Growing up in inner city Detroit, Janine Simpson and her girlfriends didn't think twice about having abortions. In her all-black neighborhood, teen abortions were the norm, she says, and the local abortion clinic was a fixture.

"My friends and I, we all had abortions," Simpson says. "We didn't even think about it. To us it was just getting rid of a blob of tissue. We'd say, 'Oh, you pregnant? Okay, let's go take care of it.' "

But after Simpson's own abortion her freshman year of college, things changed. She became a Christian and after graduation developed a passion to help other women with unplanned pregnancies.

"I had gone through a healing process and felt I needed to talk to them and share my heart," says Simpson, now an ordained minister through the Potter's House.

Simpson has just started a new job as director of urban center development for Care Net. She works with inner-city church leaders to educate their communities about the need for alternatives to abortion. Care Net, an umbrella group for 600 crisis pregnancy centers across the country, launched a pilot project in Philadelphia last September. It aims to establish pregnancy resource centers and prolife clinics in largely black, urban areas where such centers are rare.

Black abortion epidemic

"The perception is that we as black people keep our children," Simpson says. The reality, she says, is that 512 of every 1,000 African American pregnancies end in abortion.

African American women constitute 13 percent of the female population in the United States. However, they have 36 percent of the abortions, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood's research arm. In Pennsylvania, the figures are even more disproportionate. Ten percent of the female population is black, but they have 45 percent of all abortions in Pennsylvania.

"Planned Parenthood has come in and exploited the inner city," Simpson says, adding that many inner-city residents have easy access to an abortion clinic.

"Thirteen million African Americans are missing from abortion," says Clenard Howard Childress, regional director of the North East chapter of LEARN. The Life Education And Resource Network is the nation's largest African American prolife group. "We are the only ethnic group in the county whose numbers are declining."

Charges of racism

The disproportionate number of abortions among African Americans has spurred prolifers to charge that Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are systematically targeting blacks and other minority groups for abortion. Critics say Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood's founder, held racist views.

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Planned Parenthood maintains that Sanger disagreed with eugenicists, Nazis, and racists. But prolife activists cite evidence that Sanger and her colleagues were closely associated with white supremacists and sought to limit the populations of minorities and the disabled.

According to Emily Taft Douglas's book Margaret Sanger: Pioneer of the Future, in 1926 Sanger was the guest speaker at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Silverlake, New Jersey. She founded the American Birth Control League-the precursor to Planned Parenthood-in 1921 with C. C. Little and Lothrup Stoddard, two known racists. The latter authored the book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy.

Sanger and the founders of the league advocated population control through abortion, contraception, or sterilization. A particular target of their efforts was the urban poor. She also opposed welfare and charitable intervention because she believed it increased the minority underclass.

In her book, The Pivot of Civilization, Sanger complained that governments have not managed "to restrain, either by force or persuasion, the moron and the imbecile from producing his large family of feeble-minded offspring."

Particularly disturbing to many pro-life African Americans is Sanger's involvement in the Negro Project. Devised more than 60 years ago to promote sterilization and birth control among blacks, the Negro Project focused on training black ministers and doctors to take Sanger's message into minority neighborhoods. In an ambiguously worded letter to colleague Clarence Gamble dated December 10, 1939, Sanger wrote: "The minister's work is also important and also he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members."

Recruiting ministers

Abortion-rights groups continue to recruit African American clergy. In 1997, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), previously the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, launched the Black Church Initiative. According to the program's founder, Carlton W. Veazey, the initiative was a response to the high rate of pregnancy among black teens. It sought to create discussion in black churches about sexuality, reproductive health, AIDS, violence, and sexual orientation.

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The successful kickoff event included 400 pastors and black religious leaders. Afterward, the group developed a curriculum called "Keeping It Real," which has been introduced in 600 mostly inner-city churches in 15 states, says Veazey.

The RCRC is based in Washington D.C. and includes abortion supporters from mainline Christian denominations as well as the Unitarian Universalist and the American Humanist associations. Also, the RCRC is closely allied with Planned Parenthood and top secular abortion-rights groups.

