Chicago Abortion Death Turns Political

A black Illinois woman's abortion-related death is being used against Planned Parenthood.

Tonya Reaves (Facebook)
Tonya Reaves (Facebook)

Reaves’ death was brought on by complications that affect less than 0.3 percent of abortion patients, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights, including abortion rights. The group also reports that the risk of death associated with abortion increases with the length of pregnancy, from one death for every 1 million abortions at or before eight weeks to one per 29,000 at 16 to 20 weeks — and one per 11,000 at 21 or more weeks.

African-American women obtained 40.2 percent of all pregnancy terminations in the U.S. in 2008, compared with white women, who obtained 52.4 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The numbers show that black women receive abortions at a disproportionately higher rate than white women (African Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population).

And while agencies such as the Guttmacher Institute and Planned Parenthood attribute the higher abortion rate among blacks to a higher incidence of unintended pregnancies, some pro-life groups say it’s because abortion clinics target African-American communities. To support their case, they say that Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, was a racist whose goal was to extinguish the African-American community through abortion, and that is why the group has ensured that clinics are available in abundance in black neighborhoods. The Too Many Aborted billboard campaign, which shows black babies on the verge of extinction, has provoked national outrage at all levels.

Meanwhile, last year the Guttmacher Institute released statistics (pdf) showing that less than 10 percent of abortion clinics are based in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

But those statistics are a hard sell to some conservatives. Take Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue and Pro-Life Nation in Wichita, Kan., for example. He seized on Reaves’ death to call on President Obama to rebuke Planned Parenthood.

“[Obama] butted heads with law enforcement over Trayvon Martin, saying if he had a son, he would look like him,” Newman told The Root. “It stirred anger. My question to the president is, does Tonya Reaves look enough like his own daughters that he should investigate and defund Planned Parenthood? It’s chilling. A horrible death has occurred.”

Planned Parenthood of Illinois President and CEO Carole Brite issued a statement on Sunday, according to NBC Chicago. “While legal abortion services in the United States have a very high safety record, a tragedy such as this is devastating to loved ones and we offer our deepest sympathies. Planned Parenthood of Illinois cares deeply about the health and safety of each and every patient.”

For their part, the family is trying to stay above the fray as they grieve; they are also trying to find out exactly what took place, Meyer said.

“We are trying to determine what happened at Planned Parenthood and at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she was taken later,” he said. “It’s my understanding that she was fine before that.

“This is a tragedy,” he said. “Everybody’s going through a grieving process. It’s very, very, very surprising and sad that something like this would happen.”

Lynette Holloway is The Roots Chicago bureau chief.

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