DaShaya Craig is a 29-year-old Chicago mother of three who has had three abortions.
The first time, she had stopped taking birth control pills because they made her sick, and her boyfriend didn’t always use condoms.
The second time, she’d been wearing a patch, which she later learned is less effective if the user weighs more than 198 pounds. Her patch also had a tendency to fall off.
She had her third abortion after she stopped using birth control “because I had tried them all”–the pill, the patch, shots–and they either made her sick, didn’t work or, in the case of the injections, caused highly unpleasant side effects.
Although concerns over the economy have pushed the debate over abortion to the back burner, whether President Barack Obama lives up to his campaign promise to do everything possible to reduce the unintended pregnancies that make women consider having abortions seems even more crucial now, given some recent statistics.
A report released this past fall by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, found that African-American women have abortions at a rate five times that of non-Hispanic white women and three times that of Hispanic women. While abortion rates have been declining for all women, nonwhite women have had a higher rate of abortions since the procedure was legalized in the 1970s. But the disparity between white and nonwhite women began widening in the 1980s.
The statistics appear to defy the strong antiabortion messages that have been emanating from the black community for years. Black churches teach that abortion is a sin, tantamount to murder, and that a woman who gets pregnant has a moral responsibility to bear any child that results from unprotected sex. A more political message that has been kicking around since the civil rights movement of the 1960s argues that abortion is genocide and that for a black woman to have one only plays into the hands of a larger racial conspiracy to reduce the black population.
That black women seem to be disregarding these messages shows that they consider abortion to be a personal decision and that, like many Catholic women, they are refusing to let anyone else make such an important decision for them. What’s obvious is that until there’s more equity in medical care and contraceptive services, as well as more financial and emotional support for black women, they will continue to have abortions at a high rate.
Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who became controversial for speaking frankly about such issues, thinks the country should stop obsessing about abortion, stop trying to legislate morals and instead focus on promoting sexual health and preventing unplanned pregnancies. “There’s never been a woman who needed an abortion who was not already pregnant,” she says, framing the issue in simple terms.
“Sometimes we think black women are struggling with this whole [abortion] issue, but maybe not for the reasons we think they are,” says Gaylon Alcaraz, executive director of the Chicago Abortion Fund, a private group that pays for abortions for women who can’t afford them. Last year 72.6 percent of her clients were black, 6 percent were Hispanic and 14.9 percent were white.