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Who Controls Black Women’s Bodies?


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Rally in support of the Ohio Prevention First Act, photo courtesy of creative commons Flickr user ProgressOhio.

While overall access to contraception and other reproductive health services have increased over the past 20 years, access for low-income women and women of color has dropped.

Since the 2010 elections, anti-abortionists have grown more emboldened in their attempts to restrict not only abortion services, but to also basic reproductive care.

African-American women have been especially targeted in a series of anti-abortion billboards posted across the country. Enraged by this finger-pointing, reproductive justice activist of all colors got together to fight for every woman’s right to health care. On this edition, the fight for access to reproductive health care.

WARNING: This program contains graphic language.

This program was funded in part by the Mary Wohlford Foundation.


Dorothy Roberts, Northwestern University law professor; Loretta Ross, founder and national coordinator of SisterSong; Susan Cohen, director of government affairs at Guttmacher Institute; Nicole Goss, single mom; Chloe Heintz, rape survivor; Nicole Safar, public policy director of Planned Parenthood advocates of Wisconsin; Heidi Williamson, national advocacy policy coordinator for SisterSong; Walter B. Hoye II, founder and president of Issues 4 Life.

Special thanks to Alicia Walters, production intern Lisa Bartfai and field producers Molly Stenz and Macon Reed. Thanks also to Charles Stuart, Stuart Productions.


***Segments and Scripts for Above Program***


Who Controls Black Women’s Bodies?

Kyung Jin Lee: This week, on Making Contact..

Nicole Goss: “$50 for birth control could be the difference between paying my light bill and getting birth control. And when it comes down to it, I’m gonna pay my light bill.”

Kyung Jin Lee: Attacks on reproductive health services for women are on the increase.  And the economic climate means more than ever, its poor women and women of color who have the most to lose.

Loretta Ross: If we choose to have an abortion, we’re criticized. but white America will equally criticize us if we choose to have a child. So we’re dammed if we do, dammed if we don’t.

Kyung Jin Lee: On this edition, from congress, to your state legislature, to the billboards you see by the highway—American women and girls struggle to maintain their reproductive freedom.

I’m Kyung Jin Lee and this is Making Contact. A program connecting people, vital ideas, and important information.

If you live in Atlanta, L.A. or many other urban hubs across the US, you might have already seen the billboards.

“The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb,” “Black children are an endangered species” and most recently, “fatherhood begins in the womb”.  Those are the catch phrases used by groups like the Radiance Foundation and Issues 4 Life.  The billboards feature images of beautiful black babies and pregnant women.

African-American women are almost five times as likely to have abortions as white women, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group. And the provocative billboard campaign is designed to convince African-Americans that aborting black babies is tantamount to genocide. Like-minded groups have produced films and glossy commercials with the same message.

{ Thanks to a listener’s comment, we’d like to clarify that this next passage is from “Maafa 21” a film used by anti-abortion groups which quotes from the Eugenics Movement of the past.–Editor }

Video clip: I do not join in the belief that the Africans are equal in brain or in health. We are paying for, and even submitting to, the dictates of an ever increasing, unceasing spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all. The way possible of decreasing the Negro population is by means of controlling fertility. Birth control facilities could be extended relatively more to Negros than to whites. Since Negros are more concentrated in the lower income and education classes. We hope that the restraint in population growth can come about through voluntary means. But if it does not, involuntary methods will be used. “For all it’s failures, what the Eugenics Movement had accomplished was to lay the foundation for the next phase of that plan and this is where they would find the success that they had been chasing for over one-hundred years.”

Kyung Jin Lee:  Reverend Walter Hoye is the founder of Issues 4 Life Foundation, one of the groups leading the billboard campaign. He says, in order to counter the conspiracy to eliminate African-Americans, churches need to do a better job of meeting the needs of women and children.

Reverend Walter Hoye: Often times a black women will stop me and talk to me about her need for education, her need for a better job.  Often times she talks to me about emotional support, support from her family, support from her boyfriend, support from her church even.

Kyung Jin Lee: Reverend Hoye says the impetus for the campaign was to start a discussion in his community. But Northwestern University law professor Dorothy Roberts suggests a different cause for the black community’s high rates of abortion.

Dorothy Roberts: Whenever we ask why does a woman seek an abortion it has to do with an unwanted pregnancy. And so the bottom line is black women have more unwanted pregnancies and the reason has to do with not having good access to contraception and overall healthcare.

