I distinctly remember the moment that I first wrestled with the problem of abortion. Like many young men of my generation, I had always assumed that if abortion was legal it must be okay. Since Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton—which made it illegal to restrict abortion in any stage of pregnancy were decided when I was just five years old, I had never really considered the fact that the legality of abortion was relatively new.
I grew up in a small country town and was not aware of anyone I knew ever terminating a pregnancy. On occasion women and girls had children out of wedlock, of course, and this I understood to be regrettable. Yet, whether these were children of neighbors, friends or relatives, they were welcomed, doted on, cared for and seemed to turn out as well as those of us who had been born well after our parents’ weddings. It would have never occurred to me growing up that children conceived out of wedlock to young mothers would have terrible lives and thus might be better off dead.
No, my passive approval of abortion came from a lack of critically examining the issue. I respected women; women, I was told, needed to have the right to decide what to do with their bodies. That seemed good enough for me. So, it was only in college, when I struck up a conversation with some pro-life students that I was forced to reconsider my views. When I mentioned the legality of abortion, a student politely countered that slavery, too, had been legal but that did not make it right. This point forced me to consider: what if abortion was not okay? Had I been duped? Could there be a connection between slavery of the eighteenth century and abortion in the nineteenth century?
The more I learned of the history of the abortion rights movement in the United States and abroad, the more uncomfortable I became. I learned that there was a time not too long ago when black women had proportionately fewer abortions than white women and on average gave birth to more children than white women.
This disparity had worried people like Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who considered blacks “unfit” and was concerned about our numbers becoming overwhelming. In 1939, she launched The Negro Project, an initiative to use black leaders (particularly black ministers) to promote the placement of birth control clinics in black neighborhoods. Sanger’s primary goal was to reduce the number of babies born to black women.