Twenty-four-year-old Tonya Reaves was a mother of one with a fiance when she walked into a Planned Parenthood in Chicago’s South Loop to have an abortion. This decision ultimately cost Reaves her life because she hemorrhaged after “cervical dilation and evacuation.” We don’t know the reasons why she chose to have an abortion, but it can be said without doubt, no woman makes the decision to terminate her pregnancy lightly. A black woman in her 20s with one child, Reaves fit the highest percentile of women most likely to have an abortion. When the story broke, I was horrified to read comments sections that turned Reaves’ death into a call to ban abortion, suggesting that it is an unsafe medical procedure or claiming the loss of the fetus as the death of a child.
Reaves’ death is absolutely tragic, but to politicize her death in the hopes of calling into question a woman’s right to choose is unconscionable. Carole Brite, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Illinois, released the following statement:
“While legal abortion services in the United States have a very high safety record, a tragedy such as this is devastating to loved ones and we offer our deepest sympathies. Planned Parenthood of Illinois cares deeply about the health and safety of each and every patient.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, “less than 0.3 percent of abortion patients experience serious complications.” The issue is clearly not about safety, but about a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.
In recent years, we have seen numerous attacks on Planned Parenthood, including campaigns specifically targeting black women. In 2011, pro-life group Always Life placed more than 30 billboards in the Chicago area with an image of Obama and a tagline that read: “Every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted.” During Black History Month, this same organization was behind billboards with a picture of a young black girl and the following statement: “The most dangerous place for a black child is in the womb.”
As much as the right to choose is a woman’s issue, race cannot be erased from the conversation, because of the high rate of abortion in the black community. The facts are startling:
· 67 percent of black pregnancies are unplanned;
· Non-Hispanic black women account for 36 percent of all abortions, despite only making up 12 percent of the population; and
· 8 percent of women who have abortions have never used a method of birth control; non use of contraceptives is greatest among those who are young, poor, black, Hispanic, or less educated.
This fight is essentially about who will control our reproduction and, conversely, our lives. Black women’s reproduction is shamed at every level. The shaming and attacks for having abortions is equally as horrific as the shame and attacks black women face when they reproduce.