..But not in the way you might think.
For some time now, abortion rights advocates and other social justice activists have been pushing to bring women’s rights into the rubric of human rights. A Center for Reproductive Rights button that I’ve often seen pinned to jackets and bags at rallies reads: Reproductive Rights are Human Rights. The same could of course be said for women’s rights more broadly — women’s rights are human rights. But the U.S. has been slow to recognize them as such, and has snubbed international human rights bodies (like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) even when it does recognize something as a human right. Women’s rights organizations fight against sexual exploitation and the enslavement of women around the world, again relying on human rights norms.
Which is why it’s so jarring to see radical anti-woman and anti-abortion activists trying to usurp these terms. As Salon’s Broadsheet reported yesterday, “a group of African-American antiabortion activists will be holding three events in the Bay Area this month in support of the idea that “abortion is the Darfur of America.” The leader of the event will be San Francisco’s Walter Hoye, the founder of the Issues4Life Foundation, who calls abortion “the leading cause of death in the African American community.” The rally’s organizers, like George W. Bush and other anti-abortion extremists, also compare abortion to slavery, and Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott. Hoye also likens opposition to reproductive justice and abortion rights to the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. From Broadsheet:
“‘It is not the first time a segment of the community has had their rights denied,’” he’s quoted as saying. “‘It is a civil rights issue because it is dehumanizing and not giving proper status as a citizen. Most people on the opposite side think it is not a person, just like they did during slavery. It is not the first time this country has done something wrong.’”
While I would agree with him that Dred Scott was wrong and that the U.S. has an ugly history of treating Blacks as less than full citizens, that’s where our agreement ends. And it’s worth noting a gaping hole in Hoye’s legal argument. Again from Broadsheet:
I have to admit to being a little confused by the logic here. Are we calling abortion genocide? Or are we saying that fetuses are slaves? Can you have civil rights if you don’t have fingernails? And do either of these comparisons make any sense? It seems as if they share the same general tactic: Think of something really, really bad, and then say it’s like abortion. This could lead to great bumper stickers: “Abortion = Auschwitz.” “Osama Bin Laden [hearts] Planned Parenthood.” “Your Doctor Raped My Fetus.” Attention-grabbers, sure — but not the most logical arguments on the block.
What’s more, Hoye, like so many other anti-woman extremists, not only fights against abortion rights, but also against the comprehensive sex education programs and healthcare reform that could prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place, and could bring birth control usage rates among poor communities to levels equaling its use in wealthier areas. So Hoye, again like so many others with whom his views are aligned, pushes a lose-lose situation for women: continued lack of access to information and contraception coupled with an inability to terminate pregnancies that a woman does not want to or cannot bring to term.
And Hoye does all of this in opposition to the NAACP, the Nation’s leading Black civil rights organization. Rev. Amos Brown, the President of the San Francisco NAACP, isn’t mincing words. He says:
“San Francisco’s top civil rights issues are education, economic empowerment and political engagement,” Brown said. “African American students are behind every ethnic group in this city academically. People who are learned and informed do the right thing. If not, they engage in destructive behavior. These pro-life people are demagogues and ideologues…”
The bottom line is that abortion is a civil rights and human rights issue, but not in the ways that Hoye thinks it is. Abortion rights, and related reproductive justice initiatives, protect and advance the civil rights of women in the U.S. An expansion of funding for education and contraception and an end to the Hyde Amendment would ensure that no woman is denied her right to self-determination (a right so central to civil rights) simply because she is poor or because she lives in a certain part of the country or a certain state. If we really care about civil rights and not just the rhetoric surrounding them, this is the side we should be on.