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As I watched the footage of white supremacists scaling the Capitol walls on January 6, a sense of familiarity set in. I started receiving texts and photos of prominent anti-abortion leaders, and a convicted clinic bomber, at the scene. I recognized one. Leaders from white supremacist organizations — including the Proud Boys and the Daily Stormer — had doxxed and harassed me before, and there they were roaming the Capitol halls as if on a high school tour.

I felt my heart pulsating outside of my chest. Of course, they were there, I thought. They’re not hiding in plain sight any longer.

Although the anti-abortion movement has been in lockstep with President Trump throughout his entire presidency, so-called “pro-life” activists have been in bed with white supremacists for decades. If you’re surprised, you haven’t been paying attention.

Following the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide, white Christian fundamentalists — who previously organized around school segregation — sought to organize around maintaining the same racist political divides and Jim Crow-era racial segregation while not seeming openly racist. They purposefully selected abortion as a divisive social issue, and the demonization and violence escalated immensely.

The Roe v. Wade decision provided pregnant people the ability to decide when and whether to have children. But so long as the “pro-life” movement, fueled by white supremacy, stands, we will never truly feel the promise of that legal protection, and people of color will never truly have liberation.

While the “pro-life” movement tries to bury their racist intentions in coded language, the dog whistles were always loud and clear to those of us who need abortions — two-thirds of whom are people of color. In 2011, after my abortion, I saw offensive billboards erected near my grandparents’ home in Chicago’s Black southside communities with an image of President Barack Obama declaring “every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted;” nevermind the fact that — like the overwhelming majority of Black people — the former President is pro-choice and the anti-abortion movement spent millions of dollars trying to destroy everything he advocated for.

Anti-abortion activists speak about people of color in extremely violent, misogynistic and degrading language. Openly white nationalist politicians have equated our abortions to killing puppies, while others created videos declaring indigenous traditions as child sacrifice and compared them to abortion. They’ve trafficked in xenophobic myths and anti-Semitic tropes for decades. The sermons of “pro-life” politicians often go hand in hand with promises to gut welfare, decimate food and housing services for families with low-incomes, increasingly militarize the police, and refuse to expand Medicaid, knowing full well whose families these policies support.

In December 2020, during a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the harms of the Hyde Amendment — the federal budget amendment that bars Medicaid insurance from covering abortion care — Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA)  recalled how, the amendment’s author, Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL) said that it would only impact "little ghetto kids." And yet, the “pro-life” movement does nothing as the people whose pregnancies they’re compelling to term do not have the basic welfare safety nets in place to thrive and raise growing children.

Anti-abortion ideology and white supremacy have always been entangled: The very idea of telling someone — truly, anyone, but particularly people of color — how, when and why they can create a family has always been at the root of this nation’s founding. For centuries, white slave owners profited from their own rape, forced breeding, and sale of Black women and children through hundreds of years of chattel slavery.

For decades the anti-abortion movement has amplified ahistoric claims of "Black genocide," "abortion is slavery," and tried to rewrite the history of Black leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who saw reproductive freedom as a “special and urgent concern,” once writing in Ebony Magazine, “women must be considered as more than 'breeding machines.'"

Like the billboard I saw after my abortion, co-opted slogans like "Black unborn lives matter" are nothing but inverted propaganda to make white people feel better as they continually wash their hands clean from enacting racist policies that directly harm our families and blame our inability to rise above our station on Black people who have abortions. It’s the gaslighting for me.

To be sure, many gynecological procedures have intertwined roots in slavery and the eugenics movement, but that’s because much of modern medicine and history does. The desire to control other people’s futures through their reproduction is a problem of power and dominance created and upheld by white people — and truthfully, it is white people’s job to recognize and dismantle it.

We are not ignorant to the direct lineage of white supremacy to reproductive oppression and coercion in this nation; from slavery to the Hyde Amendment and the Trump Administration's forcible sterilization of ICE detainees. We’re not buying it. In the recent Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections, Black and brown people resoundingly rejected the white candidates who explicitly campaigned with white supremacists and promised to make abortion a crime. White voters gleefully supported them anyway. The pain of the lie, so blatantly flung in our faces as if we don’t know our own history and cannot see racism for what it is, is the coarsest salt kneaded deeply in our wounds.

It’s no coincidence that Roe v. Wade is skating on thin ice as white supremacist insurrectionists are on the rise. That’s a feature, not a bug. Changing the president will of course help, but to reimagine what the possibilities of Roe v. Wade should have been will take a reckoning that we have not seen before. To ensure a future where everyone has the rights, respect and abilities to decide if, when and how to grow their own families, we have to recognize the ways in which ending white supremacy is a central issue to reproductive freedom. There is no way we can have true bodily autonomy and reproductive justice without ending white supremacy. Black and brown people have been organizing for this future for centuries. Now it’s on white people to clean up the mess they made.


Renee Bracey Sherman is the executive director of We Testify, an organization dedicated to abortion storytelling.