Policing African-American Motherhood From Every Angle


This post is part of Still Wading: Forty years of resistance, resilience and reclamation in communities of color, a series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.

A study by Lynn Paltrow (National Advocates for Pregnant Women) and Jeanne Flavin (Fordham University) recently published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law elucidates a decades-long strategy to marry the War on Drugs and anti-abortion activism where low-income African-American pregnant women are—if not the primary targets—the majority affected. Paltrow and Flavin identified over 400 cases from post-Roe 1973 to 2005 involving women of all races, in which the fact that a woman was pregnant provided an opportunity for major violations to her physical liberty. African-American women represented more than half of these cases. According to Paltrow, this is the new “Jane Crow.”

In order to arrest, incarcerate, and institutionalize pregnant women for legal acts like “noncompliance” with a doctor’s orders, prosecutors distort state homicide, child abuse, and “feticide” laws—the latter meant to protect pregnant women from violence. As a result, many women have endured gross violations of their privacy, religious liberty, and suffered from infection, wrongful conviction, and even death.

As mentioned, a disproportionate majority in the study’s cases were African-American women. African-American women in the study were more likely to be reported to the police by health care providers, arrested, and subject to felony charges. The study’s findings are consistent with reports of the racially biased application of the drug laws from disproportionate testing to well-documented targeting of pregnant African-American women in particular. The War on Drugs is manifesting quite systematically in the misapplication of child abuse and homicide law for the purpose of controlling women’s bodies, a disproportionate number of them Black, Paltrow and I believe, not coincidentally.

I often hear the question from African-American women, “What do they [the right] want? We either have too many kids or too many abortions. Which is it?” The truth is, to them, it’s both.

The current evidence is obvious. Racist anti-abortion billboards erected across the country for the past several years shaming Black women in their own communities and making such idiotic and offensive claims as, “The most dangerous place for a Black child is in the womb.” Media campaigns like this one that exploit Black folks’ tendency to distrust the health care industry in order to convince us that our right to choose abortion is nothing but brainwashing. This recent study is yet another confirmation that there is a systemic movement hell bent on our incarceration, the separation of our families, and ultimately, our loss of humanity. Whether the right is attempting to culturally shame and legally prevent our access to abortion or target us for incarceration, above all, they seek to police Black bodies and criminalize Black motherhood thereby limiting our power of self-determination and autonomy.

And yet, on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it would be nice if things were that cut and dry: good doctors are politically left and provide abortions, bad doctors are on the right and don’t support abortion. The truth is that for Black women, there is manipulation on both sides of the aisle, in all regions of this country. Racism and its manifestation in health care are not limited to the South or anti-abortion health care providers. When a Black woman walks into a doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic, just like everyone else, she wants help. She also wants to be seen as fully human and autonomous, capable of making good decisions for herself. Unfortunately, health care professionals on both sides often see a woman who is uneducated and unfit to mother—a myth this culture has successfully perpetuated. Why else would both the good and bad doctors so often find a way to make her NOT a mother by either assuming she wants or encouraging an abortion or incarcerating her when she desires to mother? The common denominator in this situation is racism.

I am disgusted, but not surprised that those who see all Black people as criminals have found sinister ways to pass and interpret laws that keep a disproportionate amount of Black folks behind bars. What I want is for our movement—the one about autonomy and liberation—to recognize the nuance, the underlying racism on both sides, be honest with each other, and find a new way forward. One that we determine collectively; that includes and is empowered by those of us this society constantly tries to dis-empower and disenfranchise. Now is the time to embrace the complexity, confront the reality, and combat the racism that compounds oppression in this country.

