The Missionary Movement to ‘Save’ Black Babies


Excerpted with permission from Colorlines.

Last December, Care Net—the nation’s largest network of evangelical Christian crisis pregnancy centers—featured a birth announcement of sorts on the website of its ten-year-old Urban Initiative. Under the headline, “Plans Underway for Care Net’s Newest Center in Kansas City, Mo.!” a block of upbeat text described how a predominantly white, suburban non-profit called Rachel House had “made contact” with “various African American pastors and community leaders,” who helped them “plant” a “pregnancy resource center” in a predominantly black, poor section of downtown Kansas City.

Rachel House’s mission is clear: It is an evangelical ministry with the primary goal of “protecting the unborn.” But the non-profit doesn’t do picket signs and bloody-fetus images. Instead, it draws in young women facing unintended pregnancies with things like free pregnancy testing, first-trimester ultrasounds, and baby supplies. The Rachel House team proudly emphasizes the quality of its care. “We tell all of our clients, ‘Even though you’ve done a pregnancy test at home, we’re going to do another one here,’” explains Rachel House client services director Susanne Hanley. “We buy the hospital-strength pregnancy tests. We don’t know what they used; they could have used one from the dollar store, or whatever.”

In some ways, Care Net’s Kansas City operation is neither unique nor new. For nearly 20 years, the evangelical anti-abortion movement has used standalone crisis pregnancy centers to dissuade girls and women from ending unintended pregnancies. These mostly volunteer-staffed centers posit themselves as neutral, nonjudgmental sources of information about abortion, sexually transmitted diseases, adoption, and abstinence. As Americans United for Life’s Jeanneane Maxon told the New York Times in January, “They’re really the darlings of the pro-life movement” due to their “ground level, one-on-one, reaching-the-woman-where-she’s-at approach.”

Since 2004, Rachel House has run centers in two Kansas City suburbs—one in Lee’s Summit, across the street from a high school, and one in the Northland, next door to Planned Parenthood. Both areas are about 85 percent white and solidly middle class. Rachel House raises most of its funds through events like golf tournaments and “baby bottle drives” that challenge congregants to fill up empty bottles with cash and checks and return them to church on Sunday.

The new Rachel House, however, is on 46th St. and Paseo, in the heart of the city. It sits across the street from J’s Pawn & Fine Jewelry, where patrons can cash checks and get payday loans. This area is mostly Black, up to 36 percent of its residents are poor, and it has one of the highest infant mortality rates in town.

“A couple of years ago we revisited our mission statement,” says Rachel House president Kathy Edwards, a middle-aged, married mother who eerily resembles Big Love star Mary Kay Place. “When you’re passionate about doing something, you want to do it well. We asked ourselves if we were where women were more apt to get abortions, because there’s not a pregnancy center for them to go to. And we thought, ‘No. We’re not in the urban core.’”

Evangelicals have long approached their anti-abortion work with missionary zeal. But over the past four years, national anti-abortion strategists have designated “urban” and “underserved” women and babies as a priority for saving. In practice, these terms tend to be euphemisms for “Black” and, to a lesser extent, “Latina.”

Because crisis pregnancy centers are independently run and unregulated, it’s hard to say for sure how many there are in the United States. In a frequently cited 2010 report, the Family Research Council, a Christian right organizer and think tank, says there are more than 1,900 centers in the country affiliated with three major networks: Care Net, Heartbeat International, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. An entire section of the report is devoted to the “urban” work of pregnancy centers. “The concentration of abortion facilities in urban, minority and poorer areas of the U.S. is well-known,” the report declares.

The “concentration” claim has already been thoroughly debunked, but many anti-abortion activists still believe deeply in it. It’s that belief, in part, that’s stirred outrage over the gruesome story of Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia clinic in recent weeks. Gosnell is being prosecuted for conducting illegal, dangerous late-term abortions, and right-wing pundits have argued that mainstream media ignored the story because it drew unflattering attention to abortion providers in poor, Black neighborhoods. The implication is that anti-abortion activists care more about poor women of color than do the Planned Parenthoods of the world.

In its 2011 federal tax filing, Care Net reported spending nearly $1 million trying to “educate inner-city communities” and develop centers in “underserved areas.” In talking about this work, Care Net typically promotes North Philadelphia’s Black-owned Hope Center as a model. But Rachel House offers a window into a different story, one that has unfolded in a series of headline-grabbing controversies over the past three years.

