Pro-Life Conservatives Claim to Care About Black Lives. They Don't | Opinion

The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has sent shockwaves through the nation, exposing a deep cultural, religious, and political divide. The Left is mobilizing to fight for reproductive rights across the nation, while restrictions to abortion are spreading across the nation in Republican-led states.

One of the arguments that the Right has taken to making in favor of restricting abortion is to claim that they are doing so on behalf of Black lives. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito wrote in his leaked draft opinion that some abortion supporters have been "motivated by a desire to suppress the size of the African American population." Former Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi once lamented the lack of outrage "at about 20 million African American children that have been aborted." And Oklahoma GOP Senate candidate T.W. Shannon, who is Black and Native American, called Planned Parenthood's founder a "vile racist." "Four hundred thousand Black babies killed every year since Roe versus Wade," Shannon said recently in an ad. "Don't tell me Black lives matter 'til these lives matter."

For the sake of this discussion, I am going to assume good faith on the part of pro-life Republicans, despite the fact that many refused to simply declare that Black lives matter at all, or that Rep. Mary Miller lauded Donald Trump for Roe's reversal by calling it "a victory for white life." I am going to presume that the majority actually do want to see Black children born healthy and Black families flourish. But the truth is, while they claim that this is a factor in their opposition to abortion, they simultaneously support policies that do the opposite—that push Black women toward abortion.

Consider the fact that Black people are nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to depend on Medicaid for healthcare, especially for prenatal care. Yet Republicans have consistently opposed Medicaid expansion, despite the fact that it has reduced racial disparities in health coverage, access to care, and health outcomes. And this despite the fact that the Center for Disease Control found that Black women were three times more likely to die of pregnancy related deaths than white women, while Medicaid expansion was associated with 16 fewer Black maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Women in general are 14 times more likely to die from giving birth than from a safe legal abortion. And many of the women seeking abortions already have children; forcing them to carry a child to term without access to prenatal care can have devastating consequences for Black families.

Black lives
Pro-life supporters celebrate outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on June 24, 2022. - The US Supreme Court on Friday ended the right to abortion in a seismic ruling that shreds half a century of constitutional protections on one of the most divisive and bitterly fought issues in American political life. The conservative-dominated court overturned the landmark 1973 "Roe v Wade" decision that enshrined a woman's right to an abortion and said individual states can permit or restrict the procedure themselves. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

In other words, expanding Medicaid not only keeps Black women safe but protects Black families. And if you are unwilling to take simple steps to protect the lives of pregnant Black women, you are not pro-life; you are pro-birth.

Similarly, the Black infant mortality rate is 2.3 times that of non-Hispanic white infants, at 10.8 per 1,000 live births. And the top 10 states with the dubious distinction of leading the nation in infant mortality are all states that have banned or severely restricted abortion. Nine of those 10 states are red states that went to Donald Trump in 2020. The one exception is Georgia, a traditionally conservative state that only recently and narrowly swung toward Democrats.

The pro-life argument is diminished when conservative legislators prioritize an embryo without a developed brain or heart while proving unwilling or unable to protect the lives of babies that have been born or their mothers.

What about alternatives? Well, we know that those are highly problematic, too. Studies have shown that African American children are the least likely to be adopted. A 2010 study by done by researchers at Cal Tech, the London School of Economics, and New York University found that parents were willing to pay $38,000 more for a non-African American child. Families are willing to fly to Bulgaria or Shanghai rather than drive to Baltimore or Chicago to adopt children.

And when it comes to the foster care system, around half of children entering foster care never graduate from high school. One in five will become homeless, and one in four will encounter the criminal justice system. There are estimates that 50 percent of the nation's homeless population spent time in foster care.

If you can't honestly say to a Black woman that her baby will find a loving home or that the foster system will produce better outcomes, you can't ask her to risk her life to give birth.

Conservatives also oppose renewing policies that would help Black children—things like the child tax credit, universal pre-kindergarten, and affordable childcare. 2.5 million Black and brown children were lifted out of poverty and avoided food insecurity due to the child tax credit. And we know that affordable childcare would limit the desire to seek abortions; the Guttmacher Institute found that in 2004, 74 percent of women who seek abortions did so because having a child would interfere with their education, work or ability to care for dependents. 73 percent said they couldn't afford a child.

More families would decide to carry to term if these problems were mitigated. The argument to protect Black embryos and fetuses is undermined if you are willing to let them starve once they are born.

Abortion can be limited without bans using a more humanistic approach. Better healthcare and resources for children and families would achieve the goal of limiting abortions without the potential risks of back alley abortions.

If conservatives want to appear sympathetic to Black life, they should start by having empathy for the Black living.

Dr. Jason Nichols is an award winning senior lecturer in the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland College Park and was the longtime editor-in-chief of Words Beats & Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture. He cohosts the "Vince and Jason Save the Nation" podcast.

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