Abortion Isn't Slavery. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Should Know Better | Opinion

As a black woman who had an abortion, I am disgusted and seething.

Last week, as the United States commemorated the anniversary of the legalization of abortion nationwide, the Trump administration made headlines for its despicable opposition to abortion access. Donald Trump became the first sitting president to attend the anti-abortion March for Life rally, and in remarks praising his efforts to restrict access to health care worldwide, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had the nerve to compare abortion to slavery.

Speaking at a Colorado Christian University event in Washington, D.C., DeVos argued that Trump's fight against abortion rights is similar to President Abraham Lincoln's fight against slavery.

"[Lincoln], too, contended with the 'pro-choice' arguments of his day," she said. "They suggested that a state's 'choice' to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it."

I am not sure DeVos is able to comprehend just how powerfully racist her words are. Perhaps the secretary's own education failed to convey to her the horrors enslaved black people endured, or perhaps her abstinence-only sex education failed to teach her what happens during an abortion. Either way, the comparison demonstrates that she has utter disregard for basic science, refuses to learn about the history of slavery and is wholly unfit to lead our nation's educational system.

However, as appalled as I am, I'm not surprised. This racist abortion-splaining has been used by anti-abortion leaders for years, including white nationalist Representative Steve King, who has compared black women having abortions to killing puppies. It's denigrating to our experiences, to say the least.

This racist abortion-splaining—where anti-abortion leaders claim to know more about our experiences than we do—allows them to posit themselves as saviors of black people, even as their policies further the legacy of slavery. They can claim they're not racist because they care about black fetuses, without ever feigning grief for the black children killed by police violence or left to starve by politicians continually slashing public benefits.

Anti-abortion leaders are nowhere to be found when our communities are organizing for immigrants and pregnant people in prisons, protesting to stay in our homes in Oakland, California, or begging for the restoration of clean water in Flint, Michigan, which may be causing pregnant residents to miscarry.

It's easier for them to chastise us for making a decision about if, when and how to create and grow our families than to engage with us on what support we actually need. It's easier to compare abortion to slavery—one of the worst atrocities to happen to our people—than to listen to how the effects of slavery plague our communities today.

I wouldn't expect anyone who winks at white supremacists and devises an immigration policy that jails and separates black and brown families to understand that.

Betsy Devos
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a hearing before House Education and Labor Committee December 12, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty

What's more, DeVos' argument is not even based in history. Abortions have been performed for thousands of years, and records show that enslaved black women had them. Enslaved black women were being raped and beaten with abandon and performed abortions themselves through herbs and teas. Their human value was often based on whether or not they could bear children. They did not want to be forced to have a child, and they knew their children would be condemned to living as chattel. Self-managed abortion was one way to reclaim their power.

Today's abortion bans are a boot on our necks—they are an extension of the restrictions on our fertility and controlled reproduction that we have suffered through for centuries. We deserve the freedom to create our families without the government's interference and raise our children in safe communities.

Like our ancestors, we have abortions because we look at our current situations and decide what is best for our lives—whether that is to parent, seek adoption or have an abortion. Like for our ancestors, access to abortion is our liberation. It's time to listen to us.

Renee Bracey Sherman is the founder and executive director of We Testify, an organization dedicated to the leadership and representation of people who have abortions. She is also the executive producer of Ours To Tell, a documentary centering the lives of women of color and nonbinary people who had abortions.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.