Loretta Ross: They’re trying to make Black women feel ashamed about our choices.

Kyung Jin Lee: That’s Loretta Ross, the national coordinator for SisterSong: Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, a network of reproductive health organizations. She says the message is a fallacy:

Loretta Ross: You cannot save black babies by attacking black women. It just does not work.

Kyung Jin Lee: Professor Dorothy Roberts says the billboard campaign distorts and exploits history.

Dorothy Roberts: That’s what’s so twisted about this campaign. Is that they’re claiming to challenge genocide when they’re actually using the very concepts of devaluating black women, regulating black women’s reproduction and blaming black women for social problems. And so to me, there’s more of a similarity between eugenic ideology and the billboards than there is the billboard opposing eugenics.

Kyung Jin Lee: Ross says for black women, it’s often a no win situation.

Loretta Ross: If we choose to have an abortion, we’re criticized, but white America will equally criticize us if we choose to have a child. And accuse of over-breeding, overpopulating the earth, not controlling our children, ruining the educational system. So we’re dammed if we do, dammed if we don’t.

Kyung Jin Lee: Ross, from Sister song, says anti-abortion activists often don’t realize the difficult choices women face:

Loretta Ross: Frankly, I’m a woman who at 14, became pregnant through incest. It was not voluntary at all, OK? At the time my son was born, and I had to carry that pregnancy to term, because it was pre-Roe. 1969. I had the option of giving my child up for adoption. I found I couldn’t do it. I took one look at his face and I couldn’t do it. So I ended up parenting that kid and I’m glad I had him. I’m glad I parented him. but at the same time, anyone who acts like it’s just so easy to carry a child to term, give birth and them just hand the baby over to somebody else obviously has never done it. And the women I’ve talked to who have done it, often regret having done it. Even more so than the so-called women who regret having abortions. So it’s a scheme designed to make black women feel guilty, it builds on the fantasy of adoption being easy and it ignores the fact that something like 4 out of 5 children in adoption agencies that are hard to place are African-American.

Kyung Jin Lee: In response to the billboard campaign, a group of black reproductive justice organizations formed a partnership to promote their own message: Trust Black Women, meaning they should be trusted to make decisions about their reproductive lives.

Trust Black Women rally yelling: “Black women do not kill black people! That’s right! Racism kills black people! Black women…”

Kyung Jin Lee: They have staged protests, written op-eds and produced a video to counter the claims that black women are committing genocide of their own community.

Chanting: “Whose rights? Our rights! Whose bodies? Our bodies! Whose rights…”

Kyung Jin Lee: Loretta Ross, a member of Trust Black Women, says while there is agreement that historically, certain women have been encouraged to have children, while other groups of women have been discouraged, ultimately, it’s about control.

Loretta Ross: I think that the best way to fight genocide is to make sure that the object of that genocide or control make those decisions for themselves. so I think that black women need not only the right to have an abortion, but the access, the money, the conditions under which they can decide their fertility for themselves.

Kyung Jin Lee: While overall availability to reproductive health services has increased over the past 20 years, access has declined dramatically for low-income women and women of color, says Susan Cohen, director of government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute.

Susan Cohen: In 2006, we’ve documented that poor women had an unintended pregnancy rate five times that of higher income women and an unintended birth rate six times as high as higher income women. What that tells us, just those statistics alone, women whose lives are less stable, because they’re younger, because they’re poorer, or because they’re less educated, have higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, unplanned births, and abortions.

Kyung Jin Lee: Cohen says the rate of unintended pregnancy for poor women is troubling.  And considering federal and state attempts to defund family planning centers, such as Planned Parenthood, as well as the current economic climate, access is likely to become more difficult for these communities.

Susan Cohen: A lot more people losing their jobs, losing their health insurance along with that and with the cost of contraceptives and services going up its increasingly difficult for women to be able to afford the services they need or to prioritize these services when they’ve got so many other competing demands on them to support their kids, to buy clothing, to pay for food, to pay rent, whatever it may be.

Nicole Goss: I had my daughter in 2005. And it was about 2006 when I got pregnant again, and I had an abortion.

Kyung Jin Lee: 25-year-old Nicole Gross is a fulltime student from the South Side of Chicago. She decided to get an abortion when she got pregnant again a year after becoming a single mom.

