Black Silence and the Abortion Debate

George Tiller’s death should have civil rights activists up in arms. Where are they when black women’s lives are at stake?


Given the racial history of reproductive rights, it is not just Planned Parenthood and the Feminist Majority that needs to push Obama on whether or not Sotomayor will uphold Roe v. Wade. Former Planned Parenthood president and African-American feminist Faye Wattleton once said, “Reproductive freedom should not be seen as a privilege or as a benefit, but a fundamental human right.”

The abortion debate is so heated—and increasingly, again, so dangerous—that many of us choose to opt out of it. What the events of the past few weeks should remind us is that we cannot afford to sit silent. We must push ourselves and our black organizations to be present and vocal in an interracial, intergenerational, cross-interest movement, that memorializes Tiller’s untimely death and assures all women, especially black women, unprecedented reproductive liberty.

Salamishah Tillet is an assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of the non-profit organization, A Long Walk Home, Inc., which uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to document and to end violence against underserved women and children.