The abortion debate is one that often has staunch advocates on either side. But what if there was more to the argument than abortion equalling murder and restriction of access equalling oppression?
Not that I am under any obligation to prove my credentials to anybody, but I’m a black woman who grew up in a single parent household in East London. I was often active in school and within the community, campaigning against inequality in society, the education system and the criminal justice system. If you had to put a label on me, I presume it would be left-of-centre. All of the aforementioned is what made it shocking when during a debate on the issue of abortion on campus, I was likened to hateful Republican figures (who are often just caricatures of the right) for daring to voice a different opinion.
We need to reduce the number of abortions because, according to the 2010 Equality Act Part 2 Chapter 19, public bodies must ensure that legislation does not have detrimental effects on a protected characteristic group. But unbeknown to most people, there are unintentional adverse effects for the ‘black community’ of extending abortions. This racial disparity is largely missing from the debate. The uptake of abortions occur disproportionately within the black British community within the UK. In fact, according to 2013 figures from the department of health, black woman account for 9% of abortions – despite only being 3.3% of the female population. This is shockingly three times the rate of white women who account for 86% of women but only account for 76% of those who perform abortions. 49% of the women who have had two or more abortions are black compared to 36% of white woman. This should be cause not just for concern, but an active effort to reverse this trend, which will result in purposely attempting to bring down the abortion rate. The discrepancy in the participation of abortions between different races is reflective of the broader inequities black people face in every arena. If white privilege is a real thing, then it is having an effect on abortions.
While we don’t have enough stats in the UK to gage the severity of the issue, a “Pregnancy Outcomes” report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reveals that in 2013, more black babies were aborted than born in the city. Let that sink in. 24,108 “non-Hispanic black” babies were born while 29,007 faced “induced terminations” or abortions. This is an unintentional cleansing of a minority group, which at the very least is negligence and at the worst is barbaric. We must not allow this injustice to persist.
There is also no evidence that black women use abortion as a form of birth control, despite having much higher rates of repeat abortion. The department of Health reports that ‘repeat unintended pregnancy and subsequent abortion is a complex issue associated with increased age’- the older a woman is the more likely she is to have had a prior abortion.
It is abhorrent to allow this disparity to persist. In allowing abortions to be taken up at a disproportionate rate by the poor and people with relevant protected characteristics, we are not addressing the core issue of inequality but merely the symptoms. The question that no one has been asking but should is, do black women really have a choice whether to abort, following an antenatal diagnosis of a disability? Are we walking blindfold into a society where eugenics is gently presented, sugar-coated and unthinkingly accepted as something ‘undesirables’ should do to keep their progeny to a minimum? Are we fooling ourselves that we are exercising choice in our pregnancies, where actual choice (the choice to continue with certain pregnancies) is being removed? The choice to carry a baby to full term must not be reserved for the privileged. In light of this we should increase support for women with disabled children rather than cutting disability benefits. Especially in the context of most Afro-Caribbean women in the UK who earn less than their white counterparts.
We must not forget in this emotionally-charged topic that we value equality more than autonomy. In the London Borough of Newham in 1994, where there is a large Asian community, doctors were legally restricted from sharing the sex of babies/foetuses, which was an indirect way of limiting abortions. Respect for foreign cultures and autonomy came second to babies of a particular race being aborted at a disproportionate rate.
It is also interesting to note that some who take issue with the idea of actively trying to reduce abortion, simultaneously agree that it is outrageous for abortions to occur on the basis of the gender of the foetus. This position is incoherent. For it to be morally wrong (and illegal) to discriminate against one foetus over another on the basis of gender presupposes the foetuses humanity. This viewpoint is farcical and an example of the deep malaise that is cognitive dissonance – the state of having thoughts inconsistent with behaviour. If you do not regard the foetus as a being with a right to life, then let choice abound unfettered by gender discrimination restrictions.
I hope that we are all in agreement that we should not discount a woman’s bodily autonomy, but nor should we discount the significance of racism. The dominant women’s movement has focussed too myopically on abortion rights at the expense of other aspects of reproductive freedom, including the right to bear children. To be black and a woman is a double jeopardy to this right. With the highest proportion of children born out of wedlock and to single parent families, the natural consequence is a single-income family. The black women earns less than the white women, meaning that they don’t have the social or economic security for having a baby to be viable option. We all need to acknowledge the concept of intersectionality; oppressions criss-cross and compound each other. Such inequalities should be dealt with at the root. Abortion laws should capture and reflect the extreme differences in how women live their lives, and regretfully this is not currently the case.
So although abortion seems like the politically expedient answer to all of life’s woes, trying to use abortion as an inexhaustible means of choice or an instrument of equity is like trying to use a kettle to make ice.