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"All Lives Matter" is now being used against abortion rights

Anti-abortion activists often repeat messages like the one in this controversial New York City billboard.
Anti-abortion activists often repeat messages like the one in this controversial New York City billboard.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement often use the phrase "all lives matter" to dismiss activists' concerns about police violence against black Americans. But now lawmakers in Missouri, where the Black Lives Matter movement began, are using the phrase in anti-abortion legislation.

Rep. Mike Moon of the Missouri State House sponsored a bill called the All Lives Matter Act, which would define a fetus or embryo as a "person" from the moment of conception. It would also get rid of language that requires the state's existing "fetal personhood" law to comply with the US Constitution and other Supreme Court jurisprudence like Roe v. Wade — language that saved the original fetal personhood law from being struck down by the Supreme Court in the first place.

Fetal personhood laws can put abortion rights and even contraception rights at risk, and they are so extreme that even voters in conservative states like Mississippi repeatedly reject them at the ballot box. But that doesn't stop conservative lawmakers from trying to pass them in one form or another. And reproductive justice advocates say that calling this particular bill the All Lives Matter Act is a finger in the eye of women of color in particular.

"By sponsoring this bill, Rep. Moon suggests that the state of Missouri codify into law the assertion that Black women are killing their own children, are incapable of making decisions about their own bodies, and cannot control their sexual desires," writes Christine Assefa at the Feminist Wire. "All of these characterizations perpetuate historical, violent, and harmful stereotypes of Black women that reveal the deeply-rooted relationship between race and sexual politics."

This isn't the first time anti-abortion lawmakers and activists have tried to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement

Ben Carson has said that the Black Lives Matter movement should say "all black lives matter," to include the black lives that are "eradicated by abortion." He also spoke at a black conservative conference centered on opposition to abortion called "In Defense of Life: Why All Lives Matter."

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) recently wondered aloud on the US House floor why the Congressional Black Caucus isn't talking more about "how their communities are targeted in abortion" when they talk about things like police violence, because black women have abortions at higher rates than other demographic groups.

The CBC's Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) shot back that she didn't expect Duffy to understand why his comments are so offensive to the black community, but that he failed to mention the real reason black women have abortions at higher rates: poverty and lack of access to quality, affordable preventive health care.

Abortion clinic escort Lauren Rankin said that she's observed a new trend in anti-abortion protests outside of clinics, which is to target black women as they enter and say things like, "Black life matters," and, "Hands up, don't abort!" Other clinic escorts told Vox similar stories.

Racially problematic remarks are common in the anti-abortion movement

For years, anti-abortion activists have spread messages and erected billboards that say things like, "The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb." They make the same point about black abortion rates that Duffy did on the House floor, and they say abortion is a "black genocide." They spread dubious narratives about Margaret Sanger's eugenicist sympathies and falsely claim that Planned Parenthood "targets" black women by building more clinics in majority-black neighborhoods.

Comparing abortion to slavery, which Ben Carson also did, has been a meme in anti-abortion activism for decades. The pro-life movement sees itself as championing the cause of social justice — as fighting for the rights of a voiceless, marginalized group of people. So they often appropriate the rhetoric of civil rights and related causes.

Reproductive justice advocates of color say that these kinds of comparisons are wildly offensive because of the brutal history of reproductive coercion in slavery. Enslaved women had no rights to their own offspring, much less their own bodies — they were sold or beaten if they couldn't or wouldn't reproduce, and if they did have children, there was no guarantee they'd ever get to raise them.

The problem with both the slavery comparison and the "black genocide" meme is that they inevitably compare black women to slaveholders and mass murderers. Black women are the ones choosing and obtaining abortions in order to plan their families and lives, and black women are the ones targeted when protesters and politicians use this kind of rhetoric.

Given this context, it's not at all surprising that anti-abortion activists and lawmakers like Rep. Moon would co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement like this. But it doesn't make it any less offensive to black women.

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