By Reverend Dr. Carlton W. Veazey, President and CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
As a black man born in the South in the 1930s, I vividly remember the devastation caused by illegal abortion, the hardships and indignities suffered by black women and poor women faced with an unwanted pregnancy and the tragedies of infertility and death due to illegal procedures.
The powerful five part series on Laura Flanders show on GriTtv called “Conspiracy Tactics” recalls the injustices of those times — the harassment and the restrictions that overwhelmingly hurt black women and poor women — and alerts us to the religious-right campaign that is trying once again to deny women their reproductive rights.
WATCH: The anti-abortion campaign in ‘Conspiracy Tactics,’ Part I, from GRITtv:
As I explain in one of the episodes, the challenge for the black church is clear. This campaign is an attack on our community’s freedom to make private decisions about women’s health and family well-being. The black church has the moral authority to confront the outrageous lies about abortion perpetrated by this campaign and to bear witness to the fact that, for women, freedom must include reproductive options. It is my hope that this series will be instrumental in activating African-American clergy to overcome this threat to our freedom.
What we face, as the important series documents, is a nationwide campaign led by the Right to Life organization aimed at African American communities. The ostensible goal is to dissuade women from having an abortion but the actual purpose is to use the abortion issue as a wedge to gain political support and ultimately to overturn Roe v. Wade and end legal abortion.
Prominent African American religious leaders have already denounced the campaign — among them, the chair of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Board, Dean Alton Pollard of Howard University School of Divinity, and Reverend Timothy McDonald, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta and an immediate past member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice Board. Reverend McDonald, who was an assistant minister of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s church in Atlanta, and had close connections to Mrs. Coretta Scott King and others in the King family, has debunked the religious-right notion that Reverend and Mrs. King opposed reproductive health services. To the contrary, Dr. King received a prestigious Planned Parenthood award for his support of family planning as critical to the well-being of the African American community.
Because of the grave nature of the threat to our community, more religious leaders must speak out. We must not only condemn the inflammatory and untrue claim that abortion is “genocide,” we must also become faithful advocates for women’s reproductive freedom. Disparaging and even closing clinics will have serious negative consequences to our community. Clinics are critical to the health of individual women and to communities struggling with high rates of unintended pregnancy, teen births, sexually transmitted diseases that can cause serious infections and infertility, and HIV/AIDS. Clinics provide needed, wanted education and services.
Our community has a legacy of fear over sexuality issues, which arises from our history of slavery, abuse, discrimination and marginalization. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice’s National Black Church Initiative has made remarkable progress during the past 14 years in assisting clergy and churches to overcome those fears. When once it was taboo to talk of sex and sexuality, today hundreds of ministers and religious educators speak about responsible decision-making in the context of African American religion and culture. As a church community, we will not allow the religious right’s fear-mongering and falsehoods to undo this progress or to rob African-American women of their freedom.