By Chara Fisher Jackson, Legal Director, ACLU of Georgia
Last weekend, on the day designated to celebrate the abolition of slavery, an anti-choice group decided to exploit the observance of Juneteenth to spread a demeaning and insulting message to the black community. Through billboards erected throughout the Atlanta area, the group makes the outrageous assertion that a black woman’s private health decision is more harmful than slavery. These billboards accuse black women who have made the difficult and personal decision to end a pregnancy of making slavery “seem overly generous.”
As an organization dedicated to fighting the legacy of slavery and institutionalized racism in Georgia and throughout the country, we at the ACLU of Georgia were stunned and horrified when we learned of the campaign. All women facing an unintended pregnancy — regardless of race — should have the opportunity and support they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families, whether that is continuing the pregnancy and parenting, adoption, or abortion,
No matter how you feel about abortion, we should all be able to agree that a black woman who has had an abortion should not be singled out and degraded like this as a means of advancing an ideological agenda. From forced sterilizations to the experiments at Tuskegee, there is a long and disgraceful history in this country of regulating and exploiting black women’s and men’s bodies and basic dignity. By suggesting that black women and families cannot be trusted, and their decisions about childbearing must be regulated and controlled for their own good, these billboards are a part of the same pattern of denigration and oppression.
This publicity stunt is distracting from the issues that truly matter. About 35 percent of black children live in poverty. That is more than double the rate for white children. The infant mortality rate for black children in Washington, D.C., for example, rivals that of some undeveloped nations. If those behind these billboards and this hateful rhetoric were truly concerned about the health and welfare of the African-American community, and the meaning of Juneteenth, they would fight to ensure that everyone has access to quality health care; to increase support for programs that build safe schools, safe communities, access to jobs, and basic necessities like food and shelter.
In Georgia, the ACLU has fought zero tolerance policies, criminalization of youth, policing of schools and school disciplinary practices that disproportionately impact our children and feed the School-to-Prison Pipeline. These policies, and others like them that push black children out of school, have to be challenged. The failure to educate black children, the increasing achievement gap, and the increasing poverty rates and isolation of black children are signs of how we value these children after they are born. It sends a message to the child and to the community, and it is devastating.
Where’s the billboard about that?