Fueled by a race-baiting, national marketing campaign and the missionary-like evangelism of its affiliates, Care Net has turned the complex reality behind Black abortion rates into a single, fictional story. In that story, poor Black women who have abortions are the unwitting victims of feminists and morally deficient reproductive health-care providers, embodied in sadists such as Gosnell. Crisis pregnancy centers, in this fable, are the best place those women can go to be saved.

The Marketing

In 2009, a white Texas-based anti-abortion activist named Mark Crutcher released a film he wrote and directed, Maafa 21: Black Genocide in the 21st Century. Crutcher populated the film with African-American community activists and pastors who have close ties to radical Tea Party Republicans—familiar faces like Stephen Broden and Alveda King, a conservative niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. Over 138 dizzying minutes, Maafa 21 advances a familiar accusation: That Margaret Sanger, founder of the American Birth Control League and Planned Parenthood, was a eugenicist in cahoots with wealthy, Northeastern white supremacists who wanted to eliminate “the unfit,” including poor Blacks. The film presents Sanger’s work to legalize birth control as part of the plot.

The film builds its case with quick flashes of historical documents, mainstream news articles and what it presents as clippings from the Black Panther Party’s iconic newspaper. It is at its most compelling when it presents an interview with Elaine Riddick, a Black rape survivor who in 1968 was surreptitiously sterilized on orders from the North Carolina Eugenics Board, immediately after giving birth to the son conceived during the sexual assault. Riddick, who has unsuccessfully sued North Carolina for restitution, describes how she was cast as “feeble minded” and therefore unfit to reproduce. Maafa 21 is the closest the predominantly white, Christian right has come to successfully exploiting Black Nationalist themes and aesthetics.

At a Juneteenth congressional screening, Rep. Trent Franks, a white Tea Party Republican from Arizona who routinely compares voluntary abortion to chattel slavery, called the film a vital weapon against “racist abortion policy.” “I hope people will see this movie. … Especially [in] the African-American community [which] can give voice to the truth that it demonstrates so clearly.”

Care Net hopes so as well. A full-color pamphlet, which Edwards says her center will distribute at 46th and Paseo, tells readers that “the black community has been targeted by Planned Parenthood and others,” resulting in “over 15 million black lives eliminated,” a claim taken directly from Maafa 21.

“The first time I remember hearing that 43 percent of African-American pregnancies end in abortion might have been through Dean Nelson at Care Net,” Edwards says. Nelson, a black Washington, D.C.-area minister, is vice president of Care Net’s “underserved outreach.” “He also said that in New York, they’re as high as 60 percent. And not only that, but that African Americans only make up 13 percent of the population, so there’s a higher abortion rate and a lower population.”

“That’s very disproportionate,” Hanley chimes in.

Race-based abortion reporting is notoriously uneven. States can choose whether and to what extent they’re going to collect and share this information with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s most recent surveillance report (from 2009) didn’t include 23 states. It excludes most of the Northeast, as well as heavily white Midwestern states that would likely boost the abortion rate among whites. Also missing are California, Florida, and North Carolina, which are among the most densely populated states in the nation. It’s hard to draw real conclusions about race from this data.

Still, based on what we do know about the racial differences in abortion, the disparities are alarming. In 2009, Black women ages 15 to 44 had 477 abortions per 1,000 live births, according to the CDC. The ratio for Latinas was 195 per 1,000. For white women it was 140 to 1,000. Data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that race-concerned pro-lifers routinely dismiss because of its historical ties to Planned Parenthood, show that Black women are more than five times as likely to undergo the procedure than white women.

Guttmacher attributes the disparity to similarly dramatic inequities in birth control access. And according to a a 2006 survey by the institute, the most prominent reason that women have abortions is because they can’t afford a baby at the moment and they think an infant would hinder them from going to school, working, or caring for the kids they already have.

But anti-abortion leaders have severed the data on abortion rates from all of this context, and exploited a lack of more recent, comprehensive research to advance their talking points. Maafa 21 spells out the claim in a text slide it flashes:

Since 1973, legal abortion has killed more African-Americans than AIDS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and violent crime combined. Every week more blacks die in American abortion clinics than were killed in the entire Vietnam war. And the largest chain of abortion clinics in the United States is operated by Planned Parenthood.

