I’ve made no secret about my support for a woman’s right to choose—been very clear that I firmly believe it is solely a woman’s decision to settle on when and if she’s ready to hand over her body to pregnancy and her life to motherhood. So there’s no confusion, let me make it absolutely crystal: I am against abortion for me. But that is my choice. If another woman has different beliefs that lead her to a different decision for herself, well, that’s her business. Her right. Her choice.
My support of choice extends, too, to a woman’s right to bear babies, no matter what anyone else has to say about her decision, the timing, or her marital and financial status. I point this out because when it comes to women of color and our reproductive choices, someone seems to always talk sideways about why, how and when black and Latina women should and do become moms. You know how it goes: we’re promiscuous. Irresponsible. A drain on the system. Incapable of thoughtful parenting. Perpetually damned if we don’t, and damned if we do.
I’ve been thinking about reproductive choice a lot of late—because of sustained attacks against Planned Parenthood. Because of Mississippi’s Personhood Initiative, which would have criminalized in-vitro fertilization and birth control methods and outlawed abortion in the state, even in cases of rape, incest, domestic violence and life-threatening pregnancy. And especially because of a story I saw earlier this week on Rock Center with Brian Williams, about one woman’s fight to have the state of North Carolina pay for sanctioning her sterilization. A victim of rape, Elaine Riddick became pregnant at the tender age of 13; around the time that she gave birth to her son in 1967, a five-person state eugenics* board agreed with her doctor that Elaine was “feebleminded” and “promiscuous” and, under a state law that gave them the right, that board approved a recommendation that her tubes be tied so that she could no longer procreate. Riddick didn’t find out until she was 19, married and desperate to have more children with her husband that she couldn’t have any more babies. Her new doctor told her she’d been “butchered.”
“I was raped by a perpetrator [who was never charged] and then I was raped by the state of North Carolina. They took something from me both times,” she said. “The state of North Carolina, they took something so dearly from me, something that was God given.”
States all across the country had laws that allowed for this barbaric assault, used first against poor whites and, later, primarily against blacks, the poor and women. The Rock Center report says that North Carolina had its law on the books straight through until 2003. Yes, you read that right: 2003.
You can read more about Elaine’s story here at the online home of Rock Center With Brian Williams. Or, if you have the time, you can watch the report in its entirety below. I strongly encourage the latter. Elaine’s choice—her God-given reproductive right—to have babies was snatched away from her. This is what happens when we let laws decide what should happen to our bodies rather than allowing these deeply personal choices to remain just that—personal.
Marinate on that as you watch this woman’s painful story. And if this is the quality journalism and storytelling I can expect from Rock Center with Brian Williams, they have a huge fan. I’ll be tuning in regularly for sure.
*Yes, I am fully aware of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s stance on eugenics and our community’s disgust with her over it, but I remain steadfast in my support of the modern version of the organization, which I truly believe is doing an amazing job providing reproductive education and services to women and families who can’t find or afford to get it elsewhere. And no, I have no interest in arguing with anyone about this; you have the right to your opinion and I have the right to mine and engaging in comment-to-comment combat about whether abortion is right or wrong will not change my mind or yours. If you insist on stating the case against abortion, please be respectful and brief, but I’d love it if we could stay on topic and discuss Elaine’s story.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.