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Impact of Roe v. Wade on Black Community an Ongoing Debate

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Women’s History Month

“This is the first in a series of articles about laws that have significantly impacted Black women in America.”

Protestors of all races at a pro-choice rally in Washington, D.C., January 2012. (Debra Sweet/Flickr/CreativeCommons)

Protestors of all races at a pro-choice rally in Washington, D.C., January 2012. (Debra Sweet/Flickr/Creative Commons)

In 1967, Dr. Dorothy Lavinia Brown, the first African-American woman surgeon in the South and a Tennessee state assemblywoman, was the first American lawmaker to sponsor a proposed bill to fully legalize abortion. The proposal failed. But, in 1970, pregnant Dallas-area resident Norma L. McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) sued then-District Attorney Henry Wade, claiming that a Texas law criminalizing most abortions violated McCorvey’s constitutional rights. On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Roe’s favour, asserting that the “right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action…or… in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

The high court’s controversial ruling in Roe v. Wade, which allowed women to have an abortion in the early stages of her pregnancy without government interference, has reverberated throughout the nation and across the decades. Divisive in nature, it has spawned acrimonious debate, sharp political partisanship and even violence.

Undoubtedly, however, Roe v. Wade has had an undeniable impact on American women, particularly African-American women—though the nature of the effect is, as expected, a source of debate. “This was a landmark case that absolutely changed the game for women of color in this country,” said Monica Simpson, executive director, Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.

“This is the first case that really helped alleviate reproductive oppression and allowed women to make their own decisions over their body.”

On the other hand, pro-life advocates say the death of millions through abortion, rather than being a source of “justice,” has instead unleashed a “holocaust” and “genocide” in the African-American community.

That idea burst back into the mainstream during 2010’s Black History Month when the Radiance Foundation, a Georgia-based antiabortion group, erected dozens of billboards proclaiming the message, “Black children are an endangered species.” The following year,  the group Life Always sparked outrage with a billboard in lower Manhattan that declared, The most dangerous place for an African-American is the womb.”

Both groups, and other anti-abortion activists, have identified Planned Parenthood – the international non-profit and provider of reproductive health services, including abortion – as the villain in this so-called genocide. For example, in New York, the home of Planned Parenthood, more Black babies are aborted than are born alive (1,223 to 1,000), according to the Radiance Foundation, which cited the state’s health department. Activists say the group targets African Americans, pointing to its founder Margaret Sanger’s connection to the eugenics movement—which sought to cull the population of those considered “unfit,” usually the disabled, poor and minorities—and the location of the group’s clinics in poorer, minority communities.

The AFRO reached out to Planned Parenthood but did not receive a statement by deadline.

“As someone who is Black and has worked in the community all my life, I think Roe v. Wade has had a devastating impact on the Black community,” Ryan Scott Bomberger, chief creative officer and founder of the Radiance Foundation, told the AFRO. He added, “If you go off of the United Nations’ definition of genocide, it is exactly what has happened in the Black community.”

Fuelling these claims is the long-held fact: the comparatively high abortion rates among Black women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 (the last year for which information is available), White women accounted for 37.2 percent of abortions, Black women for 35.5 percent, Hispanic women for 21.1 percent and other races for 6.3 percent. But, Black women have the highest rates and ratios of abortion – almost four times that of White women: 33.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years and 472 abortions per 1,000 live births compared to 8.7 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years and 140 abortions per 1,000 live births. Reproductive rights and health advocates attribute the disproportionate number of abortions among Black women to the higher number of unintended pregnancy rates within the group. These higher unintended pregnancy rates reflect the challenge faced by many women of color in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using them consistently, they say, and also reflect the broader realities of racial and ethnic disparities in health care access and outcomes. For example, it was only when President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act that health insurance companies were required to offer free birth control coverage, and Medicaid—the source of health coverage for many low-income, minorities—is still not required to offer free contraceptives. Sonya Michel, an expert in women’s history, University of Maryland—College Park and senior scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said because of their relatively low incomes and lack of access to quality health care, AfricanAmerican women did not always have the full reproductive freedom other groups enjoyed.

“One of the ironies when you look across the political spectrum, the people who are the most opposed to abortion are also opposed to providing affordable birth control and welfare benefits to African-American people,” Michel said, adding that such detractors are basically saying Black people shouldn’t have sex.

