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GRITtv Digs into “Freedom Rides for Life”

lflanderss Icon Posted by Laura Flanders

October 16th, 2010

For the first video in our new investigative series, GRITtv Digs, we’re looking into the “Freedom Rides for Life” and the anti-abortion movement’s targeting of women of color, particularly black women in the South, using racially divisive tactics.

The following is a transcript:

Laura:
An attack is ratcheting up on women’s reproductive freedoms with an insidious campaign targeting women of color.

It began with the making of a documentary saying that abortion amounts to genocide. This past spring, billboards appeared in Atlanta proclaiming that African American babies are an endangered species. All part of an effort to pass new restrictive legislation on reproductive freedom in Georgia.

Then this summer a group called Priests for Life made an attempt to co-opt some of the strongest imagery in the civil rights tradition. Freedom rides, but with a new label, “Freedom Rides for Life.”

Loretta:
Wherever they can find what they call an urban or black audience they’re going to try and raise hell with this kind of campaign.

Laura:
In this special series, we’ll investigate each part of this right wing strategy. We’ll look at who’s behind it and where the money comes from. …

Man:
The abortion industry at this point kills as many African American people every four days as the clan killed in 150 years.

Woman:
This film was created by an organization called Life Dynamics. It’s a group of wealthy white men who, for whatever reason, decided in 2008 or 2009 that they were concerned about black babies being aborted. They assert that Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood for the sole purpose of exterminating the black race.

Laura:
We’ll report on the billboard campaign.

Woman:
These billboards were funded by the Georgia Right to Life campaign, which are primarily white people who recognize the value of targeting the black community.

Laura:
And we’ll investigate who’s behind the freedom rides.

Man:
Priests for Life is an organization that was set up mainly as a vehicle for Frank Pavone to develop his personality. At one stage they claimed maybe five thousand priest members, at that time there were more than forty thousand priests in the United States so it was a relatively small percentage of priests. They’ve gone from being a four or five million dollar organization six or seven years ago to being about a ten million dollar organization now.

Woman w/megaphone:
We reaffirm black women’s power and urgency and our civil rights legacy.

Laura:
We’ll analyze what effect this strategy is having on choice as well as on the Democratic base. And we’ll go behind the scenes to see how activists for reproductive justice are fighting back.

Woman:
We have this whole racist ideology being perpetuated under the disguise of protecting the unborn. And we think this is just another part of the right wing strategy to undermine the November elections.

Laura:
In meetings across the country, activists stress that it’s not just about abortion. Playing it that way has split the movement along the lines of race. The right to give birth safely with healthcare that suits the mother is just as important as the right to abort. It’s all part of the larger struggle for what activists call reproductive health and justice.

Loretta:
It’s not use to isolate abortion from all the other health issues that a woman has to deal with. In fact, before a woman even decides whether or not to have a child, she has this ‘Oh my God’ moment when she firsts thinks she’s pregnant where she’s wondering about whether she has health care, whether she can keep her job, whether she’ll get battered by her boyfriend or husband if she tells them she’s pregnant and so we call those issues that are ahead of the decision the human rights issues that she has to deal with before she even gets to the decision to have or not have the child.

Laura:
Although the documentary was first on the scene in 2009, the right wing strategy against abortion in communities of color crystalized around a billboard campaign in Georgia this past year. In Atlanta, Loretta Ross has been organizing women of color around issues of reproductive justice for three decades.

Loretta:
Well, I think the whole campaign behind the billboards is number one to drive abortion providers out of business, to make them suffer criminal liability if they’re found to have provided an abortion to a woman who can later claim, ‘Well, I was coerced when I aborted my child because of its race or because of its sex’ so it’s gonna drive providers out of business but I actually think that there’s a larger campaign behind it. There is an effort actually to drive a wedge in the African American community using these social issues like abortion, gay marriage, immigration because I think that wedge is necessary because the most consolidated, intact part of Obama’s base is the African American community.

And I think the third goal though, which to me is the most insidious is that they’re trying to make black women feel ashamed about our choices.

Laura:
Catherine Davis, director of minority outreach at Georgia Right to Life sums up what the billboard campaign is all about.

Catherine:
Here in Georgia for the last several years the numbers of abortions on black women have met or exceeded fifteen to eighteen thousand now a year and that’s been sustained over a ten, twelve year period. And so I began to look at ‘well, why are African American women having more abortions than other ethnic groups and I didn’t quite accept or believe the notion that black women have more unintended pregnancies as many had suggested. So as I did the research, I found that there was a pseudo-science called eugenics that was behind the abortion movement in the nation and that science wanted to limit the birthrate of blacks. And I found that one hundred percent of the clinics in this state are in urban areas where blacks reside and that for some reason black women were going to those clinics more than anyone else and I believe it’s because they were being targeted.

Laura:
With that in mind, Georgia Right to Life sponsored legislation to criminalize certain abortions under racketeering laws.

Man:
The onerous provisions of the bill would place physicians in a very difficult situation of breaking the law but the added measures of being gangsters, if you will, for participating in this practice. If they can get it passed here, then this is an agenda that they can take to every state and then once this agenda gets that proverbial foot in the door then it would make way for other egregious legislative agenda attempts.