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Follow Alicia Walters on twitter: @aliciamwalters

  • voiceofreason

    I found your article interesting but you seem to be completely unaware that the primary purpose for abortion legalization in the US was the cleansing of American society of undesireable genetic code with most of that emphasis on black DNA (though my Irish code was on the list as well).   Here’s a good article on that http://www.examiner.com/article/the-abortion-movement-was-designed-primarily-to-kill-black-babies I can’t get over the black loyalty to the progressive democratic tradition.  Pro-life is pro-black (and white and asian, etc…)  Additionally your concern about the use of Healthcare policy to empower a police state is EXACTLY what conservatives fear most about Obamacare.  Once the state controls healthcare they also have a reason and means and data for controlling your activities.  Race is immaterial.  It is about state control vs liberty.  The same is true with guns.  If ever a community needed to be able to protect itself, it’s the good black people of the inner cities who are under daily siege from criminals, not remotely protected by the police (some may even say repressed by the police), and yet denied their constitutional right to bear arms.  I think black people should start voting for some Republican leadership in their communities and see what happens.  Can it really be worse than the genocide driven by abortion, crime, drugs and incarceration that we have now?

  • squirrely-girl

    Thanks for the racist anti-abortion propoganda… I particularly like the part where you suggest the gun lobby wants a bunch of inner city black folks to have more guns. That’s cute. Almost as cute as the call for black folks to vote for more Republicans… classy.

     

    Please actually go read a book about genocide and adjust your ignorant understanding of what it actually constitutes. 

  • give-em-hell-mary

    You racist bullies love twisting everything ass backwards.  Black women suffer the highest childbirth deaths because they inherit the highest rate of narrow pelvic structures that encounter deadly obstructed labor.  Abortion and contraception were legalized here to save the health, lives and marriages of women of all races.  Frequent disgusting divorce-causing childbirth bladder and bowel incontinence fistulas only became somewhat fixable 150 years ago after grisly surgical experiments on afflicted slave women by J. Marion Sims.   You despicably wish more maternal deaths on blacks so that their children will be motherless in addition to being fatherless because you racist gun millionaires already killed off or incarcerated most of their dads!  You hope high gun ownership in black homes will result in more domestic violence and deaths.  You racist misogynists don’t fool anyone who knows history.  Abortion was, is and will always be SELF-DEFENSE by women against deadly childbirth.  Funny how you pedophile gun lovers abhor any medical self-defense by women threatened by dangerous pregnancies!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Marion_Sims

  • ljean8080

    you can make your point without name calling.By the way,in case anyone here is a baseball fan,Stan the man died.

  • ljean8080

    is a pedophile?my dad own guns,he wasn’t a pedophile.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Oh, but you’re OK with his racist misogynist libel!?  You sure lack moral perspectives, Miss Name Caller!

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Miss Name Caller, where did I say all gun owners are pedophiles?  You always misquote me to make me look bad.  Not very classy of you, but typical of dishonest fetal idolators.  Racist fetal idolators like him who always ignore the frequent dire and gross complications of childbirth are almost always sexual predators of one kind or another (that includes priests and adulterous GOPers like Speaker John Boner).  They laud guns for killing harmless candy-carrying non-whites, but applaud any non-viable fetus that gruesomely murders its mother, especially if she’s black.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Miss Name Caller, where did I say all gun owners are pedophiles?  You always misquote me to make me look bad.  Not very classy of you, but typical of dishonest fetal idolators.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Racist fetal idolators like him who always ignore the frequent dire and gross complications of childbirth are almost always sexual predators of one kind or another (that includes priests and adulterous GOPers like Speaker John Boner).&nbsp; They laud guns for killing harmless candy-carrying non-whites, but applaud any non-viable fetus that gruesomely murders its mother, especially if she’s black.</p>

  • ljean8080

    that’s your thing.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    You do call pro-choice advocates all kinds of names and falsly accuse them of fictional crimes while hoodwinking the very real racism, misogyny, medical malpractice and pedophilia of anti-choicers.  Your selfish infantile hypocrisy has dangerous consequences and I’m truthfully calling you out on it.  Why don’t you finally grow up before hitting your senior years?  Your hiding behind the mother-killing lies of pedophile priests isn’t moral, classy or beneficial to society.

