Undeterred by data demonstrating otherwise, Democratic leaders like Reps. Charles Rangel (N.Y.) and John Conyers (Mich.) continue to complain that the black community will suffer disproportionate casualties in a war with Iraq. Their erroneous claims that blacks are more likely than whites to come home from war in body bags have led them, and others, to support the return of the draft for reasons of “racial equality.” The truth is, although blacks enlist in the armed forces at slightly higher rates than whites, and stay longer (bringing their overall participation in the military to 21 percent), they have historically suffered casualty rates far below their participation rates. Contrary to the claims of Conyers and Rangel, 12 percent of Americans killed in Vietnam were black — a figure that is proportionate to their numbers in the overall U.S. population.
Sadly, however, Conyers, Rangel, Sharpton, et al. continue to miss the real story of racial disparity in casualty rates: the disproportionate numbers of black casualties in the war on the unborn. While Sharpton and the other Democratic presidential hopefuls celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade at NARAL’s gala, the black community continued to be decimated by abortion rates that are nearly three times the rate of whites.
The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that while 56 percent of all women who obtained legal abortions were white, the abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 per year) for black women was 2.9 times that of white women. For every thousand black women, 32 have abortions, as compared with 11 for every thousand white women. Likewise with numbers of abortions per 1,000 births: The abortions/births ratio for white women was 184 abortions per 1,000 live births; for black women, it was 543 abortions per 1,000 births. This means that abortion ratios for black women were 2.8 times greater than those for white women. Sadly, black women were also more likely to obtain riskier abortions late in their pregnancies, while white women were significantly more likely than black women to obtain abortions before 16 weeks.
While these data most likely reflect inequality in access to health care, data also indicate that the racial disparities in abortion rates have increased steadily since 1989. In some localities, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Maryland, and Georgia, more than half of all abortions are performed on black women. Black women in New York City and in the entire state of New Jersey receive more than 47 percent of all abortions performed there.
Comparisons by race cannot be made in California, because the state — unlike any other state — refuses to comply with requirements to report statistics on abortion. California’s reporting requirement was enacted in 1967 as part of a larger abortion law called the Therapeutic Abortion Act. Yet even with the threat of losing federal funds, California has consistently refused to report its abortion data. Michael Quinn, the chief of California’s office for health information, was recently quoted in a Catholic newspaper account as saying that “California does not actively collect abortion statistics because they are highly sensitive and highly political.”
Abortion data — like all casualty data — are indeed sensitive. They reveal life-or-death decisions for women and unborn children and for this very reason should be disseminated widely. California needs to be encouraged to provide data on abortion. For policymakers to address the real casualties among blacks would take courage — far beyond the grandstanding on the military draft by Sharpton, Conyers, and Rangel. They might begin by listening to the poignant lyrics of hip-hop artist Nas in his recent mega-hit, “One Mic.” Nas knows that his community has been devastated by abortion and in a courageous plea, the rapper simply asks women to stop abortion because “we need more warriors here.”
— Anne Hendershott is a professor of Sociology at the University of San Diego and author of the recently published The Politics of Deviance.