Harvard Law debate confronts abortion levels among blacks
By Evan Lips | April 19, 2016, 19:48 EDT
CAMBRIDGE – A discussion at Harvard Law School on Tuesday featured a black, pro-life activist talking about the disproportionate rate of abortions within the black community – what could possibly go wrong?
“There is certainly pro-life and pro-choice rhetoric underlying the issue,” law student Chase Giacomo, president of Harvard Law Students for Life, said at the beginning of the discussion on the Harvard University campus. “But we’re really here today to talk about the disproportionate ratio of abortions in the black community.”
Enter speakers Ryan Bomberger, founder of the pro-life Radiance Foundation, and Professor Diane L. Rosenfeld, director of the law school’s gender violence program. Harvard Law Students for Life, in conjunction with the Harvard Law Black Students Association, organized the event billed as a “safe space for students to hear different perspectives on this important issue and to ask the speakers questions.”
While certainly “safe,” the event was mostly dominated by questions and comments from those who disagreed with Bomberger’s views on what he called “abortion profiteering,” with applause from the students in attendance reserved for Rosenfeld’s pro-choice perspectives.
Bomberger, who along with his wife Bethany, founded the Radiance Foundation three years ago to tackle the issues of family breakdown, poverty, and human rights, said that abortion — not law enforcement — is the leading killer of unarmed black lives.
“We hear all the time about unarmed black lives,” he said. “Planned Parenthood is the leading killer of unarmed black lives.
“If you want to talk about systemic racial injustice, then we need to have a conversation right here – this is where racial injustice happens all the time,” he said, referring to abortion providers and the people who use them.
“There is a huge disparity.”
In his initial comments, Bomberger talked about his background growing up in a mixed-race family as one of 15 children, most of whom were adopted, including him. His black birth mother, he pointed out, had been raped. Born in 1971, Bomberger’s birth predated the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that effectively legalized abortion across the nation.
“That’s my background, to give you a little bit of an understanding of why I’m coming from this particular perspective,” Bomberger said.
He recalled the Radiance Foundation’s first billboard ad campaign in Atlanta which he said was the first ever to “deal with the hugely disproportionate impact of abortions in the black community.”
Bomberger later played a video for students that combined film clips of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was slain in 1968, speaking about injustice and citing abortion statistics. Bomberger pointed out that New York City sees “more black babies aborted than born alive.”
At one point Bomberger displayed a Facebook post that Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards shared in August 2014, following the police-involved death of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
“A parent’s right to raise their child in love and safety, and to dream that their child will have every opportunity in the world to grow into a fiercely independent adult is a fundamental issue of reproductive justice,” the post read.
“I found it striking,” Bomberger said about the post. “Coming from the nation’s leading abortion chain, there is some irony there.”
In her introductory remarks, pro-choice professor Diane Rosenfeld, who teaches courses at Harvard Law entitled “Gender Violence, Law and Social Justice” and “Theories of Sexual Coercion,” introduced one of her students who is working on a project focused on society’s perceived inability to “believe black women.”
Rosenfeld spent about 10 minutes discussing such “structural problems” and referred to Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer recently sentenced to 263 years in prison for using his badge to prey on countless women in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
“What happens if one of his victims, after she got raped, got pregnant?” Rosenfeld asked. “First there’s the lack of choice of who has access to your body – and then what to do about that horrible consequence.”
Rosenfeld used that as an example of why a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion should be respected.
“I think I’ll close by saying that I really respect people’s right to think whatever they want on this issue,” Rosenfeld said. “But your opinion has no place on my body.”
At the outset, Rosenfeld said she wasn’t trying to “change minds.”
“I think the debate is already so firmly entrenched, it can get so vitriolic,” she noted.
Although the speakers’ introductory remarks drew polite applause, a confrontational tone quickly arose as the floor was opened to questions.
After a student accused Bomberger of not supporting birth control, Bomberger replied: “That’s not at all what I said.” He went on to say a “presumed narrative” that a pro-life advocate is against contraception or birth control is “destructive.”
Bomberger’s response prompted an outcry from a student who shouted, “This is propaganda!” before stalking out of the forum, adding: “You’re taking away a woman’s right to choose.”
While the parting shot drew cheers, Bomberger noted that the outburst held up the discussion.
“You’re taking away the opportunity of another student to ask a question,” he said.
Bomberger also verbally sparred with Rosenfeld, who described his inclusion of King in his presentation as “really slick.”
“I also appreciated the picture of you in that first slide,” she said in a mocking tone. “You were really adorable.” The apparently gratuitous comment succeeded in drawing out members of the audience, many of whom delivered laughs.
Rosenfeld took issue with Bomberger’s view that Planned Parenthood’s biggest business is abortion. She accused him of ignoring that the organization provides women with contraceptives, birth control and health screenings.
“It’s called ‘Planned Parenthood’,” Rosenfeld deadpanned at one point, drawing cheers from students.
Bomberger and Rosenfeld displayed a fundamental disagreement on abortion, with the professor taking the view of the issue as revolving around a woman’s control of her body and Bomberger looking at it as “a human rights issue.” He disputed Rosenfeld’s stance, saying it “is not a women’s rights issue.”
The two disagreed again about whether the unborn are human beings. Rosenfeld said it’s “just wrong to consider it being a child when it is just a mingling of DNA.”
Bomberger challenged her, asking whether referring to an unborn fetus as a person is “wrong scientifically or wrong emotionally – because it’s certainly not wrong scientifically.”
“You have to understand what the nature of that something is,” Bomberger added. “Is it a box of crayons or is it a human being?”
Bomberger’s response prompted one student to shout, “We’re asking the questions here!” An African-American student drew cheers when she demanded whether Bomberger thought “black women are too naive and stupid to make our own choices, because that is the only way your argument makes any sense.”
That prompted Rosenfeld to declaim that the student had “asked a really great question.”
In response, Bomberger asserted that “everyone believes in institutional racism” except when it comes to abortion.
“Miseducation is powerful,” he added, apparently to suggest people aren’t well-informed about the issue and may be misled by advocacy groups. “There is information you can actually access and use to come to a reasoned conclusion.”
“So you’re saying we’re stupid, got it,” the student shot back.
Other students countered that the fact that abortion rates are disproportionately higher among black women because of racist and classist public-health policies.
A white woman in the audience suggested that the data may indicate that women make smart decisions.
“Where my train of thought goes – as a woman, we should be choosing prior to the course of action that produces consequences,” the attendee said, drawing groans from students. “Abortion is the product of other actions and we want the freedom to choose what we want to do without knowing that consequences come afterwards?”
Rosenfeld called the woman’s comments “incredibly demeaning and discrediting to all women.”
“You are a privileged white woman,” another student declared to the woman who made the comment.