June 6, 2012
This past week, we saw a close call in the U.S. House of Representatives on a bill that purported to promote a human rights agenda, but in reality attacked abortion access and undermined women’s health. The so-called “Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act” (PreNDA), which was defeated last Thursday, 246 to 168, would have banned abortions on the basis of sex and required doctors or nurses to report a woman to authorities if they believed she was seeking an abortion for these reasons. This bill pretended to be a solution to sex selective abortions, but in reality it was an attack on Asian American women and would have subjected their reproductive choices to increased scrutiny and threatened their access to medical care.
PRENDA, and other legislation like it that has been introduced in the states, is part of a larger anti-choice strategy to divide women along racial lines, with anti-choice organizations imposing paternalistic solutions on communities of color. In our latest issue of The Women’s Health Activist, Shaniqua Seth and Malika Redmond, describe how last year’s anti-choice billboard attacks in major cities across the United States, against both black and Latina women, had a similar goal as PreNDA, “to distort the facts about abortion in order to promote [a] anti-choice agenda and shame women of color from utilizing abortion services.” Read an excerpt below, and the whole article here.
Billboards, Women of Color, and Politics
Accentuated and airbrushed, often young and Caucasian, female body parts are displayed on billboards throughout the U.S. as a staple marketing technique to attract consumers’ attention and dollars. Feminists have long critiqued the way this advertising strategy objectifies women, but the strategy took a twist when a controversial billboard made national news after it was erected in New York City in 2011. The ad used a woman of color’s body not to sell a product, but to promote an anti-choice message. The young African-American girl in the billboard was both the object and subject of the message, which read: “The Most Dangerous Place for an African-American is in the Womb.”
While New York City reproductive rights activists were faced with challenging one offensive billboard, Atlanta became a hub for the vicious ads with tailored anti-choice rhetoric. Anti-choice activists promoting these billboards and messages believe that African-American women’s abortions have the same devastating impact on the Black community as do critical socio-economic and health issues like high unemployment and heart disease.
The billboard campaigns misrepresent what’s driving the data on women of color’s abortion rates and scapegoats Latina and African-American women for the very socio-economic conditions faced by their communities that impact their disproportionate use of abortion services. Loretta Ross, SisterSong’s National Coordinator (and former NWHN board member), astutely counters their claims that abortion is genocide by noting, “The best way to fight genocide is to make sure the objects of that genocide or control make these decisions for themselves.”
Advocates and activists with women of color reproductive justice organizations have challenged these anti-choice billboard initiatives — and won! We must proactively work towards change and must not become complacent because of victories over specific billboards or anti-choice initiatives.
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