Nicole Goss: I was working a job at a restaurant, I was getting like 40 hours a week. But I still couldn’t afford nothing. and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do because I already had one child. I was struggling to take care of that one. And it wasn’t just a choice for me, I believe it was a choice for her too because if I’m barely making it for two, why would I bring in three. And now everything that has to be split between two has to be split between three. Which means that she would have to sacrifice certain things too. And I didn’t tell nobody because I didn’t want nobody manipulating my situation, my decision.

Kyung Jin Lee: She says the decision to terminate her second pregnancy wasn’t difficult because she had already considered an abortion with her first one.

Nicole Goss: My first daughter, when I got pregnant with her, I actually wanted to have an abortion. But I didn’t because people manipulated my decision. They were like, “oh no, don’t do that.” I had told my mom I want to have an abortion. And she was like, “oh you can die getting that or whatever.” They just gave me this horrible story of a claw being stuck up your vagina and crushing the baby’s head. And saying all of this. And I wasn’t educated about the situation as I m now, so a young and 19, not knowing anything, I was like oh, I don’t want to do that. I was like “oh, that sounds horrible, I don’t want to do that.” You know and the father was like, “you know I’m gonna help and like I’m gonna support and I’m gonna do whatever it takes to take care of you and the baby.” And 5 years later, he’s not around. When I get up in the morning and I get dressed, I got to get somebody else dressed before I get out the door. If I want to go out somewhere, I got to make sure that I got somebody to watch her before I go here or I can’t work certain hours because I have to be home to get her. And to have another child would just be like too much. I had other things I need to accomplish in life. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t send my daughter back for the world, I love her. My sunlight. But like I said, my first decision was manipulated because I thought people were gonna see me through and support me the way I needed to be supported. And I found out that people will tell you anything to get you to do what they want you to do. And at the end of the day, whatever decision I make, it affects me the most.

Kyung Jin Lee: Gross says she never got sex education in school and didn’t have access to birth control.

Nicole Goss: My mom talk about sex was don’t do it. If you get pregnant, you getting kicked out of my house. I never was like you need to get on birth control, you need to inquire about that.  And being 19 and young, I wasn’t thinking about that because I didn’t think it was going to happen to me.

Kyung Jin Lee: In 2008, almost 36 million women needed contraceptive services, a 6 percent increase from 2000, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The majority of the spike came from women of color.

Kyung Jin Lee: During the same period, the need for government-subsidized contraception rose 10 percent.  And given the increase in poverty in the U.S. – the highest number since recordkeeping began more than 50 years ago – that figure is likely to grow.

Nicole Goss: We’re human beings just like everyone else. We need access to this like everybody else.

Kyung Jin Lee: Nicole Gross.

Nicole Goss: People always making snide remarks, “oh, why their pregnancy rates high?” It’s because we don’t have the access to things that everybody else have. And $50 for birth control could be the difference between paying my light bill and getting birth control. and when it comes down to it, I’m gonna pay my light bill. I’m not going to get no birth control because I need something for right now. I can’t take my pill in the dark. If I go home and my lights off, my food is going to be ruined. So we don’t have that access and it’s something that’s very needed.

Susan Cohen: We take birth control so much for granted, that sometimes we don’t even think about the fact that this is really challenging for women who have a lot of other challenges that they’re facing in their lives.

Kyung Jin Lee: The Guttmacher Institute’s Susan Cohen.

Susan Cohen: …And unlike an acute health condition, where you take your antibiotics and you can take care of the illness that you’re suffering from and then it goes away, birth control isn’t treating an illness though it is preventing a condition of pregnancy that a woman needs to be able to control for herself. And that requires a lot of resources and commitment and support.

Kyung Jin Lee: We’ll be right back.

You’re listening to “Making Contact,” a production of the National Radio Project.  If you’d like more information or for C-D copies of this program, please call 800-529-5736

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Kyung Jin Lee: When republicans took over the US House of Representatives in 2010, reproductive rights advocates began bracing themselves. Anti-abortion activists were emboldened, and have been pushing hard to deny access to many basic services.

In February of 2011, the House voted to cut public funding from Planned Parenthood – the largest reproductive health provider in the US. While federal attempts to defund Planned Parenthood ultimately failed, a number of states took matters into their own hands. In 2011, legislation to cut funding and further restrict access to reproductive care, including abortions, was passed in states such as Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin and North Carolina.

