A look back: Black civil rights activists supported the Hyde Amendment

Planned Parenthood, pregnancy center, abortion

The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding for abortion, and it was strongly supported by Black civil rights activists in the 1970s when it was enacted. But today, Hyde is under attack by proponents of abortion — like Hillary Clinton, who vowed to a Planned Parenthood audience to repeal it.

Because African-Americans were once the target of eugenic sterilization, Black leaders have equated government-funded programs which push birth control and abortion with Black genocide. And, like they did in the 1970s, abortion pushers who advocate taxpayer-funded abortion insist these programs further “reproductive rights” for the poor. But Planned Parenthood founder and birth control advocate Margaret Sanger believed that the poor have the right to fewer, not more, children.

Samuel F. Yette was one of the first Black journalists to work for Newsweek. In 1971, he wrote The Choice: The Issue of Black Survival in America, in which he described how government solutions for the poor stressed the necessity for birth control as the best means of alleviating hunger. In addition, Yette documented that mandatory abortions for unwed mothers were recommended at a 1969 White House Conference on the topic. The effort, he notes, was blocked by Black activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who denounced abortion as “legalized murder” and called it a plot to exterminate the Black population.

Samuel Yette and his book The Choice (Image credit Saynsumthn blog)

Samuel Yette and his book The Choice (Image credit Saynsumthn blog)

In 1977, Yette condemned Black Congressional leaders who voted for federally funded abortion, comparing their action to that of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision. Yette wrote:

Like the court majority in Roe, they are forced to the position that the unborn child is not a person. Specifically, not a person subject to the equal protection of the law provided in the Fourteenth Amendment…. Roe v. Wade was a Dred Scott decision for the unborn. It is ironic in the extreme that black political leadership… sadly failing to remember that the society that condemned Dred Scott as a non-person on one side of the line used the same rationale to condemn him on the other…. As to the long-range effects of public policies favoring abortion, I believe them to be wrong.

In almost a sarcastic tone, Yette pointed out the irony in how easy it was for Blacks to obtain free abortions but not free medical care, writing, “It is still a society in which an injured man must show his ability to pay before getting hospital services, but his daughter or wife can be aborted or fed birth control pills, at public expense…”

In 1985, Yette told supporters:

Any public policy that condones, encourages, or participates in the taking of life on the pre-birth side of the womb, anticipates and works toward the policies and practices and the same rationales that destroy life on the after birth-side of the womb.

Given the history of the genocidal practices and public policies impacted on black people in the society, it is barely believable that any significant number of black people at all could condone, much less demand, public policies and financing the destruction of human life on either side of the womb.

In addition to Yette, Rev. Jesse Jackson also once opposed taxpayer funding of abortion.

Rev. Jesse Jackson ( Image taken from 1978 March for Life Program)

Rev. Jesse Jackson ( Image taken from 1978 March for Life Program)

In a 1973 interview with Jet Magazine, Jackson called abortion “genocide” and in 1975, Jackson endorsed a Constitutional amendment banning abortion. Then three years after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, Jackson told Judith Randal of the New York Daily News, “I think that whenever Human Life ceases to represent the highest value in the human sphere, the society is in trouble…” The following year (1977) Jackson endorsed the Hyde Amendment, stating, “As a matter of conscience, I must oppose the use of federal funds for a policy of killing infants.” Sadly, Jackson reversed course on abortion when he made the decision to run for President.

Many Black leaders believed that abortion affected both the preborn child and their community, and that aborting Black babies was antithetical to the rights they were fighting to attain. Human worth was not based on ownership, they claimed, but on the individual’s right to life. British orator Samuel Bradburn graphically detailed this idea when he discussed the treatment of pregnant slaves.

In 1972, Black social activist, Erma Clardy Craven, who described herself as “a liberal Democrat,” also noted the contradiction that as slaves, Black babies had value, but as free people they did not:

In times past, the Blacks couldn’t grow kids fast enough for their ‘masters’ to harvest…

Now that power is near, the ‘masters’ want us to call a morato­rium on having babies. When looked at in context, the whole mess adds up to blatant genocide.

Erma Clardy Craven 1987

In 1987, before a group at the University of Toledo, Craven accused the United States of attempting to limit the births of Blacks through abortion. A year later, a publication quoted Craven as vowing that “As long as there is breath in me I shall fight for the right of the Black child to exist.”

In 1992, Craven denounced government-funded abortion and blamed the push on the abortion industry: “The pressure on welfare women today is to have abortions. The pressure is primarily from people who are making money promoting it, primarily Planned Parenthood.”

Dr. Mildred F. Jefferson, the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and the first woman to be a surgical intern at Boston City Hospital, referred to abortion as “class war against the poor” in 1976:

People who are fewer will disappear soonest and fastest, especially people who have a background of neglect. If people think their problems result from being a minority, why should they become more minor?

Dr. Mildred Jefferson 1975 (Image Credit AP via the New York Times)

Dr. Mildred Jefferson 1975 (Image Credit AP via the New York Times)

The distinguished Black surgeon was also critical of federally funded abortions referring to them as a “cruel trick” on the poor: “They are using the money intended to help the poor people for the purpose of getting rid of the poor and making them think they are receiving a benefit,” she said, calling the effort “the cruel use of poor people as pawns in the emotional game of those who demand abortion as socially expedient.”

Shortly after the Hyde Amendment was passed by Congress, Dr. Jefferson hailed the effort and suggested that since abortionists argue that the poor should have access to abortion just like the rich, then “abortionists should make a list of the other things rich women have that they’re going to give to poor women.”

mildredjefferson2_grayscaleIn 2003, Dr. Jefferson eloquently summed up her belief, saying:

I am at once a physician, a citizen and a woman, and I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged and the planned have the right to live.

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