The abortion-as-genocide supporters however, decry those claims, seeing abortion as another in a set of attempts—some government-sponsored—to decimate the Black community. Such fears are grounded in a history of medical—including reproductive health—abuses within the Black community.

“We’ve been accused of promoting conspiracy theories, but it is not conspiracy, it’s history,” Bomberger said.

In her book, Killing the Black Body author Dorothy Roberts outlines the history of the control and manipulation of the Black woman’s womb as a tool of racial oppression in the United States.

“The systematic, institutionalized denial of reproductive freedom has uniquely marked Black women’s history in America,” she wrote. “Considering this history—from slave masters’ economic stake in bonded women’s fertility to the racist strains of early birth control policy to sterilization abuse of Black women in the 1960s and 1970s to the current campaign to inject Norplant and Depo-Provera in the arms of Black teenagers and welfare mothers—paints a powerful picture of the powerful link between race and reproductive freedom in America.”

That tainted history prompted several within the Civil Rights and Black Nationalist movements to view birth control and abortion as a form of “race suicide,” and encouraged Black fertility as a means of empowering the Black race.

Bomberger echoes those sentiments, which—for him—is grounded in a deep personal history. The product of rape—which has long been accepted as a rationale for abortion—Bomberger was instead given up for adoption and raised in a Christian family of 15 children—10 of whom were adopted. He is, himself, the parent of two adopted children.

“It is a huge blow to Black voting power” and to other aspects of the Black community, he said of the “epidemic” of abortions.

“We’ve heard the term #BlackLivesMatter, but when do they matter?” Bomberger questioned, later adding, “We want to stop the destruction of beautiful possibility in the Black community, not only of the unborn children who are killed, but of potential mothers and fathers…. For a people who have overcome such a heinous past to believe killing our future is something to celebrate baffles me.”

Conversely, pro-choice advocates see the nation’s history of abuse against the Black woman and the costs of involuntary motherhood as even more reason why Roe v Wade is a matter of justice.

Among African female slaves, abortion and birth control methods were part of their heritage—used as part of their basic health care but also as a form of self-determination, protection of potential children from the horrors of slavery and protest against enslavers that viewed them as mere brood mares.

In an 1856 medical essay, Dr. E.M. Pendleton noted complaints by plantation owners that their slaves seemed to be “possessed of a secret by which they destroy the foetus at an early age of gestation.”

But the indigenous knowledge of those African slaves were lost as the gap between the generations grew wider–and as modern-day Black women began to lean more heavily on institutionalized medical care, Simpson said. And, then-illegal abortion became dangerous.

“Women were taking extreme measures to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies,” the reproductive justice activist said. “Most of the women who lost their lives before Roe v. Wade were women of color.”

Given those and other socio-political realities, Simpson said it is “completely ridiculous” to “pressure” Black women with these abortion-as-genocide memes void of further discussion about the role of Black men who abandon their families, void of discussions about the economic inequalities Black women face, void of social issues such as police violence against young Black men, void of discussions about the lack of comprehensive sex education for Black boys and girls, etc.

“It is absolutely absurd and cruel to shame Black women in this way because at the end of the day, we don’t know why a woman may choose not to have a child,” she said. “What trips me out is people think women are making these choices lightly. This is never an easy decision for any person to make.”

Community

Scholarships For San Francisco Youth Who Get COVID-19 Vaccine

City residents ages 12 to 17 are eligible to have their tuition covered at San Francisco State if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19

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San Francisco State University (SF State), the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) and the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) announced on Monday a new scholarship program for San Francisco residents ages 12 to 17 who received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Through a drawing, SF State is offering 10 scholarships to fully fund four years of undergraduate tuition to the university for eligible youth who register at participating vaccination locations in the City, which include:

  • Monday, October 25, 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. — Visitation Valley Neighborhood Vaccination Site, 1099 Sunnydale Ave., San Francisco, CA 94134
  • Tuesday, October 26, 3:30 to 6:00 p.m. — Malcolm X Academy School, 350 Harbor Rd., San Francisco, CA 94124
  • Wednesday, October 27, 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. — Balboa High School, 1000 Cayuga Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112
  • Friday, October 29, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. — Ella Hill Hutch Community Center, 1050 McAllister St., San Francisco, CA 94115
  • Tuesday, November 2, noon to 4:00 p.m. — Mission District Neighborhood Vaccination Site, 24th and Capp St., San Francisco, CA 94110
  • Saturday, November 13, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. — McCoppin Elementary School, 651 6th Ave., San Francisco, CA 94118

“These college scholarships are an incredible reward for San Francisco teens doing the right thing for themselves and their community – and that is being a part of ending this pandemic by getting the COVID-19 vaccination,” said Mayor London N. Breed. “Our teens have endured over a year of distance learning and missed interactions with their friends. These scholarships will carry their education forward and help shape their future in innumerable ways.”