News Collage: A controversial abortion bill is on its way to the governor’s desk. Governor Daniel’s signature would make Indiana the first state to cut all government funding to Planned Parenthood. Today the house voted 66 to 32 to approve the bill; the original measure would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It was amended by the senate to take all taxpayer funding away from Planned Parenthood. Chanting: Abortion, NO! Cuts, YES! Kansas has stepped up its war on abortion providers. This time they granted new powers to the state government to shut down Kansas’ clinics. Governor Brownback signed a bill last month that said that secretary of the state’s health department gets to write new rules just for abortion clinics and then he gets to enforce those rules. And if the state’s abortion clinics do not support those new rules, he can shut them down. Chanting. Planned Parenthood is considering a courtroom challenge to a decision that strips funding from its North Carolina branch earlier this week. North Carolina lawmakers approved measure to cut funding for the group by more than $400,000 because Planned Parenthood performs abortions. Chanting. Planned Parenthood faces more funding cuts at the state level, this time in Wisconsin. One million of the state’s eighteen million dollars in funding to the abortion provider was taken out of the state’s budget. Pro-life leaders say they applaud the move, but want to see the state defund the entire eighteen million. Chanting.

Kyung Jin Lee: Sarina Garcia, a member of the Sister Song Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective says the attack on these facilities goes much further than how it is often framed: as a pro-choice versus pro-life debate.

Sarina Garcia: What they’re doing is getting rid of access, trying to get rid of access not to abortion singularly. But reproductive health services in general to women who otherwise would not be able to have the access or the agency or the provision to get them.

Kyung Jin Lee: Planned Parenthood critics argue against any taxpayer dollars going to “build the group’s infrastructure,” and say that cutting support for all services would limit their ability to perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood rally: “What do we need? Planned Parenthood! When do we need it? Always! What do we..”

Kyung Jin Lee: But Planned Parenthood and its supporters didn’t take the defeat in Congress lying down. They fought back, organizing rallies and launching online video campaigns.

22-year old Chloe Heintz posted a YouTube video during the Planned Parenthood funding debates to share her story of rape. A warning to our listeners, the following excerpt from Heintz’ video includes graphic language.

Chloe Heintz: When I was 17, I was raped by my boyfriend at the time. I was a virgin who was not particularly comfortable with the idea of having sex yet in general. And I was absolutely not interested in having sex with the man I was dating. Having made that explicitly clear to him in various conversations, he developed what I’ve realized is a rather common blend of entitlement, self-pity and a generalized hatred of women. He decided to take matters into his own hands. One night, I think it was his birthday, he pressured me to drink until I was very, very sick and he laughed at me while I threw up. His friends held my hair back and ultimately helped me into bed. I don’t know what happened in between when I passed out and when I woke up, but I woke to find my pants half removed, tangled around my ankles, my underwear torn down also, with him on top of me and his penis inside of me, with his hand and arm across my chest and neck holding me down. I was not strong enough or coherent enough to understand exactly what was happening or to physically resist. I did not develop a conscious understanding of what had happened to me for a really long time after that. I really didn’t think that far beyond the practical next step in fact. I knew I was at risk for STI’s and pregnancy. I had never been to Planned Parenthood, but suddenly I needed help. When I found the Oneida Chapter, Oneida, New York, I went there requesting STI testing and pregnancy testing. Of course, they reminded me that I’d have to return for HIV testing in another few months and I had a couple long conversations with the people there and I was given a lot of pamphlets and information. I did not deal with my experience of that night any further for a couple years. When I was 20, I was speaking to a free school therapist. She got me talking about my experience that night. When I finished, she asked me something along the lines of “So how does it feel to know you’ve been raped?” I almost laughed. I was in total shock and disbelief. I was so offended that she would apply such an ugly word to me. And suddenly my entire world exploded. It was three years later and it was the most violent psychological experience I’ve ever had. It was like choking all the time. I remember distinctly that feeling of breathlessness for months, a year maybe, I don’t know. I had never before made the mental leap required between what I had experienced by Adam and that razor sharp term “rape.” I’d never described myself as a “rape victim.” At that point, I was losing myself. I had no grip and no perspective and I didn’t feel like a person anymore. Ultimately, it was Planned Parenthood that gave me the tools to process that experience and make it a productive element of who I am. I revisited their clinics as a patient and became pretty proactive regarding my sexual health. I began talking about rape publicly. I started talking about my experience of rape to other people on campus, often in large forums with hundreds of thousands of people. And that has never been an easy discussion. But Planned Parenthood provided me with those initial tools to become physically and emotionally healthy enough to move forward with my life.