Veazey told CT that he has a program with Planned Parenthood called "All Options Counseling." In it, Planned Parenthood will call him if it needs an RCRC-trained minister to come to a clinic and counsel a pregnant woman one on one. "I support Planned Parenthood 100 percent," he says.

Veazey says his group "absolutely does not promote abortion in any way." But an RCRC listing of online resources says, "Our primary role is educating the public to make clear that abortion can be a moral, ethical, and religiously responsible decision."

To some prolife activists, Sanger's Negro Project and the Black Church Initiative seem eerily similar. "As far I'm concerned, their Black Church Initiative is the same thing, repacked," says Johnny M. Hunter, national director of LEARN, Inc. "[Veazey's] going along with a group that's doing the KKK's work for them."

Veazey called some of Sanger's statements "unfortunate." He says charges of racism and genocide against Sanger are scare tactics. "The black community and religious leaders of our country would not be supporting us if we were pursuing genocide."

Prolife African Americans say they are vigorously challenging the link between abortion-rights groups and inner-city churches. LEARN's Childress says abortion providers know "if they ever lose their foundational stronghold in the black church, [their] movement ceases to exist."

"They also understand that the greatest threat to their agenda would be conservative churches that espouse a Judeo-Christian ethic." Childress says he is trying to get the word out through his radio program and website, His radio program, "The Urban Prophet," is broadcast five days a week in eight states and twice weekly in New York.

Practical help

Prolife activists say getting more African American ministers to speak out is key. "The clergy and the black leadership in general run from the word abortion," says Barbara Thomas, founder of the inner-city North Baton Rouge Women's Health Center in Louisiana. "They don't want anything to do with it, and it's their parishioners we're seeing. The majority of our clients have never heard their pastor even talk against abortion."

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Thomas says that of the 60 to 80 clients she sees each month, 98 percent are African American. In order to help these predominantly low-income women, many of whom are high- school dropouts, the center now focuses on education and vocational training. It also helps with child placement, abstinence education, and pregnancy services. It has a pregnancy health clinic with a nurse practitioner and a sonogram machine. The center also has a child-loss recovery program for women seeking post-abortion counseling.

To encourage fathers, the health center co-sponsors with a local church on the "Man to Man" program, which helps new fathers build stronger relationship with their children. The center plans to renovate a 22,000 square foot warehouse to add typing and computer training to its GED and literacy program. Thomas says while the average age of her clients is 19 or 20, she's seen pregnant girls as young as 11. One 12-year-old girl, Thomas says, was on the verge of having an abortion. She reconsidered and gave birth to twins. Different families later adopted the twins and the girl.

Simpson is exploring using Thomas's center as a model for other crisis pregnancy centers in Philadelphia. "We cannot encourage women to have babies and then continue their dependency on the system," Simpson says. "We can't leave them without the resources to care for their children and then say, 'Praise the Lord, we saved a baby.'"

Hunter says LEARN Chicago plans a Midwest regional conference for April 24-26 to mobilize black opinion leaders. "There are people God has made watchmen, and now's the time for the watchmen to call out," Hunter says. "Abortion has been allowed to creep into the black community, and a lot of black pastors have missed it. They haven't sounded the alarm. No pastor wants to stand before God and say this happened on their watch."

In the March CT, Mark Stricherz will report how early sonograms influence a mother's choice to keep her baby.

Related Elsewhere:

More articles on abortion are available in Christianity Today'sLife Ethics archive. Recently posted articles include:

CT Classic: Arguments in Favor of Abortion Are Strong … | … if you accept one all-important assumption. (Dec. 20, 2002)
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FDA Candidate Irks Abortion Pill Advocates | The Christian Medical Association says critics fear David Hager's "well-grounded" opposition. (Nov. 26, 2002)
Embracing the Unwanted | Chinese American Christians are starting to become more openly prolife. (May 9, 2002)

The site of LEARN's Northeast chapter,, has more information on what LEARN does and the situation in the black community.

Other pro-life organizations include Care Net and The National Right to Life Committee.

Other news article son the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice include:

Religious coalition claims most people of faith support abortion rights—CNS News (June 12, 2002)
Religious coalition lobbies for abortion, gay rightsNational Liberty Journal (Sept. 2000)

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