Let's Talk About Those 'Abortion is Systemic Racism' Billboards Around Northeast Ohio

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click to enlarge Let's Talk About Those 'Abortion is Systemic Racism' Billboards Around Northeast Ohio
The Radiance Foundation
For the last three months, black billboards with white lettering describing what abortion really is about have been appearing throughout the Greater Cleveland area. Highways are lined with phrases like "abortion is systemic racism," "abortion is fake feminism," "abortion is violence," "abortion is lost fatherhood" and "abortion is injustice anywhere."

These signs were posted on billboards and in bus stops in response to ads  by Preterm, the largest female health and abortion clinic in the state, which had signs with phrases like “abortion is sacred,” “abortion is a second chance,” “abortion is gender equality," "abortion is life saving" and “abortion is right for me.”

According to Preterm's director of development and communications, Nancy Starner, "We want to push people to think about abortion in new, diverse ways with these billboards," she stated in a press release. "We want the people in our community who have had abortions to know that they're not alone."

The black and white billboards are the brainchild of Coalition of Life Cleveland and The Radiance Project, a faith-based anti-abortion group from Akron. This organization believes that abortion is a way of committing "black genocide", and has labeled the NAACP the “National Association for the Abortion of Colored People.”

click to enlarge Let's Talk About Those 'Abortion is Systemic Racism' Billboards Around Northeast Ohio (2)
Ohio Department of Health
The Radiance Project was extremely critical of Preterm's billboards, claiming that 70 percent of them were racially targeted and posted in predominately black neighborhoods. According to the Ohio Department of Health, Cuyahoga County residents receiving abortions are overwhelmingly people of color. By putting the pro-choice billboards in black neighborhoods, is this a sign of systemic racism or is this a healthcare center catering to the communities that frequently utilize their services?

Preterm stated in their press release that they hope their billboards can change "the black-and-white rhetoric from both sides of the political debate" and "create spaces that promote sharing, active listening and understanding." When researching the battle of these billboards, there's an overwhelming amount of opinion pieces and editorials posted about how terrible Preterm's billboards are, but there isn't much published about The Radiance Project's billboards.

Is it true that people of color seek abortions at a higher rate than any other demographic? Yes. Is it also true that youth of color are at a disproportionately higher risk for negative sexual health outcomes? Also yes.

According to a study from the Advocates of Youth, research and resources must be directed toward addressing the underlying social forces at work in our communities.

"Social, economic, and cultural barriers limit the ability of many youth of color to receive accurate and adequate information on preventing HIV, STIs, and unintended pregnancy," the study said.

Washington University Law released a study regarding abstinence-only education that determined this sort of sexual education fails African-American youth. By focusing so heavily on the outcome of abortion, we are failing black communities by not remedying the lack of opportunities for safer sexual encounters with education or contraceptives, thereby preventing the need for an abortion in the first place.

click to enlarge Let's Talk About Those 'Abortion is Systemic Racism' Billboards Around Northeast Ohio (3)
National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda

In a survey conducted by the National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda, it was determined that of the topics black women would most likely want covered in sexual education courses, 93 percent of women wanted more information on how to prevent unintended pregnancies by using birth control, 97 percent of women wanted information preventing sexual abuse and 95 percent of women wanted information preventing domestic violence.

While The Radiance Project is huge on encouraging women to be anti-abortion, Preterm also offers emotional support, counseling, and education in addition to safe access to abortion.

One in five Ohio women must travel more than 45 miles for abortion care, meaning some women must travel more than 180 miles round-trip to receive an abortion due to Ohio's law requiring two separate appointments for abortion treatment. Given that one in three women will have an abortion by the time they're 45, it's a frightening realization of how many women are denied safe health resources simply due to accessibility.

Currently, 93 percent of Ohio counties have no access to clinics that provide abortions. It's easy to declare that abortion is "systemic racism," in how it impacts black communities, but it's also important to note that Ohio's current abortion legislation disproportionately impacts rural women's access to safe and healthy abortions. The demographic of rural areas tend to be more caucasian, so the numbers are going to skew higher in densely populated areas.

When it comes to abortion, there are no easy answers or decisions that can be made that will satisfy everyone. However, the simplified phrasing used on The Radiance Project billboards are misleading at best, and perpetuating dangerous rhetoric at worst.
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