In 2000, former Political Research Associates researcher Pam Chamberlain and Founder and President Emerita Jean Hardisty discussed the role that race and class play in regards to the reproductive rights of women of color and how they are affected by right-wing anti-choice doctrine.
Unlike White women, women of color deal with sexism and misogyny as well as racism. This extra layer of prejudice manifests itself in the form of negative stereotypes of Black, Latina, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Native American women. Consider the stereotype of the “welfare queen”—first coined by Ronald Reagan in 1996—and how it led to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which punished women living on welfare with its “family cap,” if they were to have multiple children.
Chamberlain and Hardisty delved into the history of the eugenics movement of the 19th century, where damaging policies such as the PRWORA date back. Women of color, poor women, and immigrant women were all subjected to racist theories that deemed them “unfit” in comparison to “fit” White women. Advocates pushed for lower birthrates in these women, using extreme measures such as sterilization.
Chamberlain and Hardisty noted how doctors urged women of color to have abortions in order to minimize the number of children of color being birthed; they even went so far as to sterilize these women without their consent, by manipulating or outright lying to them. By the 1970s, about 33 percent of Latina women from Puerto Rico and 25 percent of American Indian women on reservations had been sterilized.
Today, however, a new wave of the anti-choice Right Wing has emerged. This generation of conservatives is now marching in the opposite direction of their predecessors.
Instead of sterilizing women of color and pressing them to get abortions, anti-choice advocates are telling them that they should not consider undergoing abortion procedures at all, using, once again, racist stereotypes as their basis.
One example of the Right’s new strategy is the law in Arizona that claims women of color cannot be trusted with abortions. Supporters of the law assert that Black women’s higher abortion rates is “evidence” they are trying to prevent the births of Black children, and that the sex-selective abortions in various parts of Asia mean that Asian-American women, because of their race, would discriminate when it came to abortions too.
In 2011, billboards plastered around New York City used shame tactics to sway Black women from seeking out abortions. One such billboard in SoHo had the quote: “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”
Right Wing conservatives claim they aren’t racist against women of color when they restrict their reproductive rights, and that they actually hope “fewer minority women [will] have abortions [so it will lead] to more minority children.”
The last two presidential election cycles have produced dismal conservative support for the Right among communities of color. But rather than genuine outreach to gain support in these communities, conservatives have elected to employ tactics that will only make them appear to care about race issues. In reality, they don’t.
Instead of losing the right to bear children, women of color are now losing the right not to; they continue to have no agency when it comes to this matter.
The Right’s limits on abortion have affected all women, but women of color are suffering more due to race—especially if they are poor and of the working class.
The relative ease in which to receive an abortion has been stifled: cuts in public funding, the shutting down of abortion clinics, and the costly and lengthy process to go through with the procedure are major obstacles for women of color.
Whether it was attacks on women of color in the 1990s, or the renewed efforts in the opposite direction today, U.S. conservatives are refining their tactical attacks on women of color everywhere.