WASHINGTON -- Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) says he's heard a lot about how the criminal justice system and other institutions treat African-Americans from the Congressional Black Caucus.
But on Thursday, he wondered aloud on the House floor why the CBC wasn't more vocal about “how their communities are targeted in abortion.”
“Here are some stunning facts. The African-American community is 15 percent of the country as a whole, but accounts for 40 percent of the abortions. Fifteen percent of Americans, 40 percent of the abortions. In New York City, the most recent statistic is that African-American women had more abortions than live births,” he said.
The former MTV "Real World" star fumbled a bit on the statistics here. Non-Hispanic black women actually accounted for 36 percent of the population that received abortions in the U.S., according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whereas white women accounted for 37 percent -- but black women were about three times more likely to receive an abortion.
“My liberal friends, Congressional Black Caucus members, talk about fighting for the defenseless, the hopeless and the downtrodden," Duffy added. "There is no one more hopeless and voiceless than an unborn baby, but their silence is deafening. I can't hear them. Where are they standing up for their communities, advocating and fighting for their right to life?”
What Duffy didn't express was any understanding of why so many black women have abortions. CBC member Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), however, provided the congressman with that context in a statement she delivered on the House floor on Friday.
I don’t expect Representative Duffy to understand why his comments were so offensive, nor do I anticipate him apologizing for them. What he and so many of his Republican colleagues fail to understand is the underlying context behind high abortion rates in African American communities. High rates of abortion are related to poverty and lack of access to prevention services. A number of African American women face multiple barriers to accessing quality, affordable health care, which can lead to higher rates of both unintended pregnancy and abortion.
Representative Duffy’s hypocrisy on this issue is as predictable as it is offensive. If he truly believes that we all should be fighting for the “hopeless and voiceless” among us, why doesn’t he stand with us as we defend Planned Parenthood, an organization committed to ensuring all communities, and especially those most in need, have access to high-quality care? Where was his support when my Congressional Black Caucus colleagues and I tried to secure greater funding for SNAP, WIC, and Head Start? Where was his advocacy when we needed Republican support to ensure that we have highly trained and qualified school personnel like social workers and counselors for our most vulnerable students?
History, culture, and disparities in educational attainment and wealth all factor into the abortion rate for black women -- and contribute to the broader racial and economic inequalities the CBC is actively fighting against.
“There are a multitude of reasons, and we don’t fully understand what’s going on,” Christine Dehlendorf, a professor specializing in reproductive health at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Atlantic. “But ultimately I think it’s about structural determinants -- economic reasons, issues related to racism, differences in opportunities, differences in social and historical context.”
Moore noted that Duffy’s mansplaining, whitesplaining lecture to black lawmakers on abortion fit into the long history of stigmatizing abortions in nonwhite communities.
She also pointed out that some Republicans have called Planned Parenthood "more lethal to black lives" than the Ku Klux Klan, argued over “legitimate rape” and expressed the belief that men should be allowed to forcibly have sex with women if abortions are legal.
“It’s painfully obvious that Representative Duffy’s concern for life ends as soon as the umbilical cord is cut. That being said, I don’t believe that his comments were said in malice or meant to inflict harm,” Moore said.
“Representative Duffy’s rhetoric is indicative of someone who just doesn’t know any better. I suggest that Representative Duffy educate himself on these critical issues.”
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