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Why Shirley Might Have Reconsidered



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The negative publicity that Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have received in the past few weeks has caused many mainstream media outlets to aggressively dig in their heels. On Thursday, the New York Times published an article by Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse entitled “What Would Shirley Do?” “Shirley” is Shirley Chisholm, an outspoken advocate of legal abortion who was the first African-American woman elected to Congress and a 1972 presidential candidate. Greenhouse uses Chisholm and the civil-rights movement to help justify her support for abortion.

Of course, many minority groups have long been skeptical of abortion, but Greenhouse attempts to give some background in order to explain why that’s so. For instance, minorities were rightly concerned about policies requiring the sterilization of women receiving welfare benefits.

But Greenhouse doesn’t tell the entire story. For instance, nowhere in her article does she mention that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, launched the Negro Project, the goal of which was to distribute birth control to black women in the South. Greenhouse also fails to mention that Sanger was a proponent of eugenics and served on the board of the American Eugenics Society.

That having been said, minorities, particularly the African-American community, have not been particularly receptive to pro-lifers’ arguments about the eugenic legacy of Planned Parenthood. That’s one reason why pro-lifers today — most notably the Radiance Foundation, which is sponsoring “Too Many Aborted” billboards — are taking a somewhat different approach. They are not arguing that abortion is a conspiracy to decimate minorities. Instead, they are trying to draw attention to the high abortion rates in minority communities, and trying to facilitate discussion and encourage minority women facing unplanned pregnancies to consider adoption.

Chisholm’s main argument for supporting abortion was that, in the days when abortion was legally restricted, minority women had a more difficult time than white women obtaining abortions. Chisholm felt that this had negative health consequences for minorities: In her book Unbought and Unbossed, Chisholm mentions a study of women who died in pregnancy that showed illegal abortion was more likely to be the cause of death for a minority woman than for a white woman.

However, the negative consequences of Roe v. Wade might have given Chisholm pause, since many of them have been particularly damaging to minority communities. Aside from the millions of lives lost to abortion, one of the worst effects of Roe v. Wade was its acceleration of a burgeoning culture of sexual permissiveness. Instead of reducing the number of out-of-wedlock births — as abortion supporters had promised — the out-of-wedlock birthrate continued to climb. Indeed, both the number of abortions and conceptions increased in the years following Roe.

Out-of-wedlock birthrates have been increasing among nearly all segments of society, but the problem is especially acute among African Americans; according to the CDC, nearly 70 percent of all births to African Americans are out of wedlock. Countless studies show that children do better on a number of metrics when they are raised by their own mother and father. Previous efforts by policymakers to reverse these trends in out-of-wedlock births have met with little success. However, policies that either directly or indirectly result in more sexual restraint would be a great place to start.

Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.



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