Ryan Bomberger was born of a rape nearly 30 years ago. He is alive today because his biological mother made a choice, he says, to put him up for adoption rather than have an abortion.
He is grateful, though he realizes the choice was not easy. For one thing, the young white woman lived in a mostly white community in Pennsylvania, and her attacker was a black man. As a result of the incident, she became emblematic of the moral politics of reproductive rights in a battle that erupted after the passage of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion 37 years ago, and rages on today.
Now her son, a pro-lifer who is chief creative officer of the Radiance Foundation, stands on the front lines of a battle in Milwaukee. Bomberger and members of Pro-Life Wisconsin say that African-American women have a disproportionate share of the abortions performed in their state. About 6.2 percent of the population is black, yet 24 percent of all state abortions are performed on African Americans, according to Pro-Life Wisconsin.
The groups are engaged in a campaign against abortion, similar to one launched in Georgia earlier this year. It includes 13 billboards, each featuring one of two messages: "Black Children Are in Danger" or "Black & Beautiful." Each billboard is emblazoned with an image of an African-American child and lists in bold letters the name of the website, toomanyaborted.com, which is part of the Radiance Foundation.
"The ad campaign really does stem from my own background of having been adopted," Bomberger told The Root. "It's also based on the history of eugenics that [decided] certain people weren't fit to live because they would only serve as a detriment to society. I defy that whole sort of mentality, which is why certain groups don't like … us."
The national disparity in abortions is even more staggering. Overall, African-American women account for 36.4 percent of all pregnancy terminations in the United States, although blacks make up only 13 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency attributes the higher abortion rate among blacks to a higher incidence of unintended pregnancies.
But is that the whole picture? Consider this: Nearly two-thirds of African Americans polled believe that abortion should never be legal or should be legal only in cases of rape or incest or when the woman's life is endangered, according to a 2004 poll by Zogby International. (This compared with 56 percent of respondents overall and 78 percent of Hispanics.)
Bell, like the CDC, blames the disconnect on unintended pregnancies. Yet the poll results include the responses of everyone — male and female, young and old, those in the phase of life when people get abortions and those who are at the stage of life when people reflect back on the choices they made.
Women in their 20s account for more than half of all abortions: Those who are ages 20 to 24 obtain 33 percent of all abortions, and those who are 25 to 29 years old obtain 24 percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
"When you are under 26 or in your 20s, your brain is dominated by emotional directives," says Bell, who treats youths and has been in practice for more than 40 years. "At that age, you're all gasoline with no breaks or steering wheel, so your hormones are in control."
However, not only are the pollsters talking to 20-somethings; they are also talking to older churchgoing, middle-class conservatives, some of whom likely had abortions or supported their partners' abortions as youths and are against them today because of the moral backlash. For these older people, there are also physical and psychological repercussions, including the hurt and anguish of having aborted a child.
"They aren't polling 20-year-olds in the hood," Bell surmises. "I'd like to see that happen. And some of these saved, black churchgoing people can be even more tyrannical than members of the Tea Party. What were they saved from? I would venture to guess from the very same behavior they so ardently oppose today. That's why you see the conflict in the poll numbers. People always say one thing and do another. And when they get to a certain age, they expect people to do as they say."
Some black pro-lifers, such as Bomberger, believe that the conflict has a more nefarious cause. "I've done research that could not be explained by socioeconomic factors," he says.
"For 75 years we've been providing the health care, education and advocacy people need to prevent unintended pregnancy," said a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, who spoke via e-mail on condition of anonymity. "Our patients and supporters know what Planned Parenthood stands for: equal access to health care, education and advocacy that women and families need to plan healthy pregnancies."
The spokeswoman lambasted the Radiance Foundation and Pro-Life Wisconsin, saying that if they were truly concerned about the women and families in Wisconsin, they would work with Planned Parenthood to reduce unintended pregnancies in the state by supporting access to affordable birth control and comprehensive sex education.
"Instead, Pro-Life Wisconsin is a political organization that works to eliminate prevention-based health care for Wisconsin women and believes all abortion and all birth control should be illegal — no exceptions," the spokeswoman said.
Pro-Life Wisconsin's website does indeed state that the group opposes "all artificial forms of contraception," as well as "the notion of 'unwanted' children that the contraceptive mentality fosters." But more than anything else, the termination of unintended pregnancies among black women is in Bomberger's crosshairs. "Black children are more endangered by abortion than any other demographic in America, and three times more likely to die by abortion," he says.
Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor of Ebony magazine.