The dCEC’s “Racism is a Life Issue” panel skillfully unites the two movements.
On July 28, the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture hosted five experts in a discussion on anti-racism and anti-abortion advocacy, in response to the blatant political and social upheaval following the death of George Floyd in May and anticipating the upcoming election in November. As the dCEC’s Professor Snead put it, the panel (moderated by Ernest Morrell, a dCEC Faculty Fellow) identified “points of connection… among the fights for equal justice under law for unborn children and for racial justice.” Benjamin Watson, a retired Super Bowl and current pro-life champion, reminds us that we first need “a sense of humility… to enter into this very difficult topic.”
One focus of the discussion was the history surrounding racism and abortion. Pro-lifers must consider, Harvard-educated Dr. Jacqueline Rivers asserted, that historical racism—not only slavery, but policies such as the New Deal and the GI bill—has made “poverty among black women three times the amount of non-Hispanic white women.” This is crucial since financial difficulty is a leading factor for women choosing abortion. Rivers confirmed EWTN’s Catholic radio host Gloria Purvis’ claim that “we are still dealing with [the legacy of slavery] today,” reminding listeners that “the average white family has ten times the wealth of the average black family.”
Professor G. Marcus Cole, dean of the Notre Dame Law School, brought to light these long-festering racial tensions as they are manifest today, remembering how he would pray nightly that his children would make it home safely and explaining that “they don’t have to be engaged in any wrongdoing for them to be victims either of crime or of misdirected police brutality.” Both he and state Senator Katrina R. Jackson, a pro-life Democrat from Louisiana, noted that African-Americans, historically and currently, spend more time incarcerated than other groups do for the same crimes. This is due, they said, to “systematic racism” within the criminal justice system, which further exacerbates any familial brokenness within those communities. Racist structures still exist, they concluded, and must be reformed.
The history surrounding abortion is no less troubling. Dean Cole discussed the founder of Planned Parenthood (the biggest abortion-selling organization in the country), Margaret Sanger, who “came out of a eugenics movement that was focused on purifying the white race.” This was done by eliminating “the undesirables,” labeled as such based on race and disability; Sanger’s favorite eugenics tools were birth control and abortion, which she and her organization pushed upon disadvantaged racial communities. Abortion facilities today, following in her footsteps, still situate themselves within these poor minority communities. Cole concluded that the “history of eugenics and the progressive area has given rise to these structures that are part of our culture today,” adding that such structures “are designed or focused on eliminating us [African-Americans].”
Dr. Rivers pointed out the “high rates of abortion among black women in the United States”—36% of all abortions nationwide—which Sen. Jackson linked to the lack of resources within the Black community and their targeting by corporations like Planned Parenthood. She concluded that those who are anti-racist must “recognize this as a modern-day genocide of the African-American community. Period.” Senator Jackson went on to say that “we are slowly becoming the minority of the minority at the hands of abortionists” and that “when we don’t stand for life, we are promoting modern genocide in the African-American community.” The abortion industry, the panelists concluded, is structurally racist and must not be tolerated.
Purvis challenged pro-life advocates to “walk and chew gum” at the same time. She said she could not ignore the fight against racism, for “it would be really a false witness to the Gospel… if I were to be silent.” Purvis, Sen. Jackson, Watson, and Dr. Rivers all spoke about the common perception of the pro-life movement as being only pro-birth, only politically-motivated, and only Republican—in Jackson’s words, as being insincere about its concern for African-Americans. Watson noted the “conservative baggage” associated with the word “pro-life;” many believe that all conservatives are inherently racist, which further exacerbates current political and social divisions. Purvis begged pro-lifers to “stop with the political talking points of the far right” and “learn how to listen” to those fighting against racism. Of course, the Black Lives Matter movement (particularly the organization itself) also has its more controversial or politically-charged positions, such as defunding the police and promoting radical socialism. However, “if you’re only going to see this [issue] as political,” Purvis asserts, “then you have to understand that we are fighting powers and principalities here.”
In sum, the panelists said that while neither movement is perfect, neither movement should be ignored in its entirety.
Dr. Rivers challenged racial-justice advocates: “You can’t just be concerned about—you know, if we really tell the truth—about a relatively small number of black men who are dying at the hands of police officers and [be unconcerned] about tens of thousands of black babies who are dying every year.” She continued that “it’s much easier for us to blame the white police officer. It’s much more difficult and much more loaded to talk about young black women who are choosing abortion… we have to be very thoughtful about these young women.”
In all cases we must treat each mother and child as human beings, and not simply as statistics. Purvis called for a reframing of the abortion debate, explaining that “pro-abortion advocates have done a very good job of convincing people… if you are not allowed that choice [to abort], somehow you are losing your liberty. And for black people who have been denied liberty for so long, you know, that sort of rings in their mind.” Instead, she said, we ought to “reframe abortion… as a gross abuse of liberty… just like racism is.” The reform surrounding this issue, the panelists confirmed, should be centered around combating racial financial disparity and providing support and resources for those many women and families in need. These policy changes involved supporting Catholic adoption agencies, prison reform, supporting small businesses since they’re largely run by minorities, facilitating good after-school programs, and “not letting your party have total control over your platform.”
So what should we do? Be willing to take a stand against both abortion and racism. Encourage those around us to be mindful that both of these injustices exist and deserve our attention. Vote for policies that promote healthy families and support disadvantaged communities. Listen to others and avoid over-politicizing either issue. Actively engage in service to both movements, in and out of the classroom. While this stance is somewhat unpopular—and could even lead to persecution on multiple fronts—Watson and Purvis noted that we should not be discouraged. Instead, we must carry on courageously in the defense of all life, from the womb to the tomb. Snead’s concluding remark describes the panel succinctly: “a very challenging conversation in the very best sense.”
Mary Biese is a junior in the Program of Liberal Studies who loves singing choir music loudly in the shower and ranting about Middle-earth and the theology of free will, to the great annoyance of her family and friends. She can be reached anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.