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Loretta Ross Unmasks Black Anti-Abortion Message, Media Spin
by Cindy Cooper
When Loretta J. Ross speaks, people listen. Ross is a big-picture thinker on reproductive justice, national coordinator of SisterSong, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, headquartered in Atlanta, and a vibrant voice on women’s rights who brings three decades of analysis into every conversation. She was National Co-Director of the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington D.C., the largest protest march in history. A much sought-after speaker, she packs in crowds who listen eagerly when she takes the microphone.
So how is it that the mainstream media, including The New York Times, ABC and CNN, managed to sideline Ross on a topic on which she is the leading national expert – that is, the misogyny and duplicity behind black anti-abortion campaigns? What’s worse, the story was set in her backyard, where Georgia Right-to-Life mounted exploitive billboards targeting African Americans with messages about the so-called “black genocide” of abortion.
Ross has been dismantling that subject and exposing its fakery for years. A frequent contributor to On The Issues Magazine, she served as consulting editor of the Fall 2009 edition Race, Feminism, Our Future, described as a “must read” by AngryBlackBitch.
In that edition, Maame-Mensime Horne, who works with Ross at SisterSong, wrote Black Abortion: Breaking the Silence.
“(T)o say abortion is genocide is a misconception. Access to abortion actually saved lives in black communities, where illegal abortion was a leading cause of death before Roe v. Wade,” Horne wrote. “Black anti-abortionists are not concerned about women having autonomy over their bodies or mobilizing against reproductive oppressions. Instead, they continue paternalistic beliefs that place woman’s role as ‘mother’ higher than anything else.”
A year earlier, in Re-enslaving African American Women, Ross deftly dissected the “black genocide” rhetoric.
“They tell African American women that we are now responsible for the genocide of our own people … We are now accused of ‘lynching’ our children in our wombs and practicing white supremacy on ourselves …. This is what lies on steroids look like.
….The sexism in their viewpoints is mind-boggling. To them, Black women are the poor dupes of the abortion rights movement, lacking agency and decision-making of our own. In fact, this is a reassertion of Black male supremacy over the self-determination of women…. It is about re-enslaving Black women by making us breeders for someone else’s cause.”
Ross, a researcher of right-wing movements, also addressed this subject 16 years ago in our pages in Simple Human Right; The History Of Black Women And Abortion, and upon which she expanded in a book.
But in news reports on an insidious effort of anti-abortion activists to terrorize African-American communities with billboards that claim “Black children are an endangered species” and direct people to a right-wing anti-abortion website, Ross’ searing analysis was skipped over.
A front page article in The New York Times on February 27, 2010 manages to quote four anti-abortion activists, refer to two others, mention the billboards and the anti-abortion website before giving Ross 25 words buried in the 19th paragraph. Of course, it was little different in an earlier New York Times article on the same subject. There, Ross’ thinking is represented only if readers get to the bottom quarter of the story (online version).
Other leading figures in the black community were also excluded, said Ross in an email that she released to On The Issues Magazine for this article. She wrote: “SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW!, Planned Parenthood of Georgia, Feminist Women's Health Center, Raksha (an Atlanta Asian American domestic violence organization), along with Generations Ahead in California, are all part of the remarkable team we have assembled to wage this struggle. They also are being ignored by the mainstream media, although we recommend they be interviewed every time.”
Television stories gave the same lack of attention to reproductive justice advocates. A feature on ABC World News lasted 2.41 minutes and repeated the anti-abortion arguments fully, but gave Ross, the only reproductive rights expert, 15 seconds to counter them. Without evidence, the story claims that black women have historically shunned abortion. (Fortunately, all of the “women on the street” interviewed by ABC supported Ross’ perspective.)
CNN (headquartered in Atlanta) didn’t even bother to contact Ross or a woman connected with reproductive justice in a segment by John Roberts for American Morning.
These failures are more serious than a discussion about billboards. Not even mentioned by The New York Times or other media is that the billboards are propaganda for an anti-abortion legislative assault, a bill in Georgia titled the "Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” and called "PreNDA" by its anti-choice sponsors. The bill would create a new felony of “criminal solicitation of abortion.” Under it, a person commits a crime punishable by five years in prison if the individual “solicits or coerces” another person to have an abortion “based in any way on account of the race, color, or sex of the unborn child or the race or color of either parent of that child.” Under the bill, a doctor commits "criminal abortion," punishable by 10 years in prison, for performing an abortion based on those factors or "with knowlege that the pregnant woman" based it on them. In addition, abortion is defined as “the homicide of an unborn child,” and civil actions are extended for damages.
Ross is not backing down in the face of what she calls a “furious firestorm” of legislation, publicity and media failure. She warns: “The problem with mainstream media is that they almost never reflect the point of view of progressives and they demonstrate their lack of balance in how they structure the stories in their reporting,” said Ross. “The sexism and racism should not surprise us any more,” she said.
March 2, 2010
Cindy Cooper is an independent journalist in New York and managing editor of On The Issues Magazine.
Also see: “Mobilizing for Reproductive Justice” by Loretta J. Ross in the Spring 2009 edition of On The Issues Magazine.
