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Monday, December 29, 2014

Racism, reproductive justice, and the right to life

Indeed it shouldn't.
Nearly a month ago, Reuters published "Racism is also a reproductive rights issue" by Chloe Angyal. I just came across it recently, and feel that it's important enough to merit a response despite the passage of time.

The article is worth reading in its entirety, but the thesis is:
Where black children are denied the right to a childhood, it stands to reason that black parents are denied the right to parenthood. Indeed, many in the reproductive rights community have begun to talk about police brutality as a reproductive rights issue.
The argument is a compelling one: that all of us have the right to bring children into the world, and to raise them, without fear that they are disproportionately likely to be killed by the police, or by vigilantes, or by strangers when they’re asking for help. That parents shouldn’t have to worry that their children will be stopped and frisked on the street, or kicked out of school for minor offenses, or harassed while they’re trying to learn. 
In short, proponents of this view argue that parents should be allowed to bring children into the world worrying that their children will be denied a childhood – or being forced to watch as it happens before their very eyes.
She notes that major abortion advocacy groups such as NARAL have taken this position, but that the argument "has been denied the mainstream attention it deserves."

The reproductive rights framing isn't necessarily wrong. When (disproportionately black, male, and young) people are killed by police, and the police are never held accountable, the victims' parents are horribly violated. Families' suffering is too often drowned out by louder, larger debates about race and police brutality, so I'm glad Ms. Angyal raised it.

That said, a right to life framing is far, far more intuitive. Black lives matter. Period, end of sentence. Black children have the right to a childhood. There is no need for further justification.

Ms. Angyal's reproductive rights framing requires a focus on the victims' parents as the primary victims.* But of course, the primary victims are the young black men whose lives were ended by police bullets, in violation of the right to life. Making this about the victims' parents' reproductive rights, when the right to life framing is so obvious, just comes across as a desperate attempt to reimagine "reproductive rights" as anything other than the latest in the long line of euphemisms for abortion.

Is Ms. Angyal merely being cynical? Is she trying to "ride on the coattails of genuine good causes," as I predicted the abortion movement would do? Does she consciously want to avoid any mention of a right to life, for fear that someone will demand to know when that right begins?

I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and say no.** I think it's more likely that she's already embedded in the world of abortion advocacy, and so naturally her perspective on current events is colored by her worldview. Pro-life activists are guilty of this too; Josh Brahm put it better than I can when he coined the phrase "fetus tunnel vision," which he defines as "the inability to see and/or acknowledge human rights injustices without equating or comparing them to abortion." Ms. Angyal is suffering from a case of reproduction tunnel vision.

That is why "racism as a reproductive rights issue" isn't taking off. Most people, whether pro-life or pro-choice, don't think that way. They aren't seeking out connections to abortion. They simply see yet another young black man whose life was ripped away from him.


*Alternatively, you could make a reproductive rights argument based on the fact that (to take but one example) Tamir Rice will never have the opportunity to become an adult and father children. Notably, however, he also lost the opportunity to vote, to practice a religion or reject religion, and so on. This is because the right to life is fundamental; without it, all other rights are lost. Thus a victim-focused reproductive rights framing would ultimately collapse on itself and become the right-to-life argument. 

**I am not extending that benefit to NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the other abortion-supporting organizations that have grabbed hold of this talking point. They are absolutely being cynical.

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