02/01/2011 11:58 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Truth About Blacks and Abortion

There's been a lot of discussion (bordering on hysteria) in recent years regarding the role African-Americans could play in helping conservatives stem the growing tide in favor of gay rights. And yet progressives have seemed largely oblivious to another issue in which conservatives might find willing allies in the black community: abortion.

When I first heard that GOP Rep. Chris Smith was introducing a bill to redefine the rape exemption allowed for Medicaid coverage of abortions to include only "forcible rape," my first thought was, "Does he mean forcible rape as opposed to consensual rape?" My second thought was, "What exactly is consensual rape?" (According to Rep. Smith's bill statutory rape and drug induced rape do not qualify as "forcible rape.") My final thought on the matter was "Damn. What a good idea." Not the bill itself but the strategy behind it. (Click here to see the 5 most anti-choice members of Congress.)

You see just as those of us who grew up in the age of The Cosby Show, (or Generation Obama as some call us), have long taken comfort in knowing that no president could be elected today who professed themselves to be openly racist, or homophobic for that matter, those of us raised in post Roe v. Wade America have long taken comfort in knowing that a candidate who shouted, "Down with Roe v. Wade!" from the rooftops, would also be unlikely to make it to the White House. (For the record, yes I know George W. Bush and his father, opposed abortion rights. But I also know that they both went to great pains not to shout it from the rooftops where female swing voters could hear, including their own wives. Both First Lady Bushes, Barbara and Laura respectively, are on the record as supporters of reproductive freedom.)

But while we may have grown comfortable -- some may say complacent -- in knowing our rights were unlikely to be fully demolished in our lifetime, opponents of reproductive rights have reminded us that they don't need to dismantle Roe v. Wade altogether to chip away at a woman's right to choose. All they have to do is give the right to choose a Michael Jackson style makeover -- a nip here and a tuck there before any right we once enjoyed becomes an unrecognizable shadow of its former self.

A few examples of some recent nips and tucks:

  • In 2010 the state of Oklahoma enacted a law that requires all women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to view an ultrasound regardless of stage of pregnancy and endure a detailed analysis of said ultrasound before terminating. Additionally, the state also enacted a law that prevents women from suing doctors who intentionally mislead them regarding the health of any fetus. This means if a doctor does not support reproductive rights and knows a woman is carrying a fetus that is severely disabled or may not survive outside of the womb, but declines to tell her for fear that she may have an abortion, this woman and her family, have no legal recourse.
  • Arizona passed a law banning abortion on the employees' state health plan.
  • Tennessee and Mississippi both passed laws banning coverage of abortion in health insurance exchanges.
  • And then there is the recent law introduced by Rep. Smith, H.R. 3, which would prevent an impoverished 13-year-old who let's say is raped by an adult relative--who didn't tie her up and use a firearm, but who raped her nonetheless--from using Medicaid to pay for termination of her pregnancy. Talk about adding insult to injury.

For the record, I am not one of those people who dismiss those who define themselves as "pro-life" as ill-informed naifs. Their belief in the sanctity of a being that I cannot see is really not any more crazy or naive than my belief in a God that I cannot see. (And yes I know some of you consider that crazy as well. I'm looking at you Bill Maher.)

But I do dismiss out of turn any person who claims to be pro-life when it comes to the womb, then tells poor women and families "you're on your own" here on Earth.

And I have no problem calling anyone who claims to be "pro-life" but is also anti-comprehensive sexual education and access to birth control, not just ill informed and naïve but downright crazy -- dangerously so. That's the equivalent of being "pro-life" while also supporting the death penalty and unnecessary wars -- you simply can't support all of the above. Well you can but that makes you a big hypocrite.

Conservatives seem to be counting on black Americans not seeing through this hypocrisy. In recent months an anti-choice media blitz has, to put it bluntly, played the race card more shamelessly than Johnnie Cochran did for his most famous client:

  • There was a television ad campaign that recently began airing in Austin, Texas featuring an African-American woman who proclaims that despite an unplanned pregnancy everything will be "okay." This was in conjunction with a billboard targeting black Americans that was deemed too controversial for the cities of Dallas and Houston, but that proclaims that the "most dangerous place for an African-American is the womb." (Tell that to some of the young black men whose daily lives entail navigating a war zone-like maze of violence.)
  • Then there was a separate ad campaign aired by another anti-choice group on BET to "educate" black Americans that abortion is a form of "genocide."
  • There was also the recent comment by former Senator turned 2012 presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, displaying shock that a black person would have the audacity to be pro-choice. (I know it's so frustrating when we think for ourselves.)

Due to high church attendance my community has long leaned conservative on social issues. Though I'm sure to get in trouble for saying this (particularly with my mom's Sunday school class), this conservative streak has handicapped us in a number of ways, with devastating results. AIDS is now the leading cause of death among black women in my age group, and more than two-thirds of black kids are now born out of wedlock. But the idea of discussing sexual education within our community is still in many ways taboo in a way that raising a child in a fatherless household of limited opportunity for some reason is not.

And yet I wonder where all of the conservatives who are championing all of these anti-choice measures are to help these children once they are here? Or to educate their mothers and fathers before they get here? Shouldn't being pro-life mean supporting quality of life? Or is a conservative's work done once a baby is born? Even if the child ends up sleeping in a cardboard box or dies of an illness because they lacked health care coverage?

I fear that conservatives plan to use African-Americans in coming years much like they did in 2004 when a small yet significant portion of African-Americans voters turned out against gay marriage in Ohio, giving an extra edge to the GOP ticket. I don't recall the conservatives who wooed them so intently before the election, wielding both religion and race as the ultimate weapons, sticking around afterwards to ask those Black Ohio-ans how George W. Bush's policies worked out for them.

Just as I don't anticipate they will stick around to ask poor black mothers and black children how these anti-choice, anti-family policies work out for them either.

This piece originally appeared on for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.