Laura:
While abortion isn’t a topic much talked about in the African American community, particularly by the church, some pastors were outraged by the campaign.

Man:
It’s a divisive issue, abortion. It’s a controversial issue. There is not one voice or opinion within the African American community as it relates to abortion. I think the discussion is good, I think the discussion is healthy that we are having but we want to be clear that we don’t fall into the notion of just pro-life. Most of these folks who are behind these billboards, they’re not pro-life, they’re pro-birth but they’re not pro-life. They don’t care what happens to the child once the child gets here, they don’t care about their healthcare, they don’t care about their education, they don’t care about their futures.

Laura:
In the end, the legislation didn’t pass.

Woman:
By the end of the session, Georgia Right to Life went ahead and admitted that ‘That’s fine, we wanted it to be unconstitutional because this will be our challenge for Roe vs. Wade.’

Laura:
But the billboard campaign was considered a success and it’s spreading to other states. At Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank in Somerville, Mass, Pam Chamberlain reports that Ryan Bomberger, a former ad-man, provided the creative design for the campaign using a non-profit he set up with his wife called The Radiance Foundation. Initial financing was provided by Georgia Right to Life, which has a budget of more than three-quarters of a million dollars. This is the same primarily white organization which hired Catherine Davis to do their outreach.

Woman:
The Radiance Foundation is now negotiating with organizations in six or eight other states to do similar campaigns in the future. Ideally these are states with communities with high proportions of African Americans, the same strategy. So the fact that they’re thinking that they will duplicate or replicate this strategy indicates to me that they feel they’ve had some success.

Man:
I naturally look at who’s behind the billboards. They are certainly promoting black faces but who is really behind it is the radical religious right with the same old divisive propaganda that they’ve always used of dividing and conquering within the African American community. But this time they’re not going to get away with it because you’re messing with our babies and they’re important to us.

Catherine:
The response to our billboard campaign has more than less been accepted positively. Those people who are pro-abortion, of course, have been very angry and very against our attempt to educate the people of Georgia about the impact that abortion is having. And they have vilified me, they vilified Ryan Bomberger who is the creative genius behind the billboard campaign and saying that somehow we are victimizing black women, we are dehumanizing black children and that is not at all what we are doing. We are educating.

Laura:
Loretta Ross agrees with Davis that reproductive health has a race component to it but that’s about where their agreement ends.

Loretta:
I think that certain women are encouraged to have children by our society and certain women are discouraged so on that, we probably agree. But when it comes to the question of who decides who should be in control that’s where we disagree because I think the best way to fight population control, to fight genocide is to make sure that the objects of that genocide or that control make those decisions for themselves. So I think black women need not only the right to have an abortion but the access, the money, the conditions under which they can decide their fertility for themselves. On the other hand, she would like to enact laws that keep black women from having control, that keep black women from having options.

Laura:
Over the course of the summer, the billboard effort spread as far as Texas and has taken on a whole new message. It now preaches adoption.

Loretta:
Now, obviously, they haven’t quite thought this through. Frankly, I’m a woman who at 14 became pregnant through incest. I was not voluntary at all, okay? At the time my son was born and I had to carry that pregnancy to term because it was pre-Roe, 1969. I had the option of giving my child up for adoption. I found that I couldn’t do it. I took one look at his face and I couldn’t do it. So I ended up parenting that kid and I’m glad I had him, I’m glad I parented him. But at the same time, anyone acts like its just so easy to carry a child to term, give birth, and then just hand the baby over to somebody else obviously has never done it. And the women I’ve talked to who have done it often regret having done it. Even more so than these so called women who regret their abortions and so its a scheme designed to make black women feel guilty, it builds on the fantasy of adoption being easy and it ignores the fact that something like four-out-of-five children in adoption agencies that are hard to place are African American. It’s based upon this romanticized fantasy of, I think, one man, Ryan Bomberger, whose mother, according to him, was a victim of rape who gave him up for adoption.

Well, frankly, I can somewhat understand that a rape victim may not want to raise a rapist’s child, okay? But that is not the situation most pregnant women dealing with an unplanned pregnancy are in. They’re trying to soften their approach. This pivot off of the abortion message that they used last time, ‘Black children are an endangered species’ into this adoption message so that they can be the kindler, gentler face but again, they’re not living in the real world of women.

Priest:
Well, I helped Jim Pinto run the operation rescues here…

Laura:
Adding fuel to the fire created by the billboard campaign, Priests for Life, another predominantly white group staged their first “Freedom Rides for Life” in Birmingham and Atlanta. They also claim that abortion clinics are targeting poor black women, just as Georgia Right to Life does. Remember what Catherine Davis said?

Catherine:
One-hundred percent of the clinics in this state are in urban areas where blacks reside.

Loretta:
There are fifteen abortion providers in the state of Georgia. Only four of them, only four of them out of the fifteen are in predominantly black neighborhoods so that’s no majority by a long shot and I’m surprised that there aren’t even more in black neighborhoods because this is a state where almost half the population is African American so it wouldn’t have surprised me if fifty percent were in black neighborhoods, fifty percent were in white neighborhoods. But, in fact, it’s only four of fifteen and so that’s a lie.

Laura:
We’ll report on Priests for Life, their founder Father Pavone and their “Freedom Rides for Life” in our next segment.

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