Larry Smith

Last week I read the painful, poignant and powerful column that my friend and colleague Marshawn Wolley wrote. Wolley’s essay concerned the ongoing high murder rate of African Americans in Indianapolis — the overwhelming majority of whom were killed by their fellow African Americans. As he always does, Wolley laid out a clear, cogent and well-researched polemic.

From the outset, allow me to state that this column is by no means a rebuttal to, or rebuke of, Wolley. In fact, I affirm the central thesis of his column. Rather, I am reacting to one statement in particular. Wolley wrote, “Defenseless Black babies were murdered in Indianapolis.” He was referring to the fact that very young children, including babies, have been victims of violence — unintentionally and intentionally. 

This statement arrested my attention in large measure because I am a dedicated father. My mind traveled very quickly from instances of shootings, to various forms of domestic violence … to abortion. According to a 2019 Gallup survey, Americans are pretty evenly split between people who identify as “pro-life” as compared to those who identify as “pro-choice.” (Basically, younger, less religious, higher earning and more educated people tend to identify as pro-choice, whereas older, more religious, lower earning, and less educated people tend to identify as pro-life.) 

In context, it is obvious that Wolley did not intend to engage in a discussion about abortion policy. That is not my aim, either. However, as a moral imperative, it is important to understand that respect for Black lives should not begin outside the womb. (And, as I frequently remind my pro-life counterparts, such concern should not end outside the womb.) Also, to be crystal clear, I don’t use the word “murder” in relation to abortion. Doing so amounts to “word porn” that does nothing to advance the cause of preventing abortions. 

As is the case with every major socioeconomic issue in America, race plays a role in this discourse. In this case, I am fully aware that many white pro-lifers exhibit very little concern for babies (of whatever race) after they’re born. (I refer to those people as “pro-birth” rather than “pro-life.”) In the same way that Black feminists often distinguish themselves from white feminists by referring to themselves as “womanists,” I distinguish my pro-life stance from the majority of my white evangelical friends. They only care about the “genocide” of the unborn, not “Black lives.” If they did, they would actively advocate for policies that assist low-income mothers and young children.

Further, unlike my pro-birth friends, I strongly oppose the death penalty. My opposition is based in part on the fact that it is racially biased. I also oppose it on moral grounds, even when I am comfortable that the person was rightly convicted for a heinous crime. Why? I don’t believe in the orderly, state-sanctioned murder of any human being. Yet, I don’t understand how so many of my anti-death penalty friends can have so much compassion for those who are (in some cases) the most guilty, but have little or no compassion for those who are the most innocent.

As I always feel obliged to do in such discussions, I affirm that the key to preventing abortion is the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. Thus, I am a strong advocate for birth control and sex education. I will also affirm that the grossly disproportionate rate of poverty and other social ills among African Americans greatly contributes to the fact that Black women are as much as five times as likely to have an abortion as white women. Finally, I would not overturn Roe if I had a magic wand. I hold that view for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that overturning it would immediately have a disproportionate and devastating effect on women who are African American and/or low income. 

However, even after acknowledging the preceding, consider this sobering fact: Going back at least to 2012, more Black babies have been aborted in New York City each and every year than were born there during that same timeframe. Let that sink in for a moment. Further, while exact numbers are difficult to obtain, roughly 16 million Black babies have been aborted since Roe was decided. By any objective standard, that is a tragedy — irrespective of the underlying causes. Thus, for me, this issue is far beyond any political posturing.

The legal and social fights regarding abortion rights are as vehement as they have ever been. Donald Trump’s presidency has encouraged a spate of anti-abortion laws because he has appointed judges (and justices) who are staunchly pro-life. His current stance on abortion is one of the key drivers of his popularity in the Republican Party. 

I understand that my view is not popular among a substantial portion of our community. But I have learned from most of my heroes. They have all been unafraid to take a stand — and to do so alone if necessary. In the end, we are cognitively and morally dissonant if we continue to call ourselves “kings and queens” even as we continue to sacrifice our unborn “princes and princesses” in such epidemic numbers.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com

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