Black reproductive rights groups speak out against Dillard’s sponsorship of anti-abortion rights fundraiser

Life Always billboard in New York City (CBS New York)

In response to the upcoming Dillard’s fashion show for Heroic Media, black women’s groups have spoken out against Dillard’s for partnering with Heroic Media, which asserts in its ads: “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” Through its African-American-centric anti-abortion campaigns, Heroic Media has erected billboards in a handful of cities across the country (most controversially in New York City), and the result has been the ire of groups who represent the reproductive freedom of African-American women.

There are nine Dillard’s stores in Colorado, which are not involved in the fashion show.

“I don’t know how many Dillard’s customers are African-American, but I think they should be outraged,” said Toni Bond Leonard, co-founder and president of Chicago-based Black Women of Reproductive Justice, formerly known as African American Women Evolving, Inc., which was founded in 1996 with the mission of helping black women and girls realize reproductive justice.

Leonard said her organization’s priority is to effect policy changes that improve reproductive health and autonomy in black communities but also to educate black women and girls about their bodies and their choices when it comes to sexual health. Media campaigns like Heroic Media’s stifle that effort, she said.

“Aside from being offensive, I think [Heroic Media is] trying to divide the black community for their own agenda,” Leonard said. “What that agenda is I don’t know. But to say ‘the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb’ speaks to more than just the issue of abortion; it speaks to a black woman’s ability to provide a safe, healing, and nurturing place for a baby. To vilify black women is not only offensive and inhumane, but racist.”

In Leonard’s view, the billboards in question make indirect references to slavery. She pointed to times when women were used as “machines to birth human labor to support this country’s economy.” But the overall message of the billboards, she said, implies that black women do not possess enough common sense or moral agency to be able to control their own fertilities, and, ultimately, their own bodies.

Black Women of Reproductive Justice belongs to a consortium of several African-American women’s groups called Trust Black Women, which formed in the spring of 2010, in an effort to fight back against anti-abortion rights media campaigns like Heroic Media’s.

And just as Leonard doesn’t buy the claim that a Dillard’s Houston branch was unaware of Heroic Media’s mission or activity before it agreed to sponsor the group’s fundraiser, neither does Candace Cabbil, program associate for SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Health Collective, another Trust Black Women member organization based in Atlanta.

“We think [Heroic Media’s campaign] is racist and deeply offensive, and Dillard’s should not support what it’s doing,” Cabbil said. “They can say whatever they want to, but do not target a specific demographic.”

In October 2010, SisterSong released a report documenting its successful efforts to defeat state legislation in Georgia last year. The legislation — House Bill 1155 and Senate Bill 529 — attempted to expand abortion restriction by linking race and gender, and was preceded by a publicity campaign launched by the Georgia Right to Life and Radiance Foundation, which included a billboard with allegations claiming “Black children are an endangered species.” SisterSong protested and helped kill the Senate bill.

The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer
pointed out Wednesday the falsehoods and hypocrisy in anti-abortion rights groups’ accusations of racism hurled at abortion providers, particularly Planned Parenthood:

The way in which pro-life Republicans have latched onto accusing people of genocide is a remarkable, particularly when you consider how viscerally Republicans react to race-related criticisms. Among Republicans, suggesting that anti-Latino animus is behind restrictive immigration laws is beyond the pale–but if you identify Planned Parenthood as the spiritual successor to the Nazis you might as well be ordering a cup of coffee.

It’s worth mentioning, again, that the idea that most Planned Parenthood clinics are located in black neighborhoods is false, and abortion only accounts for 3 percent of their activities. (Planned Parenthood founder Margaret) Sanger was a eugenicist, and while the term is practically synonymous with racism now, at the time it was one of those intellectual trends that had an embarrassing number of adherents from all over the political spectrum. W.E.B DuBois was a eugenicist, though he obviously wasn’t trying to purge black people from the planet.

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