Politicians threaten to reverse Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood faces accusations of “genocide” and Black wombs are named the most deadly place for babies to live. But beneath the controversy are the painful and rarely recalled stories of the women who have experienced abortion personally.
Once again, the topic of abortion has resurfaced among the talking heads and cluttered the chyrons on TV. This time the blame seems to rest comfortably on the already heavy shoulders of Black women nationwide. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its 2013 study covering abortion statistics from 47 reporting areas across the U.S. The study collects information on a wide range of factors, including age, marital status and race. One of the most jarring statistics revealed that despite making up only 14 percent of the U.S. population, Black women accounted for over 35 percent of the abortions performed that year.
This added fuel to an already raging fire pinpointing the Black community and Black women specifically because of their sexual health choices. Nick Cannon recently threw his opinion into the mix during his interview with The Breakfast Club, where he described abortion as “genocide” for the Black community. After inciting backlash, he later reiterated his comments by insisting Planned Parenthood specifically is rooted in “eugenics,” referring to the tirelessly questioned social leanings of its founder Margaret Sanger. Cannon is just one of several people who have named abortion as one of the harshest disparities within the Black community. In 2011, a billboard famously surfaced in New York stating the most dangerous place for Black children is in the womb. The billboard was later taken down due to public outrage. In 2015, vice president-elect Mike Pence threatened to defund Planned Parenthood and caused so many of their clinics to close that it caused a spike in HIV cases in Indiana, where Pence serves as governor.
But, despite being painted as an abortion-hungry institution maniacally convincing women to end their pregnancies, the foundation stands by its role as a supportive ally — especially to women of color. Planned Parenthood’s Chief Medical Officer, Raegan McDonald-Mosley, responded to recent accusations by saying, “As with any organization that’s been around for a century, Planned Parenthood’s history is as complicated as our nation’s. However, the false claims of our founding are extremely dangerous for the people who need access to care.”
McDonald-Mosely goes on to insist that women who come through their doors in search of pregnancy options are handled with care. They are presented with all of their options without bias and supported in whichever path they choose. She also offered a hand of education to critics. “We invite Nick Cannon and others with questions about our work to a conversation with Black women, reproductive health, rights and justice leaders who work every day to protect their bodily autonomy,” says McDonald-Mosley.
The chatter seems to leave out the voices of the women who look to institutions like Planned Parenthood across the nation to be a haven in the midst of emotional trauma. Black, white or brown, whether she makes her decision immediately or after pause and great trepidation — she isn’t taking the decision lightly.
Sifting through statistical data, digging around for political inclinations and deconstructing propaganda does not negate from the fact that women have been choosing to have legal abortions since its inception into federal law in 1973. It's a choice that never comes easy and is usually not discussed outside of doctor’s offices and sister circles.
Black women are choosing to have abortions. Black women are also the most educated group in the country. Black women represent the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country. Still, the common summation seems to be that Black women are single-handedly altering the fate of their people simply by making personal health care decisions
Underneath the sobering statistics and messy controversy, which can often be viewed through a superficial eye, remains a tapestry of stories. Abortions as part of women’s history is important to discuss. Quieting the impact of these stories by sterilizing the topic and minimizing it down to a simple matter of right or wrong is damaging. These women represented by numbers on a graph have made decisions out of self-preservation and self-love, and the choices are painful and impossible to forget.
“My best friend and I went to Meyers, I bought a pregnancy test, went into the restroom and took it. It came back positive, I was pregnant.”
“I was 17 years old, still in the 12th grade and I was working a few hours a day at the gas station as the lottery girl. I wasn't in the right place financially to have and support a child. Besides the finances, I was never the 'I want a baby' type, so finding out I was pregnant didn't bring me excitement, I instantly felt like I had to handle the situation. I found out I was pregnant on Thursday and had the procedure on Saturday.
“I didn't tell me mom because I felt like I would have disappointed her and I couldn't deal with that. I eventually found out she already knew.”
— Anonymous, Detroit
When a woman has an abortion, her life doesn’t get placed on pause, she isn’t given time away from her daily obligations to grieve. She still has to go on about the usual business of living life. She may not share with anyone except her partner, her doctor and perhaps a trusted friend. Plenty of women go through it entirely alone. 85 percent of women who have abortions are unmarried.
“My mother got pregnant with me when she was 19 and I was 19 when I got pregnant and from a very young age I told myself that it would never happen to me and when it did I was so disappointed in myself and I knew I wasn't fit to take care of another human being so I did what was best for everyone but definitely put myself first.
“I didn't tell any of my friends until after and still none of my family knows.”
— Anonymous, Chicago
“My partner had just gotten his dream job and would be moving hours away and had just graduated college. He had no desire to be a parent, but refused to leave me to do it alone. He became resentful of the fact that the unplanned pregnancy would ruin both of our dreams and within weeks became emotionally abusive.
“I was 13 weeks at the time of the procedure, and ended up with what was akin to postpartum depression. I had no idea until I revealed having the procedure to my primary doctor. Had my partner and friends not been supportive, I'm almost certain I would have committed suicide.”
— Anonymous, Texas
The numbers will tell us that women are being persuaded into abortion, convinced their pregnancies are insignificant or bothersome. Or that Black women access abortion services as some alternative to birth control. The opinions of politicians and men of influence spout falsities based on the belief that abortion is some kind of an over-used convenience. But there are side effects. Pain and discomfort, dizziness and the overwhelming sense of loss that will eventually fade but never quite go away. The Black women of our nation who have opted to terminate their pregnancies should not be judged, should never be condemned and should only — always — be fiercely supported by their community.
Ashley Simpo is a writer and digital media strategist living in Brooklyn, New York. Originally hailing from Oakland, California, she is an advocate for women's equality and reproductive rights, housing rights and topics relating to the overall health of the Black community. She is a mother of one and fierce supporter to fellow writers of color.
(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)