  • ljean8080

    any name.Show me a post where I DID.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    You just attacked me on this thread for calling out the racism and misogyny of the “voice of reason” troll while giving him a free pass.  You invented cruel hateful motives on other threads when I described the pregnancy-triggered face cancer that killed my best friend.  Grow up and get a real moral compass instead of whining over imagined slights.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    And if you really cared about women’s health, you’d read up on Dr. Marion Sims’ disgusting experiments on childbirth-injured slave women instead of attacking me with your kindergarten rules.  Childish enablers like you are why abusers get away with decades of crimes.

  • jennifer-starr

    Ljean8080–you constantly try to derail threads and posts by bringing up the same pointless anecdotes over and over again. And generally the anecdotes you provide have little or nothing to do with actual point of the article, it’s just an attempt to get attention for yourself and to try and make yourself the center of an attention. In addition you seem to keep following Mary around and taking all of her comments as personal attacks on YOU, even when she’s replying to someone else.

  • ljean8080

    i just said you can make the same points without the name calling.that is not an attack.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Thank you!  You said it so much better than I could have.  And she doesn’t give me credit for wanting my busted-ass taxes to keep on supporting her while she has admitted never working a day in her life.  I support safety nets for all the disabled, but she wants to see their immigration papers and skin colors first.  I’ll bet she would have nixed my getting early SS (I get zero) for my scalded red skin and she would have blamed me for my mom’s abuse “because Catholic ‘pro-lifers’ never abuse kids”!

  • ljean8080

    i just don’t believe in rewarding folks for breaking the law.

  • ljean8080

    about the immagration deal?

  • give-em-hell-mary

    But you support the RCC which is always criminally hiding pedophiles and war criminals, and malpracticing gynecology without a license.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    I support two-pronged immigration reform that embraces reasonable amnesty and exports family planning back to their home countries.   Smaller populations back home mean fewer unemployment refugees here.

  • ljean8080

    mass in 30 years.not every illegal is an unemployment refugee.

  • ljean8080

    about making them pay back taxes?

  • give-em-hell-mary

    There is only a fig leaf of difference between unemployment and poverty wages.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Most of them already have paid back taxes in one way or another.  And their SS payments pay your SS benefit!

  • ljean8080

    Income Taxes.My father worked for my SS benefit.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    How do you know they haven’t paid federal taxes? — do you have a magic spy glass that enables you to inspect all their pay stubs and tax returns?  And at least they work to support themselves, while you’ve always lived off us working stiffs.  Have you even attempted to work inside or outside your home?  You’re awfully dismissive of us working stiffs who also pay into your SS benefit!

  • ljean8080

    HAVEN’T.YES,i tried to find something I could do at home.

  • ljean8080

    with people who come here LEGALLY.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Most government officials will tell you that they do pay federal taxes because their employers know they will be raided by the IRS for not deducting federal taxes.  But if you only listen to Faux News and Rush, you won’t know much.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    And what about the forced-birth impoverished billion who are victims of the Vatican and sweatshop-owning GOP?  What the Vatican and GOP have done to them is illegal and your fault for supporting their “religious” bedroom tyranny of forced overbreeding.  No birth control over the borders means they are coming here with their hungry unplanned children.  Birth control is border control.  Capiche?

  • purplemistydez

    This is the racist anti-abortion crap the author was talking about.  To people like voiceofreason, black women like me are so stupid and incapable of making our own reproductive decisions, we need people like him to make the choices for us.  Sorry but we are not idiots or children.  We are perfectly capable of choosing abortion or pregnancy without help from you.  Clinics that do abortions do not drag us into their offices and perform abortions on us.  We choose abortion and to assume that we were brainwashed is insulting to our intelligence and independence.

  • elburto

    is a typical conservative. One set of rules for her, and another set for everyone else.

  • ljean8080

    Elburto,explain what you mean by your comment,please.

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