See "The Courage of NO” by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
Zoe.king posted: 2012-11-27 09:59:17
Hi! This post couldn't be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing! best wishes
Shawn posted: 2014-08-04 18:28:37
Thanks for taking the time to write this very important message. Full disclosure - I am a communist that supports Stop Patriarchy. Even at a young age, when I was warned to stay away from evil communists (coming out of the 80s), I learned to think and observe for myself their actions and message, and it turned out I agree with them. "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology" is so much more refreshing than "The choice that shall not be named should be legal but rare and maybe some people should be ashamed about it - vote for so and so". I remember traveling all the way to Nebraska a few years back to defend an abortion clinic and having a representative of NOW try to make me stop holding my "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology" sign (I directed her to argue with someone else while I kept holding it). Abortion on Demand and Without Apology may not be a message everyone in Texas will agree with, but everyone everywhere needs to see it.
meadowgirl posted: 2014-08-05 12:06:32
more butt kissing in the guise of support. no thanks, i'll continue to call out Sunsara Taylor and her shenanigans every single dang chance i get. to her face, on the internet and absolutely in the comments of every ignorant, butt kissing piece of drivel i see. signed, Texan for Reproductive Justice aka TexansForRJ.tumblr.com
Mona posted: 2014-08-05 12:06:59
Thank you for this voice of reason and for your courage.
Harriet posted: 2014-08-05 15:18:57
At age 65, I am someone who knows well the terror of the pre-Roe days. I have also been outraged as I have watched the mainstream "pro-choice" movement become increasingly nothing but a PAC for democratic politicians who have done zip for women's right to abortion. Obviously this has benefitted nobody but the anti-choice movement. I am so proud of the Stop Patriarchy movement for finally doing what needs to be done. Marylou, thanks so much for this incredible blog-keep up the great work! It's shocking that those who call themselves "feminists" are putting all their efforts into attacking people like Sunsara Taylor . With that kind of "reproductive justice", they will end up on the same side of history as Randall Terry.
barbara posted: 2014-08-08 13:01:10
Back when I was doing clinic escorting, I recall that all of the conversation amongst escorts, regarding women who might be coming in for abortions, was in terms of apology, such as: "No one has the right to judge them, becasue we dont know what circumstances they're in, that is the reason for the abortion." I was disappointed, that it was thought they needed to be in any "circumstances," other than not wanting to bear a child. Putting ones own life above a fetus still seemed to be something we needed to defend, even to each other. I've told Sunsara that I think the slogan should go even further: Abortion on demand without explanation. I, too, have been told that StopPatriarchy is a cult, and I was told this at a feminist conference celebrating revolutionaries of the '60's and '70's. I would think that a cult would want to seduce people with a more popular message, but maybe they just have bad PR. Until I see otherwise, I'll stand behind them, because I like their message. The only concern I have is that, like other non-radical gps, they dont name men as having anything to do with this problem. If patriarchy is the enemy, I would think they would name men as agents, and agree that men need to do some changing to benefit women -- the "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" school of thought.
Gary Butler posted: 2014-08-08 13:01:32
I am a white male of 57 who understands that on demand without apology needs to be the accepted norm in our society. Anything less is hypocrisy and a fraudulent double standard. I have a sister, and I care that she gets the same opportunities and options that my brother would get. As a kid I was taught that things were supposed to be fair and even here. Let's make that true.
Joan Lamunyon Sanford posted: 2014-08-08 17:59:08
I am the second Joan identified in Ms. Singleton’s article. Out of respect to my fellow NM Coalition for Choice members, I am compelled to set the record straight. The Respect ABQ Women campaign was led by members of the pre-existing New Mexico Coalition for Choice. By ensuring that communities of color were not tokenized, but instead lead the campaign, influenced our decisions about what imagery to use, whose faces should represent the campaign, and how to reach folks where they were at in terms of their feelings about abortion. Our requests to Ms. Singleton, a self-described leader in the abortion rights movement, and Stop Patriarchy were no different than the expectations that we set for ourselves and our national partners. Before we even attempted to craft our talking points, message boxes or other priorities, we set media and communications protocols and held each other accountable to the goals of the campaign, even when they conflicted with our own organization’s benefit. Our agreements with each other and the campaign manager meant that all the campaign materials and communications had to align with our carefully crafted messaging, even if it meant possibly giving up a few points in the polls. We sought to ensure that New Mexican leadership shaped and steered the campaign, shifted the narrative on abortion, centered the voices of those most affected, and garnered the solidarity of national support and resources. While we did receive substantial financial support from national pro-choice organizations, we were clear that outside support was accepted ONLY on the condition that local activists would lead and control the campaign. Stop Patriarchy did not “radicalize many women’s rights supporters” in Albuquerque and did not help Albuquerque “understand the need for an uncompromising resistance to the current abortion rights emergency in the United States”. In the end, the August 20th rally had little, if any, impact on the campaign. Acknowledging the complexity about abortion and speaking to the value our community places on respect for individual and family decisions allowed people to vote against the ballot measure and still consider themselves “pro-life.” With a little over 55 percent voting against the measure and nearly 45 percent voting in favor, the ballot measure was defeated resoundingly. This campaign was a true testament to New Mexico’s leadership. We won because we built local leadership, focused on those most affected, and shifted the abortion narrative.
Cheryl posted: 2014-08-11 14:02:04
Well Operation Rescue is back!! Troy Newman (president of operation rescue) will be keynote speaker and Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan has invited him. The fundraising event is Friday, Sept. 5th at Embassy Suites Hotel here in Albuquerque at 1000 Woodward Place NE from 6pm until 9 pm.
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