This billboard is not a reflection of reality. Legalized abortion saves lives. As Linda Greenhouse points out in her recent Opinionator Column, anti-abortion activists have at times tried to sow seeds of doubt in minority communities where legalized abortion plays an important role in family stability and minimizing the effects of poverty by suggesting that abortion is an intentional movement on the part of whites to limit the number of black and latino babies born in this country. Greenhouse also rightly pairs this fact with the historical figures showing the danger of illegal abortions to those same communities.
Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress and once an honorary president of Naral, called the comparison of abortion and family planning to genocide “male rhetoric, for male ears.” Greenhouse says of Chisholm, “She cited a study of women who died in pregnancy. Illegal abortion was the cause of 25 percent of the white women’s deaths, 49 percent of the black women’s, and 65 percent of the Puerto Ricans’. She also observed that 90 percent of the “therapeutic” abortions in New York City — the safe and legal ones during the regime of criminalization — were performed on white women.”
Chisholm fought for the legalization of abortion, to make the procedure safe and on-demand for women in New York and around the country. After New York legalized elective abortion, “[m]aternal mortality in New York City dropped by more than half during the first year, to an all-time recorded low. Infant mortality also dropped to a new low, which the New York City Health Services Administration attributed to the availability of abortion to women most likely to give birth to babies at the greatest risk of dying, including very young women and poor women who had not received adequate prenatal care. The number of births to unmarried women dropped for the first time. As knowledge spread of the availability of abortion, more and more women terminated their pregnancies in the first trimester — from 67 percent during the first two months of legalization to 86 percent 10 months later. (The figure today is 88 percent.)”
Greenhouse’s piece brings to the forefront of the abortion issue the fact that whether or not abortion is available as an option to women is about more than the moral implications for the fetus. There are moral, social, medical, and other implications for the mothers and for the society of which they are a part. As the House continues to try to use legislative tactics to throw up obstacles in front of women seeking abortions, advocates for safe and legal abortion need to read critiques like Greenhouse’s and be prepared to confront abortion opponents with the realities of prohibition.