I often hear pro-lifers discuss the millions of black lives lost through the tragedy of abortion—but too many do so without considering the racial and cultural injustices driving this historical trend. These tragedies don’t happen in a vacuum. They occur, in large part, because of the social and economic damage suffered by black America, perpetrated by the land they call home.
As Black History Month comes to a close, I see no more glaring and deadly sign of the compounding trauma, injustice, and inequity of black history than the hundreds of thousands of black preborn children whose lives are terminated by abortion each year. If we’re going to remember this tragedy—as we must—we must also determine how we got here.
In general, the average woman seeking an abortion is in her late twenties, has a low income, a partial college education, already has children, and is unmarried. But as with any unfavorable outcome, when America catches a cold, black America catches the flu.
Black women are nearly four times as likely to have an abortion as their white counterparts. Recent studies have found that for every 100 live births, nearly 12 white babies will be aborted, while nearly 43 black babies will die by abortion for every 100 live births.
These are jaw-dropping figures, but reciting statistics without asking why they are what they are, or making the leap to solutions, only inflames a volatile situation. Floating statistics can unfairly smear the reputations of countless pro-life black women—including my black mother, my black wife and my black daughters—with age-old stereotypes. It does not help the black community at large, but it does underscore a host of evils that are deeper than simply blaming Planned Parenthood and its cohorts.
While so many in the black community hold different religious or political beliefs, many of us have pro-life sentiments. These sentiments yearn for a robust “whole life” perspective that is the heartbeat of a history that began beyond the Atlantic. The desire for freedom, life, and justice did not wane during enslavement. On the contrary, it motivated men, women, and children who endured the horrors of the peculiar institution to grasp the promise of reconstruction and the more recent prosperity of a burgeoning black middle class.
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So why does abortion persist—decade after decade? The reasons are complex and not always easy to unpack.
Unemployment remains high in the black community. In fact, the unemployment rate is still 60 percent higher for blacks than it is for whites. Maternal mortality rates are disproportionately high for black women. Black women are more likely than white women to live in poverty and work lower-paying jobs, and black children are around three times more likely than white children to live in poverty.
All of these inequalities create a society where abortion is often billed as the cheap, quick solution to a vulnerable woman’s desperation. Human Coalition found that 76 percent of women seeking abortion would prefer to choose life if their circumstances were different.
None of these disparities absolve anyone of their responsibility when making a decision about whether to pursue an abortion. But they do raise a question: how can we address the circumstances that drive women to choose abortion?
Creating a culture of life starts with legislating policies and programs that no longer fail these mothers and communities, and that often starts with the right leadership.
A culture of life also starts in our churches. The church needs to be at the forefront of the solution, offering financial assistance and child care to single moms, as well as steering church members toward reputable adoption organizations. James 1:27 reminds us that “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Life is sacred. Clergy must not kowtow to prevailing cultural whims, popular politicians, or special interests. Instead, as faithful shepherds, they must encourage their flock to protect all life, before and after birth.
In the public square, the staggering black abortion rate deserves more attention and substantive dialogue than it is currently receiving. No, abortion is not health care, and no, our social ills are not the result of pathology. Talking points, quick stats, and self-serving punch lines are devoid of compassion, solutions, and truth. Our women and children are worth more than shallow debate and lip service.
We can eradicate the root causes of abortion by working together to create a more just society—communities where all people can be economically successful, where prejudices are stilled, and historic trends are halted. Through this important work, we promote and protect the core purpose of this past month’s celebration—the beautiful story and undeniable worth of black life.
LifeNews Note: Benjamin Watson is a former NFL player, author and VP of Strategic Relationships for Human Coalition, a national pro-life organization. His new book, The New Fight for Life: Roe, Race and a Pro-Life Commitment to Justice, will be released in June.