The Texas-based anti-choice group, Life Always, has placed billboards in Chicago that read “Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted,” featuring a picture of President Obama. But an in Houston and Austin, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective has already worked with NARAL TX to take down anti-abortion billboards with sayings like “The most dangerous place for a child is in the womb.” Behind some of the billboards is the Austin-based anti-choice organization Heroic Media.
These billboards received national media attention throughout the spring, and the heated debates have continued into summer. In an NPR interview last week, Ryan Bomberger, the co-founder and CCO of the Georgia-based Radiance Foundation, represented the anti-choice side of the debate. He explains that as an adopted child into a family of 15 and now an adoptive father, he experienced firsthand “life-affirming alternatives to destruction that abortion brings.”
Bomberger argues that Planned Parenthood’s “Negro Project” in 1939 has continued through Planned Parenthood’s work today. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, had a controversial connection to the eugenics movement; the host of the show points out that Sanger actually despised abortion and wanted accessible contraception. Bomberger rebuttals that “abortion has become today’s contraception.”
While I actually agree with Bomberger’s assertion that there needs to be a nationwide discussion on abortion, I disagree that “abortion has become today’s contraception.” Reverend Carlton Veazey, president and CEO of Religious Coalition of Reproductive Choice, makes the important correlation between poverty, lack of access to healthcare (read: contraception), and increased rates of abortion. Without affordable or accessible birth control, there are more unintended pregnancies and thus, more abortions. To extend this correlation to another systemic issue, this correlation is almost identical when talking about access to healthy food (poverty –> lack of access to healthy food –> increased rates of obesity).
Veazey also points out a crucial yet often missing piece from this debate: the fact (yes, fact, despite Jon Kyl’s infamous misquote of this statistic on the Senate floor) that abortion only comprises 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services. The other 97% of services include cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, birth control, prenatal care, men’s sexual healthcare, and even general healthcare (e.g., flu vaccines, anemia testing, and diabetes screening).
At the conclusion of the NPR interview, Bomberger argues that “lack of access is a myth.” In response to this claim, I would urge Bomberger to speak to Texas women. The Texas Women’s Health Program funding that makes these services more affordable has been cut, and has the highest rate of uninsured people in the country at 27.8%, Gallup 2010 report, so lack of access is far from a myth, but people’s daily reality.
If this debate was actually about quality of life for women and children, where is the poverty-alleviating legislation from the Religious Right? Veazey eloquently states in his closing comment that if the concern was about aborting the “next Obama,” the same people designing anti-abortion billboards would also be promoting equal access to quality education and healthcare.
On a personal note, I volunteer for the Lilith Fund hotline and speak to dozens of women who cannot afford abortion procedures. I hear firsthand the stress that lack of access causes girls and women. And let us not forget that these dozens of women every week call us for help in a country where abortion is still technically legal.