Since last December, race has dominated political discourse on campus and across the country. Almost two months after the troubling grand jury decisions surrounding Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, our community continues to debate racial discrimination and the excessive use of police force. This is especially the case after the recent controversy in which a YPD officer pulled his gun on a black Yale student.
In the immediate aftermath of events in Ferguson, members of Yale’s Black Men’s Union took dignified photos of themselves holding up whiteboards that read, “To My Unborn Son,” followed by personalized messages. One wrote, “Be proud of who you are, respect yourself and others, and strive to be the change you want to see in the world.” Another: “We will fight to create a system where you can shine as bright as you truly are.” Another: “Your worth runs deeper than your skin.” And another stated simply: “I love you.”
Of course, a driving purpose of this photo campaign was to promote solidarity within the black community, and it was moving that several news outlets featured it on their websites. Yet when I first saw the phrase “To My Unborn Son,” I could not help but immediately think of one extreme racial disparity that has garnered far less attention of late: abortion.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest numbers, white women had the lowest abortion rate and ratio: 8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 years, and 132 abortions per 1,000 live births. Black women, on the other hand, had the highest abortion rate, 29.7, and ratio of 459 abortions per 1,000 live births. In other words, black women are almost four times more likely to get abortions than are white women. And blacks, who make up just 12.6 percent of the U.S. population, account for 36.2 percent of all abortions.
In New York City alone, where more abortions occur than anywhere else in the country, the numbers are even more shocking. According to its Department of Health, in 2012, more black women had abortions (31,328) than had babies (24,758): That’s a ratio of 1,260 abortions for every 1,000 live births. Meanwhile the city’s ratio for white women: 248 per 1,000 live births.
One’s first instinct might be to think that these numbers are a result, first and foremost, of differences in socio-economic circumstances. But according to a 2011 study by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, even when controlling for income, “African American women had the highest abortion rates, followed by Hispanic women and then white women.” The numbers, which span eight years, suggest a sustained disparity. Their study shows that the abortion rate for wealthy white women was 6.3 per 1,000 women, while it was 20.1 for wealthy black women. And for women below the poverty line, those numbers were 33.7 and 72.7, respectively.
Whether pro-life or pro-choice, all of us should be deeply disturbed by these numbers. Even the most ardent choice activist ought to be concerned about such racial disparities. Even if one doesn’t believe the fetus has personhood, simply the fact that black women have far more abortions — irrespective of income — should startle. So why is there such astounding silence on this issue?
I wish I knew. But to be fair, there have been conservatives who have raised this issue in previous years. Some on the left have argued in response that the numbers reflect unintended pregnancies and therefore a lack of access to contraception and sex education. This argument seems quite plausible, and perhaps it’s indeed correct, but it’s complicated by the fact that, again, the disparities persist even when controlling for income. So a more thorough explanation is necessary. Nevertheless, the point is that all of us across the political spectrum ought to be more aware of these facts; we ought to be talking about them, debating them, trying to discern their underlying causes and seeking out solutions.
Two weeks ago, at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., several pro-life activists held up signs that read, “Black Lives Matter Even in the Womb.” The only thing missing was to affirm that the lives of their mothers matter too. As we enter Black History Month, and as we continue discussing issues of race, let’s not forget that all black lives matter: of course, the black men who are unjustly criminalized, but also the black women who are disproportionately affected by abortion and the black babies who never get a chance in life.
Rich Lizardo is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.