Democrats di­vided by race on abor­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

In North Carolina, the six Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors who broke ranks last month to join Repub­li­cans in pass­ing an in­fan­ti­cide bill all had some­thing in com­mon: None was white.

Five of them were black; one was Amer­i­can In­dian. They in­cluded state Sen. Don Davis, who be­came the hero of North Carolina’s pro-life move­ment last week when he crossed party lines again to thwart a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Demo­crat, send­ing the over­ride mea­sure to the House.

“One’s party af­fil­i­a­tion should not de­ter­mine one’s con­vic­tion to be an ad­vo­cate for life,” tweeted North Carolina Right to Life. “Be sure to thank Sen­a­tor Don Davis for vot­ing to over­ride Gov­er­nor Cooper’s veto to pro­tect born-alive sur­vivors of abor­tion!”

Mr. Davis was hardly alone. In a leg­isla­tive ses­sion in which the abor­tion is­sue rose to the fore­front, black and His­panic leg­is­la­tors were notable in their will­ing­ness to cross party lines, ex­pos­ing a racial schism on a key Demo­cratic is­sue and frus­trat­ing ef­forts to unite the party be­hind a na­tion­wide push to “cod­ify Roe.”

In New Mex­ico, Gov. Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham, a Demo­crat, was rocked by a tough de­feat in March af­ter eight Se­nate Democrats voted against a bill to ex­pand abor­tion ac­cess. Six of the op­pos­ing sen­a­tors were His­panic.

In Ne­vada, the pro-choice Trust Ne­vada Women Act was ap­proved last week by the state Se­nate on a 12-9 vote de­spite two Demo­cratic de­fec­tions. One came from state Sen. Moises De­nis, a pro-life Demo­crat whose par­ents em­i­grated from Cuba and whose cousin is Sen. Marco Ru­bio, Florida Repub­li­can.

The other “no” vote was cast by Demo­cratic state Sen. Mar­cia Wash­ing­ton, who is black, and had no qualms de­fy­ing her party on the bill, which was aimed at “de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing” abor­tion by re­mov­ing, for ex­am­ple, a re­quire­ment for doc­tors to per­form the pro­ce­dures.

“I voted that way be­cause I don’t be­lieve in any form of abor­tion!” Ms. Wash­ing­ton said in an email.

Of course, non­white Democrats are still more likely to sup­port such bills than op­pose them. The Ne­vada bill was spon­sored by state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who said the mea­sure “re­moves out­dated laws that crim­i­nal­ize abor­tion.” A pro­vi­sion to re­move the state’s parental con­sent re­quire­ment was struck be­fore the Se­nate vote.

Melissa Cle­ment, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ne­vada Right to Life, said it took “tremen­dous courage” for the two Democrats to vote against the bill. “They ex­pe­ri­enced tremen­dous pres­sure, and I have noth­ing but huge ad­mi­ra­tion for them go­ing out on a limb,” she said.

At the same time, she wasn’t shocked by the Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion from mi­nor­ity leg­is­la­tors.

“When you think about it, it’s not ter­ri­bly sur­pris­ing be­cause abor­tions im­pact the African Amer­i­can and His­panic com­mu­ni­ties at a much greater level than the An­glo com­mu­ni­ties,” Ms. Cle­ment said. “In some ar­eas, more blacks are get­ting an abor­tion than hav­ing ba­bies.”

She re­ferred to widely re­ported fig­ures from the New York City health de­part­ment in 2013 show­ing that black women gave birth to 24,108 ba­bies and un­der­went 29,007 abor­tions, a statis­tic rated by Poli­tiFact as “true.”

The Planned Par­ent­hood Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ica, which pro-life groups have ac­cused of tar­get­ing black women, has swung back by tout­ing its work in pro­vid­ing health care, in­clud­ing Pap smears, breast ex­ams and preg­nancy tests, in mi­nor­ity neigh­bor­hoods.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion has also framed the is­sue in racial terms by ac­cus­ing pro-life ad­vo­cates of seek­ing to deny re­pro­duc­tive health care to black and His­panic women. “There can be no re­pro­duc­tive free­dom with­out racial jus­tice,” it said.

“We must work with com­mu­ni­ties of color to dis­man­tle white supremacy — and the op­pres­sive sys­tems that stem from it — which pre­vents ad­vance­ments in health eq­uity,” Ce­cile Richards, then-PPFA pres­i­dent, said in a 2017 state­ment.

Abor­tion has de­clined for years among all racial groups, but black women still un­dergo more abor­tions per capita than their white or His­panic coun­ter­parts.

A 2017 study by Guttmacher In­sti­tute re­searchers found that black women un­der­went 27% of all abor­tions, a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease from nearly 40% in 2008 but still more than dou­ble their 13% of the U.S. fe­male pop­u­la­tion.

That dis­par­ity has been ham­mered home by pro­life groups such as Black Dig­nity and the Ra­di­ance Foun­da­tion, headed by Ryan Bomberger, who is black.

“Abor­tion is the No. 1 killer in the black com­mu­nity. It’s the lead­ing killer in the black com­mu­nity,” Mr. Bomberger said in a video. “It ac­tu­ally out­num­bers all top 15 causes of death com­bined.”

In Illi­nois, Democrats had high hopes for am­bi­tious pro-choice leg­is­la­tion af­ter newly elected Gov. J.B. Pritzker vowed in Jan­uary that the state “will be the most pro­gres­sive state in the na­tion when it comes to guar­an­tee­ing women’s re­pro­duc­tive rights.”

Since then, how­ever, a bill to re­peal the state’s parental no­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ment has stalled in com­mit­tee. So has the Re­pro­duc­tive Health Act, which would re­move vir­tu­ally all re­stric­tions on abor­tion, af­ter thou­sands turned out at a rally against the bills in March.

Five Demo­cratic House co-spon­sors have since with­drawn their sup­port. Four were black fe­male leg­is­la­tors, ac­cord­ing to the Illi­nois Gen­eral Assem­bly page.

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