“SF State is committed to supporting college attendance among young people in San Francisco and helping to promote the City’s vaccination goals,” SF State President Lynn Mahoney said. “These scholarships can further public health objectives while lifting up a new generation of leaders for our workforce.”

“We encourage all eligible SFUSD students to get vaccinated and to gain the skills necessary to attend college if they so choose,” SFUSD Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews said. “As an SF State alumnus and Gator myself, I truly appreciate the University’s efforts to support health and college access among our City’s youth.”

Since becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in May, more than 90% of San Francisco’s youth ages 12 to 17 have been fully vaccinated, making this one of the highest vaccination rates among age groups in the City.

“The SF State scholarship program complements our City’s strategy to provide low-barrier access to COVID-19 vaccinations in San Francisco communities, which has resulted in one of the highest vaccination rates in the world,” said Deputy Director of Health Dr. Naveena Bobba. “We’re proud that our 12- to 17-year-old youth have reached such high vaccination rates, and incentive programs like these can help give an extra push to unvaccinated individuals to take immediate action to get vaccinated, protecting themselves, their loved ones and our community.”

Scholarships will be awarded in the amount of the difference between qualifying expenses for in-state tuition and fees and other federal and/or state financial aid awarded to the winner. In the event a winner’s federal and/or state financial aid awards fully cover the cost of in-state tuition and fees, the student will be awarded $2,000 per academic year. All scholarships will be credited to the individual’s student account for each semester of enrollment.

Residents are eligible to enter the drawing if they meet all the following requirements:

  • Permanently resides in San Francisco (including people living in San Francisco who meet AB 540 eligibility)
  • Received at least the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine two-shot series prior to entry. Must be age 12 to 17 when this occurs
  • Currently not enrolled at a college or university nor have been previously been enrolled in college or university
  • Not an employee or immediate family of an employee of SF State living as a member of the employee’s household. Consistent with California Government Code section 82029, “immediate family” means spouse and dependent children

Residents can receive the vaccine from the participating sites to become eligible, but it is not required. Residents who receive the vaccine elsewhere or are already vaccinated are eligible to register for the drawing.

How to enter

Eligible residents will have the opportunity at the participating sites to complete a form that enters them in the drawing. SF State staff will be there to verify that registrants qualify and to help residents enter the drawing. The last day to enter the drawing is November 13.

Selecting the winners

The winners will be randomly selected from among all eligible entries received. A minimum of one and a maximum of two winners will be selected from each participating vaccination locations.

The official announcement of the winners will publish the week of November 22. Winners will be notified prior to announcement.

For more information regarding the official rules, FAQs and health privacy, visit together.sfsu.edu/vaccinescholarship or email enrollment@sfsu.edu.

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Coronavirus

Gov. Newsom Stands Firm on Mandates as State Reaches COVID-19 Milestone

California’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is currently 16th in the country with 71.8% of the population fully vaccinated.

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Moscow - Sep 12, 2021: Vaccinated young woman showing COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, healthy person in mask after getting corona virus vaccine. Coronavirus vaccine shot and immunization mandate.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom took to Twitter earlier this month to praise Californians for getting vaccinated when the state’s COVID-19 rate dropped to 57.3 cases per 100,000 people, the lowest in the U.S.

“Eighty-five percent of eligible Californians have received at least one COVID vaccine shot. The result? California continues to have the lowest case rate in the nation,” he said.

California’s COVID-19 vaccination rate is currently 16th in the country with 71.8% of the population fully vaccinated.

For now, students will be required to be vaccinated for in-person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span (7-12 and K-6).

The coronavirus vaccines will be added to other vaccines like ones for measles, mumps rubella, tetanus, and whooping cough, for example, that are required without exception for all students in the state. For those and other shots explicitly stated in California law, no waivers are allowed for any reason, even religious or philosophical ones.

But even though the state’s COVID-19 rates have flattened and the numbers of hospitalizations and deaths have significantly dropped, the governor is facing mounting protests from people opposed to government-imposed vaccine mandates, including parents who do not want their children to take the shot.

