Debate Boils Over African-American Abortions

An anti-abortion billboard with President Barack Obama's image is shown by a vacant lot in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago's South Side Saturday, April 23, 2011. The billboard is from a Texas anti-abortion group, not the Radiance Foundation, whose co-founder appeared in this interview with NPR. i i

hide captionAn anti-abortion billboard with President Barack Obama's image is shown by a vacant lot in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago's South Side Saturday, April 23, 2011. The billboard is from a Texas anti-abortion group, not the Radiance Foundation, whose co-founder appeared in this interview with NPR.

Barbara Rogriguez/AP
An anti-abortion billboard with President Barack Obama's image is shown by a vacant lot in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago's South Side Saturday, April 23, 2011. The billboard is from a Texas anti-abortion group, not the Radiance Foundation, whose co-founder appeared in this interview with NPR.

An anti-abortion billboard with President Barack Obama's image is shown by a vacant lot in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago's South Side Saturday, April 23, 2011. The billboard is from a Texas anti-abortion group, not the Radiance Foundation, whose co-founder appeared in this interview with NPR.

Barbara Rogriguez/AP

As part of its "Too Many Aborted" campaign, the Radiance Foundation created many controversial racially-targeted billboards that were taken down on July 10. Today they're releasing videos calling out black leaders for not supporting the pro-life movement. To discuss both sides of the abortion debate, host Michel Martin speaks with Radiance Foundation co-founder Ryan Bomberger and Religious Coalition of Reproductive Choice president and CEO Reverend Carlton Veazey.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, my thoughts about rushing to judgment. That's my Can I Just Tell You? commentary and I'll have that in just a few minutes.

But, first, it's time to go behind closed doors. That's the part of the program where we talk about issues that are often kept private, often because of stigma or shame. Today we want to talk about a very sensitive subject. It's about abortion, but within the African-American community. In recent months, several anti-abortion advocacy groups have placed billboards in major cities around the country, decrying the abortion rate among African-Americans.

The placards feature provocative slogans such as: The 13th Amendment freed us. Abortion enslaves us. Or: Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted. And that features a picture of President Obama.

The data does show that abortion is more prevalent in the African-American community than among other groups. While black women make up about 13 percent of the U.S. female population, they account for 30 percent of abortions performed in the U.S. That according to the Guttmacher Institute. That's a nonpartisan research group that tracks information about reproductive health issues. Though several of these racially targeted anti-abortion campaigns are supported or led by African-Americans, they've also outraged many people, both African-American and not.

To talk more about this, we've invited Ryan Bomberger. He's co-founder and the chief creative officer of the Radiance Foundation. His organization created several of these controversial billboards as part of their Too Many Aborted campaign.

Today, the group plans to release a new series of videos calling out black leaders for not supporting the pro-life movement. And Mr. Bomberger joins us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Mr. Bomberger, thanks for joining us.

RYAN BOMBERGER: It's great to be able to be a part of the conversation.

MARTIN: Also with us for additional perspective is the Reverend Carlton Veazey. He is president and CEO of the Religious Coalition of Reproductive Choice. And he is joining us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Reverend Veazey, welcome to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

The Reverend CARLTON VEAZEY: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So, Ryan, what gave you the idea for this campaign?

BOMBERGER: Well, this really was started as part of the Radiance Foundation's effort to emphasize the beauty of individual purpose. And so we launched the TooManyAborted.com campaigns to highlight the disproportionate impact of abortion in the black community where the abortion rate is five times that of the majority population.

So we looked at the historical context of abortion and the statistical context, and looked at the decimation that it's causing in the black community. So it really stems from my own life story of adoption. I'm adopted in a family of 15. I'm also an adoptive father. And so we want to look at life-affirming alternatives to the destruction that abortion brings.

MARTIN: Why focus on calling out - your latest campaign is to call out African-American leaders for supporting reproductive choice, as opposed to, some might say a more positive message of encouraging women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies to give them other alternatives?

BOMBERGER: We do. I mean, that's part of these pro-life, pro-adoption themed billboard campaigns. We do emphasize the beautiful life-affirming option of adoption. And the problem is it doesn't matter what the pro-life messaging is, it is always going to be denounced by pro-abortion groups who use the euphemisms of reproductive choice.

