ATLANTA (WOMENSENEWS)–A group of about 30 women and men, mostly black and wearing red armbands, gathered Monday underneath a giant painting of Georgia’s colonial founder James Edward Oglethorpe.
Accompanied by a bagpiper and a trumpeter, they listened as Catherine Davis, an Atlanta-area woman, denounced abortion as genocide against blacks.
Davis, who leads Operation Outrage, a campaign to publicize the "holocaustic impact" of abortion in the black community, hammered home statistics about higher rates of abortion among black women that have gained national attention via a billboard campaign that sprang up here and is spreading across the country.
"In Georgia, 60 percent of abortions are done on black women," Davis said at one point, citing state health statistics, although black women comprise just 30 percent of the state’s female residents.
According to state health statistics, 18,901 black women had abortions in 2008 out of 32,066 total abortions reported.
Women, Davis said, are still dying from abortions: "It did not end because we allowed it to become legal."
When abortion was still illegal, just under 200 women died from an abortion in 1965, though unreported cases would likely have added to that total, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the New York-based research group for reproductive health. The group adds that illegal abortions "accounted for 17 percent of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth that year."
Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, led to dramatic reductions in maternal mortality, according to Guttmacher. In a report released last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified nine deaths for 2006 that were potentially related to abortion; after a subsequent investigation, they concluded that six of the nine deaths were related to legal abortion and none to illegal abortion.
Georgia’s pregnancy-associated mortality rate is the sixth highest in the U.S. at 20.3 per 100,000 live births for black women and 5.5. per 100,000 live births for white women, according to the Georgia Department of Human Resources’ Division of Public Health.
Shifting Reproductive Rights Politics
This week’s meeting may have been small, but it represents a big shift in Georgia’s politics on reproductive rights.
In 1999 Georgia passed one of the earliest laws on insurance coverage for contraception. But a rightward shift in the Peach State since then has put it on the leading edge of the anti-choice political wave sweeping the states.
Georgia’s governor, House and Senate are all anti-choice, according to NARAL, a national abortion-rights advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Georgia law imposes counseling requirements and mandatory delays on women seeking abortion services.
It allows physicians, hospitals and other medical professionals to refuse to provide women with specific reproductive-health services, information or referrals.
It mandates parental notification for young women, according to NARAL.
Public funding is available for Georgia abortions only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest, reported the Guttmacher Institute.
But these restrictions aren’t enough for anti-choice activists here. Protesters have called upon state officials to defund Planned Parenthood, citing recent attempts in other states by anti-choice activists posing as sex traffickers to attain health services for under-aged sex workers.
State Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Republican from the conservative Atlanta suburb of Cobb County, has drawn widespread attention for a bill he introduced making "prenatal murder," as he terms abortion, a crime punishable by death. The bill’s language also prohibits school employees from distributing contraceptives and mandates that all miscarriages, termed "spontaneous fetal death," be reported to county officials within 72 hours.
‘Turning Back the Clock’
Janelle Yamarick is community services director for the Feminist Women’s Health Center, an Atlanta-area abortion provider.
"We believe that many Georgians are not aware of what’s happening in our state capital," she said. She said Franklin’s bill, along with others, "are about turning back the clock on the fundamental human right for a woman to make her own health care decisions in conjunction with her doctor, religious advisor or family."
Franklin’s "prenatal death" bill hasn’t moved toward further action in the legislature, but Yamarick said it’s important for Georgians to know that "such a wildly out-of-step bill has been introduced."
Pro-choice activist Loretta J. Ross is national coordinator of the Atlanta-based SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.
"These folks are attempting to shame and blame African American women for our choices," she said "They are funded and supported by the white anti-abortion movement to attempt to portray themselves as legitimate champions of black children. In fact, they are shameless themselves in trying to exploit serious issues of racial justice for their own goals of limiting the freedom of black women."
The Guttmacher Institute debunked claims that abortion clinics are targeting black neighborhoods. In 2008 it examined the racial and ethnic makeup of neighborhoods with abortion clinics and found that fewer than 1-in-10 abortion clinics were in predominantly African American neighborhoods.
The Atlanta National Day of Mourning event this week was sponsored by the National Black Prolife Coalition, a collaboration of black anti-choice leaders from around the nation that’s based in Dallas. Similar gatherings were also held Monday at state capitals in Pennsylvania, New York, Alabama, California, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia. No future protests were planned at the events.
Davis said she thinks the abortion rate among black women isn’t a matter of inadequate access to contraception, since the state has hundreds of clinics that provide contraception.
Dawn Daniels, of Lawrenceville, Ga., said she attended the protest with six of her seven sons because she is alarmed that abortion "is killing off my people."
Asked if she favored increased access to contraception, she said she was "in favor of holiness."
Davis says a Bible-based campaign would win people "one heart at a time."
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Diane Loupe is a freelance writer and editor based in Decatur, Ga. A former reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she has an master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.
For more information:
"Ga. Law Could Give Death Penalty for Miscarriages," Mother Jones:
The CDC’s Abortion Surveillance Report for 2007, released Feb. 25, 2011:
"Abortion and Women of Color: The Bigger Picture," Guttmacher Institute: