Why Are Abortion Opponents Co-Opting “Black Lives Matter”?

A clinic escort reveals the horrifying new tactics of anti-choicers, who are turning a powerful movement into a racist tool of harassment.

I have been volunteering as a clinic escort for a year and a half at an independent clinic in northern New Jersey. Honestly, I thought I had seen and heard it all. I’ve heard that abortion is Obama’s conspiracy to murder Christian babies so that Muslims can take over. I’ve been called a Nazi, a wicked woman, a “deathscort,” and a baby-killing murderer. I’ve witnessed patients reduced to tears and companions restraining their fists in response to the cruel, hateful words of those berating them at the clinic door. I’ve even been sexually harassed by an octogenarian protester. It takes a lot to shock me at this point.

But about a month ago, something changed. Two of our regular protesters—both men, neither of whom are Black—turned up at the clinic, megaphone, Bible, and camera in tow. Nothing unusual about that. But from the back of their crossover vehicle, they pulled out two new signs, both featuring a Black infant. The signs read:

“Black life matters.”

“Hands Up, Don’t Abort!”

I felt paralyzed for a moment, genuinely stunned. My mind raced. Did they really just go there?

As you know, Black Lives Matter emerged as a grassroots response to police brutality against Black Americans. Galvanizing around the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, this new wave of Black resistance to state violence has blossomed into a global movement. So it is within this moment, a moment in which Black girls are assaulted for swimming in a public pool and a 12-year-old Black boy is shot dead for playing with a toy gun, that these two anti-abortion protesters decided to hop on board.

These two men have spent the better part of the last two years of their lives screaming at women who enter an abortion clinic. They and their hate-group (and I use that phrase deliberately) have filmed patients and companions as they enter the clinic, without their consent, and plastered those videos across the internet. These men associate with known anti-abortion terrorists, who have threatened violence against abortion providers.

These men aren’t here for anyone’s rights.

And yet, they feel perfectly comfortable appropriating a grassroots, progressive movement for racial justice in order to further shame Black patients and their partners. These men parade these signs specifically to target and harm Black women who have abortions. These men are accusing Black women who have abortions of perpetrating racial genocide, of inflicting systemic violence against their own children.

These men are despicable, and they’re not alone.

In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement has made its way into the protesters’ language at other clinics. “We have one woman who started saying ‘Hands up, don’t abort!’ explained Michelle Colon, a Black woman and a clinic defender at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. “I look at it as a sad and weak attempt to illicit a response from people of color.”

Clinic escorts of color are also specifically targeted with this kind of language. Colon shared some of the ways in which she has been targeted for being a Black clinic escort. The protesters berate her: “You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re killing your people!” And that’s not all.

“They called me an overseer one day.”

An overseer, as in slavery. White people called a Black woman an overseer in Mississippi.

Colon also said that the White anti-abortion protesters are selective about who they target. “They don’t open their mouths when they see a Black man with a White woman. They turn the other way. They walk away when they see them.”

Renee Bracey Sherman, a biracial Black woman, is often mistaken for a Latina woman by protesters because she is light-skinned. “I’ll get comments like, ‘You’re hurting your people!’ ‘Did your parents come to this country for you to be able to do this kind of deathscorting,” she recalled. “I think the xenophobia comes in there and the racism comes in there, too.”

But of course, it’s not just clinic escorts who are subjected to this kind of racism. Dr. Willie Parker, a Black abortion provider, opened up at ebony.com about the disparate treatment he receives from the anti-abortion movement because of his race. “There is an effort to project shame on to me that my White colleagues do not get. That it’s more unacceptable morally that I am the same color as my patients, for example.”

Despite this, 80 percent of Black Americans believe abortion should be legal and 76 percent believe that health insurance should cover abortion care. Perhaps this is because of the deep history of Black women’s bodies serving as a public commodity, whether it was systemic rape by slaveowners or as an exploitive freak show act. “Black women have been controlling their fertility since the dawn of time,” explained Bracey Sherman.

And these two men at my clinic, with their inflammatory signs, are trying to shame them for it.

It’s clear that Black Americans support access to safe and legal abortion care. So why are White anti-abortion activists decrying abortion as a “Black genocide?” Why are White anti-abortion activists equating the killing of innocent Black citizens at the hands of police with Black women making their own reproductive decisions?

By co-opting the language of civil rights and Black struggle, White anti-abortion activists can appear to be grounded in a rights-based struggle while simultaneously watering down the genuine rights-based movement for Black lives and justice.

It is the height of hypocrisy for an overwhelmingly white movement to appropriate the language of the Black Lives Matter movement, while saying absolutely nothing in the face of pregnant Black women brutalized by police.

Theirs is a movement that is predicated on restricting the human and constitutional rights of pregnant people. That movement has absolutely nothing in common with the Black Lives Matter movement or with broader civil rights movements, which are about expanding rights, not denying them. Black Lives Matter is about developing “a new narrative around what it means to believe and fight for Black life in this moment,” as Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said on NPR. How could that possibly align with White men screaming at patients of color that they are the real murderers?

It can’t. It doesn’t. And they don’t care at all.

The next time I see those signs, I will do what I always do; I will say nothing. The signs are there to provoke a response from clinic escorts, to devastate Black patients, to rile up their companions. I will continue to walk patients—of various racial backgrounds—past the men who scream mercilessly at them, past the women who harass and follow them. But when I see those signs, I will know that they make a mockery of a movement grounded in justice for all Black Americans. I will know that they are an affront to all efforts to expand civil and human rights.

I will know that they are a heartless, racist affront to justice, just like the men who are holding them.


Photo by Flickr user Elvert Barnes


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