WASHINGTON -- Johnny Hunter, a black preacher who opposes abortion rights, came here last week to join a protest against federal funds for Planned Parenthood. He stood behind a sign that read: "Planned Parenthood has killed more African-Americans than the KKK."
Hunter is among Roe v. Wade's diehard opponents -- single-minded activists for whom nothing is more important than repealing a woman's right to choose. While other voters worry about jobs, health insurance and college loans, Hunter and like-minded reactionaries focus on reproductive rights.
They have support in Congress, too. Last week's budget negotiations were prolonged by a cadre of Republicans who tried to wipe out all federal funding for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which they wrongly claim is mostly in the business of providing abortions.
They lost that battle, but they never give up. (They won restrictions on abortions in Washington, D.C.) Tireless opponents of reproductive rights are already planning their next assault.
The use of race as a wedge is the latest tactic for those reactionaries, who see an opportunity to cultivate support among black Americans, especially churchgoers with a conservative streak on social issues. While anti-abortionists have long derided Margaret Sanger, considered the mother of modern family planning, for her support of eugenics, their campaign to portray Planned Parenthood as a hotbed of bigots is a more recent development. Hunter, an enthusiastic purveyor of wrongheaded conspiracy theories (he says President Obama is "an Arab"), insists that Sanger started her birth control campaign in order "to wipe out the black race."
Hunter and his followers have hoisted their flag on a data point they believe points to their hidden truth: The abortion rate for black American women is almost five times that for white women, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for reproductive health. About 37 percent of abortions are obtained by black women, although they account for less than 7 percent of the population.
A conspiracy? Genocide? A secret plan hiding in plain sight?
Hardly. The higher abortion rate among black women is a logical -- if desperate -- answer to an unplanned pregnancy and meager resources. Since black women tend to be poorer than white women, they are less likely to have the benefit of regular health care and the contraceptive information and services it confers. Trapped in miserable circumstances, many black women who find themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy choose abortion.
Oddly, the most vociferous critics of Planned Parenthood are also the least likely to support plans and proposals that might actually lower the abortion rate -- among black women as well as among white and brown women. Take contraceptive use, which (you might be surprised to know) Planned Parenthood vigorously supports. Contraception accounts for about 35 percent of its services; abortion only about 3 percent.
If birth control pills and devices were cheaper and more widely available, more women would use them. Unplanned pregnancies would drop. The abortion rate would decline. But conservatives like Hunter have no use for family planning, period.
And what if more poor black women chose not to terminate their pregnancies? What if more desperate women without health insurance or decent housing or reliable employment decided to rely on the tender mercies of the social safety net for their newborns? Would they find conservatives in Congress rushing to shore up funding for housing assistance, food subsidies and health care for the indigent?
Well, this is where things get really strange: The more vociferous a critic of reproductive rights, the less likely the politician is to support Head Start or Medicaid or WIC, which provides milk and other nutritional assistance to poor pregnant women. They love those fetuses in utero. After that, not so much.
It's a strange love, to say the least.