Rick Santorum returned this week to some familiar territory: playing a starring role on liberal blogs that were outraged about something he had to say.
During a week that began with Martin Luther King Day and will wrap up with the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the former senator — who spends a good deal of time in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina these days — presented abortion as a civil-rights issue.
“Well, if that human life is not a person, then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say ‘now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people,’” he told Terry Jeffrey.
“Eye-brow raising comments,” is how Politico described them. (You’d think he’d said Chinese mothers are superior!)
Santorum further explained, when his comment became a much-blogged-about issue: “For decades, certain human beings were wrongly treated as property and denied liberty in America because they were not considered persons under the Constitution. Today other human beings, the unborn of all races, are also wrongly treated as property and denied the right to life for the same reason; because they are not considered persons under the Constitution. I am disappointed that President Obama, who rightfully fights for civil rights, refuses to recognize the civil rights of the unborn in this country.”
Rick Santorum didn’t invent this point. And Rick Santorum doesn’t need to own it. But during this week with its holiday and anniversary, during a month where we’ve seen horrific violence, during a month where we’ve talked so much about the importance of words, he’s using his voice to talk about something we really do need to be confronting.
None other than the New York Times has reported that “data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that black women get almost 40 percent of the country’s abortions, even though blacks make up only 13 percent of the population. Nearly 40 percent of black pregnancies end in induced abortion, a rate far higher than for white or Hispanic women.”
The paper of record did not get those statistics from Rick Santorum.
That black Americans are disproportionately eliminated by abortion — that black mothers find themselves in the position where they don’t feel like they have alternatives other than abortion — is a point Alveda King, director of African American outreach for Priests for Life and niece of Martin Luther King Jr., wishes Barack Obama would make. King told me last year that she thought the president was “missing an opportunity.”
So she tries to encourage leadership elsewhere. Last year, at the Bloody Sunday anniversary, marking the 1965 Selma-Montgomery march, she handed the formerly pro-life Jesse Jackson a video on the history of blacks and abortion in America. She says Jackson was noncommittal about watching it. She wants to see real civil-rights leadership here: “The president has a defining moment before him. The nation has become prolife. It’s evident. This is a tide. This is a time. It’s a conversation of energy. And the energy is with life.”
Last year, the New York Times appeared beside itself over a Georgia ad campaign talking about abortion in terms of a “black genocide.” Like Santorum’s comments, though, the ad did get people talking. As Michael New, a pro-life researcher and professor at the University of Alabama, told me at the time: “The fact that a disproportionately high percentage of abortions are performed on black women is not well known outside of pro-life circles. Neither is the fact that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was a proponent of eugenics. These pieces of information might be of interest to the black community, especially since many surveys show that African-Americans are more likely to describe themselves as ‘pro-life’ than whites.”
Yes, let’s be talking about that.
“Frankly I had thought that at the time [Roe v. Wade] was decided,” Ruth Bader Ginsburg told The New York Times Magazine, “there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” Now that’s something that should raise alarms: She let the eugenics slip show. It’s a nasty history that the abortion-rights movement has. One that this week, of all weeks, we could afford to talk about a little bit. Aren’t we all into promoting a less violent culture these days?
Earlier this week, I wrote about the culture of violence we’re not talking about post-Tucson. A culture of legal abortion is the elephant in the room as we talk about civility. (Philadelphia, anyone?) What Rick Santorum pointed to is at the heart of it. It’s pure denial not to confront it. We should be more uncomfortable with the reality of the situation than with his daring to say it.
Last year, when I was working on a piece on blacks and abortion for The Human Life Review, Peter Kirsanow, a lawyer and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, told me: “Where the racial disparities in abortion rates are so pronounced, the subject is hard to ignore. Yet the black establishment has effectively ignored it. Not a peep out of those in the racial-grievance industry who talk incessantly about the slightest of racial disparities, whether real or imagined.”
And, as it happens, the “enormous difference” in black and white abortion rates is a topic that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which “is statutorily charged with investigating all forms of racial disparity in the country,” would naturally investigate. But abortion is a topic that the commission is specifically prohibited from touching.
Kirsanow also said to me: “The gap between the black abortion rate and the white abortion rate is about as large as the black single-motherhood rate and the white single-motherhood rate. [Sen. Daniel P.] Moynihan sounded the alarm over the black single-motherhood rate 35 years ago. Who will sound the alarm over the black abortion rate?”
Somebody has to do it. Apparently, right now, it’s Rick Santorum; good for him.