Kyung Jin Lee: Chloe Heintz credits Planned Parenthood for giving her the support she needed in a time of crisis.

Chloe Heintz: Without the ability to access comprehensive sexual health care and abortion, I would not be who I am today, and I certainly would not be where I am today. I doubt I would have graduated from college and I truly wonder if I would even be alive. I would not be able to speak to so many other people in hopes of changing their life because mine would have been frozen in that instance of assault.

Kyung Jin Lee: When Governor Scott Walker signed legislation cutting $1 million to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in June 2011, it became the fourth state in the country to do so. The loss in funding would have affected 9 out of the 27 health centers operated by Planned Parenthood, which serves 12,000 women without access to health care.

Kyung Jin Lee: The cuts would mostly affect rural communities, where, according to Nicole Safar, public policy director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, there are no other options for basic reproductive health services.

Nicole Safar: If women are unable to get this basic health care and if they go without birth control counseling or birth control access, unintended pregnancies are going to rise. If people go without STD screenings, STD rates are going to rise. And we’ve seen that happen in areas of the state where there isn’t a PP, where there really isn’t a provider.

Kyung Jin Lee: Safar says Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is committed to keeping all of its doors open, thanks in part to continued revenues from clients with private insurance and patient fees.

Susan Cohen, director of government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute, says efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are a mere proxy to go after the whole reproductive health care movement.

Susan Cohen: As we see in congress for example, the attacks over the last year the attack was not only to defund Planned Parenthood, but also to eliminate the federal family planning program with or without Planned Parenthood. So they’ve not really made any attempts to be subtle about what the target is here. And that is access to these services for all of us, no matter what provider we go to. The women they can get at are the low-income women who are most dependent on the federal and state governments for subsidizing these services.

Kyung Jin Lee: New, anti-abortion legislation continues to be introduced in the Wisconsin state legislature. . And in October 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed The Protect Life Act, an amendment to President Obama’s health care overhaul.  The Act would bar federal funds from being used for any portion of the costs of a health insurance plan that covers abortion.

With the ongoing recession, some abortion foes have also made an economic argument for laws, which tightly restrict the use of public funds.  But Susan Cohen says the money the federal government spends on family planning services ultimately saves money for taxpayers.

Susan Cohen: We documented that for every dollar invested in family planning services, $4 is saved the next year in Medicaid costs alone in caring for women and their newborns who would otherwise give birth without access to the family planning services to prevent the pregnancies that they say they want to prevent. So not only would it cost the government more than it would save, but obviously it would have a huge negative impact on the lives of women who would become the pawns in this whole political, ideological fight.

Kyung Jin Lee: Reproductive rights activists insist that every woman is entitled to make her own decision whether to have a child and when to have it. And that power must extend to low income women and women of color as well.

Heidi Williamson is the national advocacy coordinator for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.

Heidi Williamson:  You should trust black women. we don’t kill out children. we love our children. we fight for our children. but we believe in fighting for our children not just through the 9 months to make sure that a woman’s right to birth justice is ensured. we want to make sure that women have the necessary support to be good parents. that schools are funded. that health care is offered. that women and families are raised out of poverty to be effective mothers, family members and at large, a community.

Kyung Jin Lee: That’s it for this edition of Making Contact. Partial funding for this program provided by the Mary Wolford Foundation.

Special thanks to Alicia Walters, production intern Lisa Bartfai, and field producer Macon Reed .

For a CD copy of this program, call the National Radio Project at 800 529-5736, or check out our website at to get a podcast, download past shows, or make a difference by supporting our work.

I’m Kyung Jin Lee.  Thanks for listening to Making Contact.


For More Information:

Trust Black Women
Guttmacher Institute
Dorothy Roberts
Planned Parenthood
Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice
California Latina Reproductive Justice
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Black Women for Wellness
The Radiance Foundation
Issues 4 Life
Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Costs of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us (book by Carole Joffe)


Don’t Cut Planned Parenthood’s Funding!
Are Black Children and ‘Endangered Species’?
Debate Boils Over African-American Abortion
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Abortion Crusade
Maafa 21

We Always Resist: Trust Black Women DVD


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