that Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics indiscriminately target minority women in urban communities. Nominee for U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, made a similar claim on the public stage in 2015, as did former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain in 2012.
“We know all too well how Planned Parenthood targets us, especially because we are Latina,” Kristina Garza, who was marching with Catholic organization Latinos Por Vida, told the Daily Dot. “In Los Angeles, people hand out coupons on the street corners in the poorest neighborhoods to lure women into abortion clinics. We absolutely promote any other health care option that does not sell abortion to Latina women.”
According to a 2014 survey by Guttmacher Institute, which researches sexual and reproductive health, black and Hispanic women are overrepresented among abortion patients. In an abortion index where 1.0 would be proportionate, white women had an index of 0.7, while Hispanic women had an abortion rate of 1.2, and black women of 1.9.
Jessica Reyes Sondgeroth
Researchers have long pointed out the correlation between those numbers and the high number of blacks and Latinas (comparatively to whites) who have unintended pregnancies, brought on by less access to affordable contraception and sex education. In fact, teen pregnancy rates have plummeted and abortion rates are currently the lowest they’ve ever been since Roe v. Wade, due greatly in part to more women being able to get low- to no-copay birth control under the Affordable Care Act.
“Pregnancy and birth rates for black and Latina teens have dropped precipitously in the past two decades—at a much faster clip than that of white teens,” according to a 2015 report by Pew Charitable Trusts. “Despite this, black and Latina girls are more than twice as likely as white girls to become pregnant before they leave adolescence.”
Many pro-choice activists also argue that the defunding women’s health care organization Planned Parenthood—which Lee, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and many at March for Life advocate for—will only exasperate the country’s teen pregnancy problem by prohibiting low-income and minority women from getting the contraception and education they need to make sexual decisions.
As far as claims of geographical targeting, there is also little evidence that abortion clinics have popped up disproportionately in minority neighborhoods. A 2014 Guttmacher report found that 60 percent of abortion clinics were located in white neighborhoods and 13 percent in Hispanic neighborhoods, which closely represent the percentage of Americans who fall into those ethnic categories. However, blacks make up 13 percent of the population and only 6 percent of abortion clinics are in black neighborhoods, making it hard to draw the conclusion that they are being particularly singled out.
Some allegations among anti-abortion activists of color run deeper than marketing, though—that there is an unspoken discriminatory goal behind abortion clinics of population control. That seems to be the assumption made by Love. It’s also a claim acknowledged by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which supports abortion access.
“Historically, Latinas and other women of color have been the targets of coercive contraceptive policy, including forced sterilization, promotion of more permanent methods of birth control, and dishonest contraceptive testing practices,” the group states. “The history of coerced contraception coupled with the current state of Latina sexual and reproductive health make it particularly important for Latinas to become proactive in their sexuality and contraceptive use.”
Similar to Planned Parenthood, the National Latina Institute argues that unintended pregnancies and abortions can be prevented with no-cost contraception and education. It notes that cultural and linguistic differences and a high rate of uninsurance present major challenges.
Back at the march, there were a number of anti-abortion groups that were also advocating for birth control and sex ed, and then there were others taking a hard line on contraception—or, in the case of Latinos Por La Vida, advocating for abstinence. Latinos Por La Vida is an affiliate of Corazon Puro, a Christian ministry “that seeks to build up the culture of life by informing young people on the virtues of chastity,” Garza said.
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The organization also makes the case against abortion by advocating for the preservation of Latino culture, and despite sharing an anti-abortion stance with the new administration and the Republican-led Congress, the community is divided by the administration’s other policies, especially immigration.
“We’re trying to make sure that our culture in preserved and enriched,” Pila Vazquez Calva, legal strategist for Latinos Por La Vida, told the Daily Dot. “But we are a little divided—a lot of the people in our community do not have papers. We support a path to citizenship for our undocumented community that has no criminal history.”
With the Trump administration coming in just as strong with its anti-abortion stance as its anti-immigration policies and tarnished race relations, minority groups like Latinos Por La Vida feel some dissonance—just because they’re anti-abortion, doesn’t mean they’re pro-Trump.
Regardless, speeches by Vice President Mike Pence and presidential advisor KellyAnne Conway turned this year’s March for Life very much into an event to embolden Trump supporters. Throughout the day, chants of “Make America Great Again” would roll through the crowd.
The #MarchForLife is so important. To all of you marching — you have my full support!
Like the Women’s March on Washington, though, organizers and some participants say the March for Life will never be about a politician, but about a cause.
“This is still a march for life, without any political affiliation, and that’s our main focus,” Vanessa Exil, age 22, with the St. Gerard Majella Catholic Church in New York City, told the Daily Dot. “We hope that everybody who is here is here to support life in every form and not discriminate.”