Obama, Abortion, and the Promise of Racial Equality
Micah Watson, Assistant Professor of Political Science & Director, Center for Religion and Politics
Feb 1, 2009
Prior to the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, many people believed (or feared) that racism remained so widespread in America that no African-American could be elected to national office. That hypothesis has been falsified. It is not that our country is free of racists (or anti-Semites, or anti-Catholics, or other bigots). Racist views, however, have been stigmatized and people holding such views have been marginalized. The overwhelming majority of whites today are prepared to vote for a black candidate for any office. The overwhelming majority of whites who voted for John McCain over Obama did so not because of Obama’s race, but because they disagreed with Obama’s positions on key issues and regarded McCain as the superior candidate.
Still, Obama’s race matters in a number of ways. With approximately seventy percent of African-American children born out of wedlock, many people hope that Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will prove to be effective role models for young black men and women of a happily married couple raising children together. Obama himself has worried aloud about father absence in African-American communities and has explicitly criticized what he views as undignified and destructive practices and habits prevalent in some communities – everything from the sagging pants favored by some young black men to the twisted notion that young African-Americans who excel in school are somehow “acting white”.
There is some indication that Obama’s election is changing how many African-Americans view their country and their non-black neighbors. If even the rap industry can show some modest hints at change, then one can certainly hope that Obama’s election will encourage young African-Americans to grow up with an expanded sense of the promise and possibilities afforded them by their country.
Sadly, though, that hope for a better future is not available to all young black human beings. This promise is undercut by the ugly truth that the youngest blacks in America first have to survive the harrowing gauntlet that is their first 40 weeks of existence. The latest data portray a stunning picture of gross racial inequality when it comes to the lives taken through abortions.
These numbers are from the Center for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) for Abortion Surveillance for the year 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Consider the following: African-Americans make up 26% of the population of Alabama; they account for 54.7% of the abortions; 29.6% of Georgia’s roughly 8 million citizens are African-Americans yet African-Americans make up 57.8% of the abortions; in North Carolina the population percentage is 21.3% while the proportion of black abortions is 44.2%; in my adopted home state of Tennessee, African-Americans are 16.6% of the population yet make up 41.6% of the abortions; most egregious, however, is Mississippi where African-Americans make up 37.1% of the population and a mind-boggling 77.2% of the abortions. In fact, in every state where African-Americans make up more than 10% of the population, the black abortion rate far exceeds the population percentage, often by a factor of two or three.
These statistics are a bit numbing, though they should provoke a momentous sense of loss and they do illustrate a glaring difference between black and white abortion rates. Another statistical measure that drives home this point is the number of abortions as compared to live births. Again, relying on the CDC’s MMWR, we can determine the ratios by state of the now three- and four-year old black children born in 2005 as compared to those who did not survive. In 2005, for every three black babies born in Alabama, one was aborted. In North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia, the ratio is two black babies born for each aborted. Tennessee, Michigan, Georgia, and Delaware come in at roughly 2.4. To put this another way, for every ten black boys and girls learning in a classroom in North Carolina, there are five who didn’t make it.
New York City is even worse. Using the MMWR and New York’s own Summary of the Vital Statistics Report from 2005, we know that a little more than a quarter of the city’s 8.2 million residents are African-American and that African-Americans make up 47.2% of the roughly 89,000 abortions performed in the city in 2005.
Moreover, there were 28,935 black babies born in the five boroughs in 2005. There were 41,953 abortions. This yields a ratio of three blacks aborted for every two who survived. That’s enough people from 2005 alone to fill a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, twice over.
These numbers underscore a virulent form of racial inequality that, apart from the rare advocacy organization, does not garner much attention from politicians or the media. Further still from the national consciousness is any linkage of this racial disparity with the proposed policies of the first African-American president. Despite the imaginative mental gymnastics proposed by “pro-life” supporters of President Obama, it does not take a great deal of insight to foresee the consequences of his favored policies if passed into law. Funding organizations that promote and provide abortions while simultaneously stripping away democratically enacted and quite modest, yet effective, restrictions on abortions will have the obvious effect of increasing the number of abortions. And this increase will likely have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable members of the African-American population.
By all means let us hope that the President’s words about the importance of fatherhood and education have a resounding impact on all Americans. Let us hope that the example he sets as a husband and father helps to promote marriage in segments of our society where it is largely absent, including those African-American communities suffering from such high out-of-wedlock birth rates. But let us also hope, and work, and pray, that the President’s eyes – and the eyes of all Americans – will be opened to the unspeakable injustice that each year is inflicted upon over a million of the youngest and most vulnerable Americans of all races.
 See the invaluable October 28, 2008 piece by Anne Hendershott that draws upon similar data from previous reports to point out the racial discrepancies in abortion rates. Professor Hendershott delves into the complex causes of this phenomena and persuasively argues that there is far more to the picture than economic inequality.
 Florida and New York State are excepted as figures are not available.
 This is rather obvious even apart from statistical analysis, though statistics help. Unfortunately if the President’s favored policies are enacted and the current time gap for the CDC’s reports remains, we will not have statistical evidence for 2009 until November of 2012, well after the next presidential election.
This blog entry cross-posted at www.moralaccountability.com.