Cain’s Comments Bring Abortion in the Black Community to the Forefront

Recent comments by Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain have thrown the often-debated topic of abortion into the spotlight in a new way – its relationship with African Americans.

In late October, Cain appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” claiming that Planned Parenthood supports a form of genocide.  Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger “did talk about preventing the increasing number of poor blacks in this country by preventing black babies from being born,” he said.

Laura Meyers, the CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Planned Parenthood, said that it’s important to remember that abortion is not the organization’s sole service.  

“Mr. Cain is willfully misinformed about what Planned Parenthood does,” Meyers said.

Cain’s opinion is a common, though not often discussed, one throughout the black community.  As early as the 1960s, a pamphlet published by the Black Panther Party of Peekskill, N.Y., implored black women to stay away from “genocide” – abortion and birth control.

There is also an organization dedicated to the idea: LEARN, or Life Education And Resource Network.  Established in 2003, LEARN’s website states that 78 percent of Planned Parenthood’s clinics are in minority communities and that blacks make up more than a third of all abortions.

Planned Parenthood’s history with the black community is a complicated one, but for a much different reason. Rather than encourage birth control in minority communities, as many critics claim, members of these communities said that they received the least attention from organizations like Planned Parenthood in the past.

Sanger’s comments are often quoted out of context, according to a report by the Washington Post. There is a question of whether Sanger’s statement meant decreasing the number of black babies born, or the number of black babies born into poverty.  

As for the number of abortions black women have:  they do have the highest rate, at 35 percent.  However black women are more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than any other demographic. In fact, black women are more likely to carry their babies to term than any other ethnic group.

This is just one instance of the abortion debate being thrown into the spotlight recently.  In November, Mississippi voters shot down Amendment 26 – a law that would have defined “personhood” as the moment of conception.  

The law would not have only outlawed abortion, but it also would have affected in-vitro fertilization, as well as morning-after-pill use.  The inevitable challenges the law possibly faced could have set into motion a review to the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.

Some Howard University students didn’t have a problem with Planned Parenthood or the option of abortion. For them, the issue lies in the fact that unplanned pregnancies are preventable.  

Stanford Fraser, a junior history major, said that there isn’t enough focus on the causes of abortion. “To me, it’s just an example of our society treating the symptoms and not the disease,” Fraser said. “People need accessibility to birth control and the knowledge to use it properly. Another question is why are we so over sexualized as a society? It’s a twofold issue.”

Shamela McClain, a sophomore film major, supports abortion. “I believe it’s better to have an abortion than have a child you can’t afford,” McClain said. “If a baby is born that you don’t wan and that the father doesn’t want, then there’s a child that’s growing up and can’t take his place in society because he wasn’t wanted or planned in the first place.”

Meyers said that the Metropolitan Washington Planned Parenthood serves more 27,000 people in the D.C. area, and that “90 percent of those services are preventative.”

“Our education department is focused on HIV prevention,” she said as an example. “We take our role in prevention very seriously to do whatever we can to outreach to those young men and women to prevent HIV/AIDS.”

Meyers also spoke about the challenges facing the African American population in particular when it comes to sexual health.

“Recently there was a study released that one in four young women carries an STD,” she said. “One in two women of color has one. African Americans are more likely to be uninsured and have delayed care because of lack of resources.”

“One of the things Planned Parenthood tries to do,” Meyers explained, “is break down the barriers for women who face multiple barriers in getting health care.”

See an interactive timeline on Planned Parenthood and the history of birth control here

To see what others are saying on this controversial issue, see the accompanying Storify