I have one or two white conservative Evangelical friends left. Our friendships mostly thrive in the environs of Facebook, as nostalgic vestiges of my high-school days, and my sense that despite significant political disagreements, these people are deep down fundamentally decent. When you grow up a Black girl in a predominantly white small town in the Deep South, you learn to see white people’s capacity for both humanity and oppression, early, as a matter of survival.
Days like today test those bonds of friendship. In the midst of my outraged lament over the Supreme Court’s devastating decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, one of these friends inserted herself into a Facebook thread to comment that it was not the Court’s decision that was “brutal.” Rather, she told us, “abortions are brutal for the unborn.”
While I am a Christian, a preacher’s kid, and a licensed minister — I never have time for white Evangelical bullshit. I simply cannot abide it. I certainly do not have the patience of Job on a good day, and I definitely don’t on a bad day. But I engaged her in “Christian love” and exceeding patience because I guess I hold out hope that if some of these conservative white women would see the light, things could change for the better. So I explained to her, for instance, that as a Black woman, with enslaved ancestors who were assuredly denied the right to control their reproduction, I do not have the luxury of a depoliticized theology that misses how political decisions impact the actual lives of real people.
When the first enslaved Black women arrived in this country, their womanhood became defined solely through their forced reproduction of enslaved, unfree offspring. Forced reproduction cannot mean anything other than slavery to Black women. And it is our fundamental understanding of that, that inspired white women in the 19th century to consider their own condition as property.
I also tried to preempt some of the moral claims that those on the right make about abortion by pointing out that even God gives us choices. Mary explicitly agreed to birth the baby Jesus. People get to choose whether to follow Jesus or not. Why should childbirth be different? My friend thinks that all this decision does is keep people from “using abortion as birth control.” Because the right has, for decades, successfully conjured up images of damaged, mangled fetuses to traditionally feminine southern white women, whose primary understanding of womanhood is inextricably linked to motherhood. Because when you have had the protections of empire behind your family for your entire life, it’s hard to imagine that there are things more horrible than an aborted fetus. Because it’s easy, in that context, to conclude that people are sitting in the clinic waiting room because they’ve simply been being promiscuous and unthoughtful about their reproductive capacity. Because, for them, it’s easy to conclude that those of us who believe in the right to abortion have no respect for the lives of the vulnerable.
But when you are one of the vulnerable ones, you see it differently. When you grow up as a Black girl in the same place as these willfully clueless white women with an entirely different experience of the world, one in which their whiteness became the pretext for racialized assaults on your body and life chances, you learn early that there are other horrors. I remember the girls who had babies because boys ran trains on them; the tween homegirl who confessed to me that she had been raped by her father; the girls who got pregnant because their dudes stealthed them, taking off the condom without their knowledge, in order to force them to have babies they didn’t want. When you grow up in a world where your body, because it is not white, is not treated as sacred, you learn to value every protection, personal and political, against your violation. And you have the good sense to mourn when those protections fall away.
But when your view of the world is centered around the “truth” that heterosexual marriages between Christian folks can solve all the world’s problems, none of these things seem like horrors to you. They seem like the inevitable results of people’s refusal to “do things God’s way.” The problem of course is that this depoliticized understanding of the world allows white women to weaponize their white femininity and their protected, vaunted motherhood against the rest of us, while feeling morally superior in their choice to do so.
My standard of motherhood comes from my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother advocated for each of her four daughters to use birth control as soon as they reached adulthood because she did not have access to it in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s when she was birthing children. My grandmother explicitly told me that she would not have had as many children as she did if she could have gotten access to the Pill. My mother was her last child; her access to the Pill might mean I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have been any the wiser because she deserved the right to decide and she fiercely believed in my right to decide. Those of us who are the vulnerable, those of us who are Black and poor and queer and trans and femme and undocumented, know how much bodily autonomy matters. It is not our job to prove it or explain it to the willfully ignorant. We do not have to bow at the altar of their gods.
Ultimately, I stopped this back and forth because I’m a cussing Christian in the tradition of Saint Peter, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and my own dad. So my stance with my friend is and remains simple: “I love Jesus and I disagree.” Bodily autonomy is sacred, and one can love God and believe in the right to abortion. I do.
More On Life After Roe
- The Abortion Crisis Manager
- Lindsey Graham Proposes 15-Week Federal Abortion Ban
- The Abortion Clinics Staying Open in Hostile States