The message is an orchestrated lie, but the billboards are still a jarring sight.
A black child, looking frightened and on the verge of tears, fills nearly half the frame. The message in large block letters reads, “BLACK CHILDREN ARE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES.”
An Internet address at the bottom reads, “TOO MANY ABORTED.COM.”
Eighty such billboards now pepper the Georgia landscape, gaining national attention. They are sponsored by Georgia Right to Life and The Radiance Foundation.
Vanessa Cullins recalled the first time she saw the billboard’s image pop up on her computer screen.
“I read those words ‘endangered species,’ and I thought, ‘Here we go again, making African-Americans less than human.'”
Cullins is vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She also is black, a child of the South whose parents raised her to never forget America’s atrocities against her race.
So when she hears anti-choice activists accuse Planned Parenthood of “targeting” African-Americans to thin the race and describe black women’s abortions as “womb lynchings,” her outrage is visceral and personal.
“The language of our painful history has been co-opted and bastardized,” she said. “They are the racists. These people are trying to use racial issues to destabilize African-American women’s ability to control the size of their families … and provide a nurturing environment for their children.”
Catherine Davis disagrees.
Davis, too, is black. She is the minority outreach coordinator for Georgia Right to Life and insists that Planned Parenthood wants to extinguish the black race.
“The impact of abortion on African-American children is so horrific that if human beings were ever put on a list as endangered, African-American children would be on it,” she said.
This specious campaign found its origins in a 2007 stunt by conservative activist James O’Keefe III, who called a Planned Parenthood office and said he wanted to donate money for black women’s abortions.
“You know, we just think the less black kids out there the better,” he said in an audio recording that went viral on the Web.
Inexplicably, the employee responded, “Understandable, understandable.”
The employee was suspended, and Planned Parenthood required retraining for every staff member across the country.
“This is all they’ve got,” Cullins said, referring to the 3-year-old audio recording. “Nothing has happened since. They have no new material.”
Davis regularly points out that African-American women seek more abortions than white women.
In part, that’s because they have less access to affordable health care and birth control, Cullins said.
“There’s also the complexities of culture,” she said. “There is too much silence in the African-American community around sex and sexuality and how to protect oneself and be responsible human beings.”
Even so, there are fewer racial differences than some want to believe, Cullins said.
“We love our children just like everybody else. And what most people don’t know is the average number of children in African-American families is two, just like it is in Caucasian families.”
Davis insisted that she is the true advocate for black families.
“I’m not attacking in any way African-American women,” she said. “I’m giving women all the information they need to make the decision. If I’ve saved one black baby, then I’ve done my job.”
What if, after getting all that information, a black woman still decided to get an abortion?
“Look, abortion is legal,” Davis said. “I would hope she’d decide otherwise,” Davis said.
“But if she does it, if she gets an abortion, at least she had all the information before she made the decision,” Davis said.
Trust the woman to decide?
Then support her right to choose.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the author of two books.