January 22, 2011 marks the 38th Anniversary of Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states. This blog is an excerpt from the speech delivered at the March 2010 Board meeting of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Strange Bedfellows: The Disingenuous Juxtaposition of Anti-Abortion and Anti Racist Rhetoric
For some time now, I have wondered why right-wing conservative Christians are so passionate about their opposition to abortion. I know what they claim – that they desire to save the life of the unborn child – hence, the moniker “pro-life.” But I have never understood why on the one hand, they often seem to have such high regard for life before birth and, on the other hand, appear to have such little regard for life after birth. Of course, I am sure that there are many “pro-lifers” who are genuinely concerned about the preservation and quality of life at every stage of pre-and post-natal development. But I find it peculiar that those who fight so vehemently on behalf of the unborn child are nowhere to be found when it comes to fighting on behalf of the born child. After all, Jesus said that he came not only “that they might have life,” but “that they might have it more abundantly!”
And so, while I applaud the anti-abortion movement’s concern for life, I must admit that I have always smelled a rat. I have smelled a rat because I have not been able to fathom how one can be so concerned about justice for a child who is inside the womb, and yet not be equally concerned about justice for that same child once he/she is outside the womb. I also smell a rat because, while anti-abortionists express a profound interest in the life, health, and welfare of the child, they seem to express minimal interest in the life, health, and welfare of the mother who, by the way, is also a child – a child of God.
Revealingly, my skepticism about the underlying motives and motivations of “pro-lifers” has not been unlike my similar skepticism about the underlying motives and motivations of politicians, media pundits, and ordinary American citizens who have been so outraged by the recent passage of the health care reform bill. My point here is not to suggest that we should all be happy with the bill, with the compromises that were necessary to pass it, or even with the process that was followed to ensure victory. My concern is with the ugliness, bitterness, and lack of civility, decorum, and respect exhibited by angry politicians and citizens who opposed the measure.
And as I thought about all of this it dawned on me, opponents of abortion and opponents of health care reform are essentially the same people. And they are the same, not because their real issue is either abortion or health care, the unborn child or the growing deficit, the right to life or the threat of socialism. Their real issue has to do not with the preservation of life in general, but with the preservation of white, male heterosexual privilege. In other words, even though they will never tell you – because we don’t talk about those things in polite company – their real issue has to do with racism, sexism, classism, and even heterosexism.
It seems to me that whether we are talking about universal health care or affirmative action, immigration reform or prison reform, affordable housing or full employment, gay rights or abortion rights – there is a deep divide in this nation and everyone is not on the path of diversity, equal opportunity, and freedom and justice for all. That is why what the so-called “pro-life” movement is doing in Georgia is such a cruel and manipulative travesty.
I understand the complex and complicated history of eugenics, birth control, compulsory sterilization, abortion rights, and Planned Parenthood in this nation. And I am aware of the racial overtones and undertones that have been attributed to liberal pro-choice advocates. I know the controversy surrounding Margaret Sanger and the debate about whether she herself may have been motivated by racism, which, by the way, does not appear to be a fair accusation considering the climate in which she lived and the outstanding supporters, like W.E.B. Dubois and Mary McLeod Bethune, with whom she was associated.
I also know, however, that Margaret Sanger did not introduce Black women to birth control. When they were the property of White slave masters who bred them as animals and raped them at will, they had their own creative methods of birth control as they sought to exercise some limited degree of control over their own lives and that of their progeny. Nonetheless, it is the epitome of irony, hypocrisy, mockery, and sheer cruelty for so-called pro-lifers, who have never indicated any genuine concern to eradicate poverty, high infant mortality, low life expectancy, abysmal nutrition, poor control over infectious disease, inferior quality health care, scarce mental health care, or even reasonable access to hospitals and physicians to all of a sudden be so concerned about Black babies that they would dare post billboards in Black communities referring to them as “an endangered species” and equating a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body with slavery and even lynching.
The fact of the matter, in my opinion, is that predominantly white, male, privileged pro-lifers have experienced no revelation or conversion experience that would suddenly qualify them to prescribe what is in the best interest of Black babies, Black women, the Black family, or the Black community. This is no more than a manipulative and exploitative maneuver to entice the Black community through fear, deception, and intimidation to not do what is in the best interest of Black people and certainly not Black women or Black babies- but instead what is consistent and compatible with the so-called pro-life agenda.
The Bible asks, “When I was hungry, did you feed me; when I was thirsty, did you give me something to drink; when I was naked, did you clothe me; When I was a stranger, did you welcome me; when I was in prison, did you visit me; and when I was sick did you take care of me?” I assure you: Pro-lifers cannot do any of these things for unborn babies when they are still in their mother’s wombs, and they have proven that they will not do any of these things after they are born and out of their mother’s womb. Jesus’ response, therefore, is “Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it unto me.”
The Reverend Dr. Dennis W. Wiley, a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has served for twenty-five years as pastor of the Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Published articles by Dr. Wiley include “Black Theology, the Black Church, and the African American Community” in Black Theology: A Documentary History, vol. II by James Cone and Gayraud Wilmore; “Howard Thurman, The Church and The Poor” in Creation Spirituality; “Black Theology in Praxis” and “The Meaning of the African American Church” in volumes I and II, respectively, of What Does It Mean to be Black and Christian, edited by Forrest E. Harris, Sr.; and, “Spirit in the Dark: Sexuality and Spirituality in the Black Church” in Walk Together Children: Black and Womanist Theologies, Church, and Theological Education, edited by Dwight N. Hopkins and Linda E. Thomas.
For advocates of women’s health, “justice” and “compassion” mean that we must safeguard the full range of reproductive health services. Click here to sign our petition and to find reproductive justice resources. http://www.rcrc.org/InsureWomen
“Administer justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.” – Zechariah 1:9
The views, opinions, and perspectives expressed in by guest and consultant bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, its state affiliates, it member organizations, or the National Black Church Initiative. The Religious Coalition is committed through its National Black Church Initiative to faithfully, prayerfully breaking the silence on issues related to sex, sexuality and religion.