Thursday, March 31, 2011

Billboard, new law, highlight racial turn for abortion debate

As if America's debate over abortion weren't contentious enough, it's lately been stirred by the addition of another hot-button issue: race.

Yesterday, Arizona became the first state in the nation to outlaw abortions performed on the basis of the race or gender of the fetus. And an anti-abortion billboard that uses an image of President Obama to target Chicago's black community has sparked a furor.

The Arizona bill, signed into law on Tuesday by Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, makes it a felony for doctors or other medical professionals to perform an abortion in order to help parents choose their offspring on the basis of race or gender. The law does not punish the woman having the abortion.

"Governor Brewer believes society has a responsibility to protect its most vulnerable -- the unborn -- and this legislation is consistent with her strong pro-life track record," a spokesman for Brewer told Reuters.

But opponents of the unusual measure contend there's little evidence that fetuses in Arizona are being aborted on the basis of gender or race. And they say the law could lead doctors to ask women about their reasons for having an abortion--something supporters of abortion rights view as a private decision.

About 1,700 miles away, in Chicago, a Texas-based anti-abortion group unveiled a billboard in the predominantly black neighborhood of Englewood. Next to a picture of Obama, it reads: "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted."

The Chicago Abortion Fund, a pro-choice group, denounced the billboard. "The ongoing anti-choice movement to target women of color in cities across the country is both despicable and deplorable," it said in a statement. "Not only is the ad attempting to shame black women but placing a picture of the President Obama alongside the message is cynical and misleading."

The group behind the billboard, Life Always, says it plans 30 similar ones for the Chicago area. It recently placed a billboard in New York City's Soho neighborhood, reading: "The most dangerous place for African Americans is in the womb." It was taken down after protests.

Studies have shown abortion rates are higher among African-American women than among women of other races. That has prompted anti-abortion groups to target African-Americans with the argument that abortion is hurting the black community, with some even referring to its "genocidal impact." Pro-choice groups counter that the disparity means African-American women would be disproportionately harmed by further restrictions on abortion.

(Top image: An anti-abortion billboard in Atlanta targeted at African-Americans, similar to the ones that have caused controversy in Chicago and New York City.: John Bazemore/AP. Center image: Chicago billboard)

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