Care Net and its allies have used this kind of material to drive a massive marketing campaign in Black communities over the past three years. The campaign’s most prominent platform has been a series of billboards that label Black children as endangered species and declare Black women’s wombs “the most dangerous place” for their children. The first round appeared in Atlanta, to dovetail with Black History Month in 2010. It sparked just as much controversy as you’d expect.

The 80-board series sent passersby to toomanyaborted.com, a site that solicited funds for the Radiance Foundation and listed Option Line, Care Net’s jointly operated phone referral service, as a resource. The Radiance Foundation is the tax-exempt concern of Ryan Scott Bomberger, a biracial evangelical web designer, singer, Republican operative, and adoptee, who frequently tells the story of how his birth mother was raped in 1971 but made the “selfless choice” of having him.

While Bomberger fronted the campaign, Georgia Right to Life paid for it, as part of what appears to have been a suite of marketing around Black people and abortion. The virulently anti-Obama group tapped Catherine Davis—a Black Republican who had run two failed congressional campaigns—to circulate press releases and talk up the “holocaustic impact” of Black women’s voluntary abortions. Meanwhile, it pushed a Georgia state bill to outlaw sex- and race-selective abortions, despite scant evidence that this was a problem. The bill never made it out of the house, but it spurred the intended false debate over abortion as genocide.

In 2011—again during Black History Month—another anti-abortion marketing firm, Heroic Media, sponsored a billboard in New York City that again declared, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” Onlookers were directed to thatsabortion.com, another site that promotes Care Net’s Option Line, condemns Planned Parenthood, and solicits funds for Life Always.

All of these billboard campaigns stirred a great deal of attention and anxiety in the reproductive justice world. In the popular media, they were largely discussed as a messaging campaign, which in part they were. But the message wasn’t only a repetition of the Maafa 21 conspiracy theories. It was also actionable. Each billboard sought to drive Black women into the hands of a center like Rachel House, where they could be welcomed with missionary zeal by women like Hanley and Edwards.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Akiba Solomon please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9433650 Sarah ES

    This is such a thinly veiled attempt to disenfranchise black women, and the generation after them, that it would be laughable if it weren’t so depressing.

  • http://twitter.com/lifehaspurpose Radiance Foundation

    So….Ms. Solomon demonizes religion when it’s used to save the lives of women and children from abortion. But, she fails to mention that she readily accepts “religion” to be used by Planned Parenthood to promote abortion through its Clergy for Choice, its partnership with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and its 40 Days for Life knock-off–40 Days of Prayer–invoking a God that apparently revels in the slaughter of innocent life. Aside from sloppy research, complete misrepresentation of statistics, and avoidance of any actual discussion of what a culture of abortion has done to decimate the black community, this piece worships the false savior of Planned Parenthood which has not improved the socio-economic status of the black community–ever. There is one ironic truth the author fails to realize, considering the title of this abortion advocacy piece. It was the “missionary movement” that largely abolished slavery enabling Ms. Solomon to be free to read and write today.

    • http://twitter.com/smartstatistic Laurie Bertram

      No one is demonizing religion I for one have no problem with CPCs giving out support women who choose to continue their pregnancies. It is their lies and misrepresentations I take great offense to. I take great offense to the race baiting propaganda CPCs hand out to black women regarding abortion that is factually inaccurate. I know it exists and is true because I have read it. I am currently in possession of such pamphlets from Pro-Life Mississippi. I think the work they do in regards to the limited referral support and supplies they give is great but they should not be allowed to lie to women or pose as actual clinics when they are not.

    • goatini

      Oh, look, it’s Bomberger the Rape Apologist. Stop dumping your lying, misogynist nonsense here, Ryan.

    • HeilMary1

      And it was the child-raping Vatican that supported Confederate slavery, hid one of Lincoln’s assassination co-conspirators in its Swiss Guard, ordered German Catholics to vote for anti-abortion Catholic Hitler, hoodwinked pedophile Cardinal Spellman’s pushing the Pentagon Inquisition extermination of 2 million “heretic” Buddhist “communist” Vietnamese, greenlighted the Catholic missionary-forced overpopulation tribal genocides of the Tutsi and Hutus, and genocided millions of Africans through its condom ban, plus another 40-100 million indigenous people in the Americas through planned starvation, induced plagues, medical experiments, military slaughters, forced abortions and infanticides (to hide priest sex crimes).