Responding to those critics, Newsom’s campaign sent out a letter that included a survey asking recipients for feedback on his vaccine mandate for schoolchildren.

“As you have probably heard, California is the first state in the nation to require our students to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This will go into effect following full FDA approval,” Newsom said in the letter.  “Why did I make this decision? Because it’s the right thing to do, and it will keep our kids safe. This decision may not be popular with some of the people who protest vaccination sites and are opposed to mask-wearing in almost any circumstance, but it will save lives.”

On October 8, Newsom also signed several bills that give dentists, podiatrists and optometrists the authority to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Those bills are Assembly Bills (AB) 526, 691 and 1064.

The governor also tweeted his advice on vaccine booster shots.

“Protect yourself. Protect your loved ones. Get your booster when it’s your turn,” tweeted Newsom.

As it currently stands, booster shots are not required but are authorized for “individuals 65 years of age and older, individuals 18 through 64 years of age at high risk of severe COVID-19, and individuals 18 through 64 years of age whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 puts them at high risk of serious complications of COVID-19 including severe COVID-19,” according to the FDA.

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock highlighted the fluid nature of the nation’s pandemic response.

“This pandemic is dynamic and evolving, with new data about vaccine safety and effectiveness becoming available every day,” Woodcock stated in a press release.

“As we learn more about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of a booster dose, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and keep the public informed,” Woodcock continued.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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Crime

What You Need to Know About California’s New Sexual Assault Laws

Watching your tax dollars, elected officials and legislation that affects you.

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Before the October 10 deadline to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several sexual assault bills into law.

They include Assembly Bill (AB) 453, AB 1171, AB 939 and Senate Bill (SB) 215.

AB 453, authored by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D- Bell Gardens), makes the act of non-consensually removing a condom, also known as “stealthing,” illegal.

Under this new law, stealthing would be considered a form of sexual battery. However, it does not criminalize it.

“We have stepped up in a major way in California & I hope other state legislatures follow suit,” tweeted Garcia. “But more importantly, I hope people will build on this & continue engaging in discussion around the continuum of consent.”

The governor’s office tweeted about the bill’s passing and what kind of legal actions can be taken given that it is still not technically a criminal act.

“With @AsmGarcia’s #AB453 signed, victims of stealthing will be able to take civil action against their perpetrators. By passing this bill, we are underlining the importance of consent,” read the tweet.

AB 1171, also authored by Garcia, will remove the distinction between rape and “spousal rape” in California law.

Before AB 1171 was signed into law, California was one of only nine states that still included the distinction between rape and spousal rape.

“Rape is Rape, & this bill makes it clear that a marriage license doesn’t change that. No more asking victims if they are married or not. TY to all the advocates who worked on getting this bill to @CAgovernor & pushing to get it signed,” Garcia tweeted.

SB 215, co-authored by Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), will allow survivors of sexual assault to track and receive information regarding their sexual assault evidence kit.

Tracking will take place through a new online portal that allows survivors to access the SAFE-T database.

“As the author of SB 215, I am so proud that we are once again prioritizing and empowering rape survivors by making sure that they able to easily and privately find out where their rape kit is in the process,” Leyva said.

“A rape kit exam is invasive and retraumatizing, so survivors should absolutely be able to track their rape kit every step of the way.  I would like to thank our amazing coalition of sponsors—District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Joyful Heart Foundation and Natasha’s Justice Project—and supporters for testifying, Tweeting, writing and speaking out about the critical need for this legislation.  With today’s signature by Governor Newsom, SB 215 will help to empower survivors, hold rapists accountable and strengthen public safety across California,” she continued.

AB 939 bans a survivor’s clothing from being used as evidence of consent in a sexual assault case.

The bill, also known as the Denim Day Act of 2021, is named for a day recognized during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.  Denim Day focuses on amplifying the message that manner of dress does not equate to consent.

“I want to thank my legislative colleagues for their support on this important measure. AB 939 makes it clear that an outfit never provides consent, ever. To even consider whether a survivor’s manner of dress should be admitted as evidence of consent wrongly scrutinizes the actions of the survivor, instead of placing that scrutiny where it truly belongs — on the actions of the perpetrator,” said Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona).

“Sexual assault is the most underreported and under-prosecuted type of crime. We must ensure that survivors are not subjected to a justice system that re-victimizes and re-traumatizes them and that our justice system protects them when they seek justice,” she added.

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