Abortion and Race: A Complicated Problem
By Carl Anderson
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, MARCH 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Having served for nearly a decade as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, I know that there are few subjects as controversial in American society as those issues touching race relations.
Nonetheless, an article appearing this weekend in the New York Times — titled “To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case” — is worth considering.
Without getting into the controversy concerning the well-documented eugenic philosophy of Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood), or the debate over whether or not African Americans are actually deliberately targeted by abortion providers today, several disturbing facts remain.
For one, as the New York Times pointed out, black women account for almost 40% of the abortions in the United States, though they make up only 13% of the population.
Regardless of the cause for that high rate, abortion is an especially large-scale tragedy for African Americans. There are no winners in abortion. There are only the dead and the wounded. And all involved need to be embraced with compassion and love.
Those in the black community who are most at risk for abortion must be offered concrete alternatives. Those who have experienced an abortion must be offered the message of healing and hope.
As we try to build a support of compassion, we should also remember Benedict XVI’s last encyclical, “Charity in Truth.” And as part of our charity, we must come to terms with the falsehoods which led millions to accept injustices as social necessities — and resolve to let the truth guide our charity, and let our charity be the spokesman of truth.
Last month, the United States celebrated Black History Month. Sadly, there are legal parallels between the horrible legacy in the United States of denial of the rights of black people — and their treatment as less than human — and the current legal rights limbo of the unborn in this country.
For one thing, both the unborn and black community have been the victims of terrible jurisprudence. In fact, the Supreme Court decisions that enabled unrestricted access to abortion (Roe v. Wade) and established the segregationist principle of “separate but equal” (Plessy v. Ferguson) were both, as it happens, based on falsehood.
In Plessy v. Ferguson, the majority opinion asserted that segregation could in fact allow for equal treatment of black and white Americans. In the Court’s opinion, black Americans who saw this separation as “a badge of inferior,” created their own reality, not the reality assigned by the law. The Court insisted that any semblance of inferiority was “not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”
But as Justice John Marshal Harlan noted in his dissent in Plessy: “Everyone knows that the statute in question had its origin in the purpose, not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks, as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied or assigned to white persons.”
In Roe v. Wade too, a fiction was allowed to become the law of the land. In Roe, the court argued that it could not decide when human life begins.
Everyone, nonetheless knew at the time, and science has only made increasingly clear since then, that the unborn child before birth is precisely that — a child.
What is notable about both Plessy and Roe, is that the majority in each found it necessary to ignore the obvious to rule the way they did. At best, they bought into a lie. And sadly, whatever the motivations of individual judges, the black community targeted by Plessy, has also been affected disproportionately by Roe.
The majority’s decision in Roe could not have had a good outcome under any circumstances, but the current controversy is yet another example of how poorly adjudicated decisions tend to have unintended — and often terrible — consequences beyond those readily realized.
Of course, in the 1950s, many legal experts, law professors and politicians insisted that the segregation allowed by Plessy was “settled law.” Today, “experts” and politicians say the same about the abortion legacy of Roe.
But Plessy was unhinged from reality, and the courage of brave men and women such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks unsettled this “settled law” and earned the respect of the judgment of history.
Roe too is unhinged from the truth that everyone knows. Needed are more brave men and women willing to stand up and demand that a nation’s law on abortion will never be settled until it is brought into conformity with the truth.