Joseph Booker, M.D., is an African American gynecologist in Jackson, Miss., home to that state's only abortion clinic.
He goes to work under police escort, wearing a bulletproof vest. Booker is right to be prudent. At any moment he could be killed by people who call themselves pro-life.
It is hard for Black people to talk about abortion because it also means talking about sex. The reaction to an awful history of sexual subjugation, racist fantasies and slanders that reflect White supremacist ideology all conspire to create shame and denial.
While the Bush administration promotes abstinence-only sex education, its corporate friends sell degrading and objectifying images of human sexuality to "entertain" us. It is impossible to have enlightened discussions about sex in an atmosphere rife with such blatant hypocrisy.
Adding insult to the injury of that legacy, we are now governed by fascists. Fascists do not just believe in a racist, hierarchical, dictatorial political and economic structure. They are also committed to a patriarchal social structure. Sexism is a defining characteristic of fascist states and outlawing abortion is always part of the agenda.
The state of South Dakota recently banned abortions. Twenty-two states are expected to enact significant restrictions on access to abortions, including automatic bans if the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision is overturned.
Despite protestations to the contrary, the so-called pro-life forces want to ban contraception, too. Missouri banned public funding of birth control in 2003, and attempts to restore funding this year failed. Susan Phillips, a Republican state legislator, explained her opposition.
"If you hand out contraception to single women, we're saying promiscuity is OK as a state, and I am not in support of that," Phillips asserted.
The ban on contraception funding doesn't have a marital status clause. Phillips and her ilk want to punish women who are sexually active. We are back in the 1950s, an era when "bad" girls had to live in shame and be punished, too.
What happens to poor Black women in Missouri who need birth control? They must either find a way to pay for it themselves, take their chances with unprotected sex or practice abstinence that isn't required of anyone else.
How do politicians get away with depriving citizens of medical care? In part because too many Black people feel comfortable living up to the phony image of Bible-thumping churchgoers who forsake sex and oppose abortion. The fact is that Black women have abortions at a disproportionate rate and will therefore suffer disproportionately whenever efforts to limit access to birth control and abortion succeed.
Black women suffered disproportionately when abortion was illegal. Before abortion was legalized in New York in 1970, Black and Puerto Rican women accounted for 80 percent of deaths from illegal abortions. In Georgia, between 1965 and 1967, the Black maternal death rate due to illegal abortion was 14 times that of White women.
In 2000, the abortion rate for Black women (30 per 1,000 women) was 3.1 times the rate for White women (10 per 1,000 women). Those are strange numbers for an anti-abortion group.
Dr. Booker and his colleagues in Mississippi work under the strictest abortion laws in the nation. All patients must undergo a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure can be performed. If they are willing and able to travel from great distances to get to the only clinic in Jackson, they must then be willing to brave an ugly crowd of protesters. Seventy-three percent of women who enter that clinic are Black.
Louisiana is following in its neighbor's footsteps. It has voted to end abortion in anticipation of Roe v. Wade being overturned. State Sen. Diana Bajoie is a Democrat and a founder of that Legislature's Black caucus. She wants to outlaw abortion, with no exceptions permitted, not even to save the life of the mother. "If you believe in life, that's what it should be," she explained.
Bajoie thinks that abortions performed to save the mother's life are wrong because the mother could decide that she wants the baby to live instead of herself. Phony melodrama about women willing to die in childbirth is the product of a sick mind.
Bajoie proves that Black women must be willing to speak up with their own voice, their own race and their own gender. Female politicians like Phillips and Bajoie need to be reminded, by their female constituents, that no one has to vote for them.
Hopefully the pro-life forces will begin to speak up for the lives of those who have already been born. Maybe they will tell President Bush not to incinerate Iranians with nuclear weapons. If they don't, perhaps the rest of us will speak up in favor of medical care for all, even medical care for women who dare to have sex.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly on www.blackcommentator.com.