We're talking about abortion. We need to talk about the reality of what it truly is. It's like calling slavery economic justice. So we look at the actual stats, the federal stats, and we look at why abortion is occurring in the black community at the rate that it is. And it all ties to historical initiative launched by Planned Parenthood that has never ended. The Negro Project back in 1939.

MARTIN: You believe, just to clarify this, and also I should mention that these billboards - the initial billboards we're talking about were taken down July 10th. Apparently that's when your contract ended. Although there are some protesters who believe that their efforts led to the billboards being taken down. But you believe that groups like Planned Parenthood target African-Americans. Explain why you think that.

BOMBERGER: Well, the irrefutable historically documented proof that the Negro Project launched by Planned Parenthood's founder Margaret Sanger - that's an historical event. There was never...

MARTIN: No, I'm sorry, I don't think that there's - I don't know that there's, I mean, it is true that there were projects aimed at encouraging contraceptive use among African-Americans, but I don't know that there's any data to show that abortion was a part of that conversation. In fact, there's also documented evidence...

BOMBERGER: That's not what I was saying.

MARTIN: ...that Margaret Sanger abhorred abortion herself. So...

BOMBERGER: I'm not saying about abortion. Birth control, to severely reduce or eliminate the reproduction of poor blacks. The Margaret Sanger papers out of NYU prove this point.

MARTIN: But you think contraception is the same as abortion?

BOMBERGER: Contraception - abortion has become today's contraception. There was never any Caucasian project or Latino project or Asian project. There was only the Negro Project to reduce the birthrate of poorer blacks. That's an important point because what they have done, instead of looking at the actual substantive issue, looking at the history, looking at today's statistics and the continued targeting, they don't engage in the conversation at all. And I think it's a shame because abortion affects all of us. It's not just a women's issue, it's a human issue that profoundly impacts all of us.

MARTIN: OK.

BOMBERGER: And to not allow the conversation, I think, is a tragedy especially for the black community.

MARTIN: All right. Let's hear from Reverend Veazey on this point. Reverend Veazey, what is your view of this campaign? Mr. Bomberger says that he just wants to focus on a particular group where abortion is, in fact, more prevalent. What's your response to this?

VEAZEY: First of all, I think Mr. Bomberger does not understand that when you talk about black community and saying that Planned Parenthood places clinics in those areas, you got to understand also that Planned Parenthood also they are not involved just in the clinic in terms of providing procedure, they also deal with STDs, they deal with cancer screening, they deal with other health issues. And these clinics are placed in the poverty-stricken areas where they can be of more help to black women and black young people.

So I think he's using that as a ploy. Black leaders deplore what he is doing and what the foundation is doing. There are reasons for that statistic. I won't even go into the statistic. But I will say that one of the things that you have to understand in terms of that statistic is that these are unintended pregnancies. And why is that? Because of lack of health care, lack of the opportunity to provide adequate contraception.

These are the reasons why that statistic may be high. I come from the South and this is very important. I come from Memphis, Tennessee. I was raised during the '40s. I don't know Mr. Bomberger's age, but raised during the '30s and '40s and I know what it was like for poor women and black women. They had back-alley abortions. They suffered from gross infection and hemorrhages and died in alleys.

And I think, this is my personal opinion, I think that this foundation and all those associated with this issue, the grand strategy is simply to create the groundswell so that when this issue comes before the court, they can get a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking about anti-abortion efforts aimed at the African-American community. I'm speaking with the Reverend Carlton Veazey. That's who was speaking just now. He's president and CEO of the Religious Coalition of Reproductive Choice. Also with us, Ryan Bomberger. He's co-founder of the anti-abortion group the Radiance Foundation, which recently mounted a series of billboards aimed at African-American women encouraging them not to have abortions. And is also now releasing a series of videos aimed at African-American leaders, encouraging them to embrace pro-life efforts.

Mr. Bomberger, what about that? Is that the ultimate goal, is to make abortion illegal?

BOMBERGER: Well, ultimately, yes. I mean, just like the abolishment of slavery, which was a goal because of the dehumanization of blacks, the same is the abolishment of abortion because another class of people are considered less than human. And, you know, I can appreciate you growing up in the South and you should be able to appreciate the eugenics-based laws like Jim Crow laws and the anti-miscegenation laws that existed - are the same policies that influenced the entire beginnings of Planned Parenthood.

VEAZEY: Absolutely not.

