Donald Trump’s harsh comments about women, Hispanics and Muslims was not the reason that Catherine Davis declined to support him for president.
It was her uncertainty about exactly where the Republican businessman stood on the issue that Davis, a 64-year-old African American, says is the most important one facing the black community: abortion.
“If we don’t have life, then all the other issues pale,” Davis said. “Education doesn’t matter, criminal justice reform doesn’t matter, if you cannot make it out of the womb.”
Davis was energized this week as she joined thousands of antiabortion activists in Washington for the annual March for Life, where Vice President Pence and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway affirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to an antiabortion agenda.
Black women have the highest rate of abortion than any other group, a statistic that Davis and other black antiabortion activists say is the result of a deliberate targeting of the black community. Those who support reproductive rights point to a lack of access to preventive health care among poor black women. They say they also are concerned about the high rate but argue that legal abortion should remain an option for all women.
The crowd at the march was overwhelmingly white, as are the political leaders, organizations and grass-roots activists associated with the antiabortion movement. But Davis, working alone and with others, have long encouraged African Americans to be more vocal and visible in the fight against abortion.
For the first time in a long while, Davis is optimistic that her side will have the upper hand in the debate, especially on her specific goal of defunding Planned Parenthood.
The new White House, along with the Republican Congress, “are communicating clearly a pro-life agenda, and that excites me because it at least gives me an opportunity to be at the table to persuade them to take some steps to stop Planned Parenthood from targeting black women,” Davis said as she made her way along Constitution Avenue on Friday en route to the pre-march rally on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
Several years ago, Davis and other activists drew fire for a billboard campaign in some major cities that featured the faces of African American children, with messages such as “Black children are an endangered species” and “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” They also have criticized Black Lives Matter activists, who have focused on the slayings of African Americans by police, as being hypocrites for not speaking against abortion.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s abortion surveillance report for 2013, in 29 states that have reported abortion data, black women had the highest abortion rate at 27 abortions per 1,000 woman, compared with 7.2 procedures per 1,000 white women and 13.8 abortions per 1,000 Hispanic women.
Michelle S. Batchelor, deputy director of In Our Own Voice, a reproductive rights organization, said the billboard campaign was “hurtful.”
“We understand that some people do not agree with abortion and what we try to emphasize is that’s fine, but don’t interfere with our choice,” said Batchelor. “We trust black women to make the choices that are best for their bodies, best for their families and best for their long-term future,” she said.
A Pew report on abortion published earlier this month showed that 57 percent of the public believes that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, including 58 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks.
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) has criticized antiabortion activists and her Republican counterparts for being overly concerned about the lives unborn children while cutting funding for programs to help struggling women and their families, including Planned Parenthood.
“Their strategy is as transparent as it is offensive: exploiting the high rate of abortion among black women as evidence that minority communities are targeted for abortion,” Moore said. “Not only must we speak truth to such deceptive claims, but it is also imperative that we openly discuss the underlying context behind those numbers and recognize the barriers black women encounter in accessing quality prevention services and reproductive care.”
Glorya Jordan, a mother of four from Woodbridge, Va., said not enough is being done to give black women options to abortion. She brought a sign to the march that read “Black Lives Matter, born and pre-born.”
“It’s important for the African American community to realize that we’re doing this to ourselves,” Jordan said, noting that in New York City the number of abortions exceeded the number of births among black women. In 2014, the most recent figures available, the city’s health department reported 23,680 births and 27,367 induced terminations among black women.
The stay-at-home mom said she voted for a third-party candidate, shunning both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Trump. “Some of the comments he has made about women — and really about every other group — were inappropriate to say the least,” Jordan said. “However I do want him to stand for life. I do want him to stand for both the born and the pre-born. I’m hoping he will do that.”
Davis said she has had two abortions, the first when was in college. “I knew if I had told my mother I was pregnant, she would have raised the baby and sent me on back to college. I didn’t want the responsibility,” she said. Now a grandmother of three, Davis, who lives in Stone Mountain, Ga., said she became an antiabortion warrior in 1987, after listening to “men of God teaching about abortion. That was the day I had to face what I had done.”
Davis said she and other black female antiabortion activists such as Day Gardner, founder of the National Black Pro-Life Union, and Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., have been criticized because they have framed abortion as an issue of racial discrimination.
“Many of us have been ridiculed and belittled and put down. They say that we were trying to make an issue racial that wasn’t racial, they say we’ve sold out to the white agenda,” Davis said. She said she could use more black female allies in her cause.
One of the most well-received speakers at Friday’s march was Rep. Mia Love (Utah), who in 2014 became the first African American Republican woman elected to Congress. Love wiped away tears as she said she was glad that her parents did not choose abortion when they were struggling immigrants who had left two children in Haiti and learned a third was on the way when they arrived in the United States 41 years ago.
Love told the crowd that she was moved by a photo of a black teenage girl at last weekend’s Women’s March on Washington. “She was holding a sign that said, ‘I survived Roe v. Wade.’ That young woman beat the odds and was born into a world too far often that favors the abortion of a black girl instead of the life of a black girl.”
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.