      Black women disproportionately inherit narrower pelvises, thereby making childbirth far more dangerous for them. Google Dr. Marion Sims to get a clue about gruesome obstetric fistula repair surgeries that he perfected on slave women. If you cared about black women, which I know you don’t, you wouldn’t be forcing deadly childbirth injuries on them just to restock pedophile priests’ supply of fresh victims. Shame on you!

    • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

      Fetuses are neither innocent nor guilty. Y’know who IS innocent, the woman who is accidentally pregnant. Abortion isn’t slaughter, either. Y’know what IS slaughter, killing thousands of women through forced pregnancy and childbirth. Planned Parenthood doesn’t promote abortion. CPCs, however, do not advertise their adoption trafficking specialties. More women die in childbirth and pregnancy than from abortion. If religion actually wanted to save WOMEN, it would be all for legal abortion. YOU invoke a God that apparently revels in the deaths of women. SO sorry.

    • NavyBlues05

      “…this piece worships the false savior of Planned Parenthood which has not improved the socio-economic status of the black community–ever.”

      PPH is a provider of affordable health care in the free market capitalistic society that insists on preying upon those with the least available resources. Kind of like the multiple religious entities who prey on the weak in order to stuff their bank accounts and gain “God points” to put on display with criminal pride.

      PPH is just one part of the solution to helping any poor community improve economically.
      CPCs are merely sources of misleading information offering little tangible support to women they divert from receiving abortions.

    • Dez

      As a young black atheist woman, I do not need you or your organization trying to take my rights away as an intelligent and capable person able to make my own health decsions. You assume that black women like me are ignorant and stupid enough to be brainwashed into having an abortion. You know what? I make that choice. Not you, PP, or anyone else. Abortion is voluntary and one that black women are capable of choosing wisely with accurrate information your organizations does not want us to have. Plus the “missionary movement” did not abolish slavery, it started slavery. You christians jumped on the bandwagon of abolishing slavery only after others started working against it. History repeats itself. You enslaved my ancestors, now you want to do it again by enslaving my body all because of your mythology. Screw you!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alfonso.taboadaportal Alfonso Taboada Portal

    “Correlations are not explanations and besides, they can be as spurious as the high correlation in Finland between foxes killed and divorces.”(Gunnar Myrdal).
    I am prolife but Akiba Solomon is right. That black women have more abortions is not proof of racism. But this is also a dangerous argument for liberals. The left believes in a racist conspiracy talk imprisonment and the death penalty. The explanation, of course, is that blacks commit the vast majority of serious crime; that hard fact, not racism, explains the disproportionate black incarceration rate. Though blacks account for just one-eighth of the US population, they are six times more likely than whites to be murdered, and seven times more likely to commit murder. That hard fact, not racism, explains the high proportion of inmates who are black.

    • http://twitter.com/JenGStarr Jennifer Starr

      You’ve already pretty much proven that you have very little working knowledge of what the left and right in America thinks, as evidenced by your previous gaffe with the ultra-conservative Eagle Forum.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

      Wrong, endemic racism explains the high population of black people in prison for comparatively MINOR crimes.

    • colleen2

      Ah, I see you’re a racist, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.kazarian Amanda Kazarian

    As someone who has worked in the adoption industry, I can honestly say that every woman giving birth to every fetus just to starve, neglect, and abuse them later doesn’t sit well with me. Our current foster care system can’t even protect babies that are already born from harm, and yet long term birth control and sterilization options are hard to obtain for a lot of women who want them. You need to look at both sides of the coin here. It would be great if every baby was born healthy to a loving family but that isn’t the case.

    We have over 400,000 children in the system right now that are without families. A lot of women with problems will just leave their babies in hospitals after they have been born. Thats suits your moral compass right? But what happens after that? There aren’t enough suitable parents out there that want to adopt them. Emphasis on the SUITABLE part. I can’t believe what kind of people ask for babies when I wouldn’t trust a gold fish in their care.

    And wow @ how many times I’ve had to post this comment. I’m just going to met stupid people be stupid now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ayinde-Truxon-Flores/1196187056 Ayinde Truxon Flores

    This stuff makes me sick. These people have no interest in poor black children. These are the kind of people who would be first in line to cut food stamps, school lunches, Head Start – all of the programs that help poor children and a disportionate number of black children. I really feel like these people are just using the black community as a red herring hoping that they can use “racism” to limit choice options for white women also. Love the fetus, hate the baby.