BOMBERGER: And the birth control project, the Negro Project, and the continued targeting that happens today under the guise...

VEAZEY: Could I speak to that?

MARTIN: Sure. I hear you. Reverend Veazey, you certainly can. Reverend Veazey, you certainly can. But let me ask Mr. Bomberger to answer the other question and the other point that you made. Reverend Veazey's point is that African-American women are more likely to have abortions because they are less likely to have access to health care. And what about that? What about his point?

BOMBERGER: Right. Let's actually make sure we're talking about the same thing. Talk about reproductive health care, not health care. How is it that the same people that can find these clinics to have an abortion can't find the same clinics for contraception? There are over 1,700 clinics around the United States that provide the same reproductive health care as Planned Parenthood. They just don't abort children.

MARTIN: You just don't agree with the idea that people have abortions because they don't have viable other alternatives - is that your - you just don't buy that.

BOMBERGER: I think offering death as a solution to any social ill is a really poor approach. If we applied that to any other social ill facing the black community, it's not about lack of access. Hispanics have far less insurance than blacks. Thirty-seven percent are uninsured versus 19 percent of blacks. Yet Hispanics have a far lower abortion rate. Their poverty level is on par with that of blacks.

VEAZEY: All right.

BOMBERGER: And they have far less abortions.

VEAZEY: OK.

BOMBERGER: Lack of access is a myth.

MARTIN: That's a fair point. All right. Reverend Veazey?

VEAZEY: Yeah. The point I want to make, first of all, he keeps talking about this as a moral issue. It is a moral issue and women are moral agents. And women have the ability to make the decision about their lives. And this is a decision based on their moral agency. Our first mission statement, when we organized almost 39 years ago, 38 years ago, was to ensure women's right to determine when or whether to have children according to her own conscience and religious beliefs without governmental interference. And that remains our mission today. And they are moral agents.

So don't think that it's just moral on your side, it's moral on our side. If a woman makes a decision based on her moral agency that this is best for her, who are you to determine that?

MARTIN: Let me, finally, this is obviously an important topic and we're not going to resolve the differences here, which is not indeed our role. I thank you both so much for having this spirited but civil conversation. I did want to give each of you a final thought. And Mr. Bomberger, I started with you, so I'm going to give Mr. Veazey the last word. What's your final thought, Mr. Bomberger? Do you ever see a place in the future where the two of you might agree?

BOMBERGER: I think when you look at abortion and what it truly is and it's the needless killing of innocent life, when you look at Planned Parenthood and why it exists - it's a one billion dollar a year industry with a one billion dollar budget, one billion dollars in assets, it's all about money.

MARTIN: OK.

BOMBERGER: So I'm assuming that you (unintelligible) that honestly...

MARTIN: Then I'm going to give Mr. Veazey the last word because he has a right to answer that point. Mr. Veazey, I'm going to give you the final thought.

VEAZEY: One of the things I want to point out to Mr. Bomberger is that it's amazing how the religious right and all those who are against abortion and that procedure, they are so interested in the fetus development - fetus coming here - a child coming here. They accuse me of being pro-abortion. I'm not pro-abortion, I'm pro-choice.

But what do they do? They wait until the child, not a fetus, the child gets here and they abort them through lack of health care. They abort them through lack of education. And you can see it in every major city. I'm here in Chicago. I can walk through certain communities and see kids, for all practical purposes have been aborted. Same thing in Washington, in Central L.A., wherever you go.

But I do not hear Mr. Bomberger, any others on that side ever trying to push legislation to help poor kids and kids who have opportunity. And that ad about Obama being the next person could have been an Obama, you've aborted through your lack of concern for the social issues, you've aborted a lot of children that could have been an Obama.

MARTIN: All right.

BOMBERGER: (unintelligible)

MARTIN: I think we're going to have to leave it there. We're going to have to leave it there for now, gentlemen. And I thank you for this conversation. To be continued.

The Reverend Carlton Veazey, who you just heard, is president and CEO of the Religious Coalition of Reproductive Choice. He joined us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Ryan Bomberger is the co-founder and chief creative officer of the Radiance Foundation. That's the group that's behind a number of billboards that you may have seen in major cities around the country. He joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta.

Gentlemen, I thank you both so much for joining us.

VEAZEY: Thank you.

BOMBERGER: Thank you.

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