As you've probably seen in the news, last week a sensationalist anti-choice campaign came to Chicago. Three identical billboards near 58th and State say, "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted," next to a photo of President Obama.
Spokespeople for Life Always, the group behind the billboards, say they want to highlight the fact that African American women have a higher abortion rate than Caucasian women by running 30 billboards in communities of color. (Three more of these billboards have just gone up on buildings along 115th Street.) They say this message is supposed to help women.
What they didn't say is that there are already organizations helping women in Englewood and other communities of color in Chicago. These groups recognize the barriers that women--especially women of color--face when trying to access high-quality, low-cost health services and information. They are advocates for reproductive justice.
Reproductive justice encompasses the whole woman, throughout her life, because every woman has the human right to decide if, when and how to become a parent and to parent with dignity. With accurate information and accessible resources, we trust women to make the most informed decisions for themselves and their families.
Two organizations in particular, Black Women for Reproductive Justice (BWRJ) and Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF), have taken on the billboards in local and national media. They have been interviewed or quoted by ABC News, the Chicago Tribune and NBC 5 Chicago, among hundreds of other outlets.
Cherisse Scott, BWRJ's health educator and campaign coordinator, says, "Our communities are overwrought with violence, lack of access to education, high rates of unemployment, and lack of access to healthy foods. Those are the real issues--not Black women making the decisions that we understand are in the best interest of our families."
Gaylon Alcaraz, executive director of CAF, writes in her essay on RH Reality Check, "As a woman of color that has been poor, marginalized and ignored by society, I resent 'outsiders' that don't live in these neighborhoods bringing their message and agenda to these communities, which they will likely never step foot in ever again... If these individuals actually cared about 'Life Always,' they would be in these communities advocating for supportive services and other programs that could assist the very women they're targeting."
Without a doubt, these billboards amount to bully tactics. As Cherisse and Gaylon have said, that's not what these communities need. Reproductive justice supporters are smart and organized, and with groups like BWRJ and CAF in the lead, we will confront the wide range of issues facing women and their families every day.