On January 18, 2023, many Black Marylanders watched and celebrated the inauguration of Wes Moore as Maryland’s first Black governor. With celebrity speeches, DC politicos, and media fanfare, Moore spritely came to office as the Maryland version of Barack Obama. His spirited rhetoric, his tales of his troubled upbringing, and his appeals to Black audiences connoted a deeply-held commitment to civil rights. In recent weeks, however, Moore’s appeal to Black Marylanders has shifted away from them, specifically with respect to abortion, in favor of a colorblind approach that ignores major racial disparities.
On February 9, 2023, Wes Moore and top Democrat leaders announced support for a package of measures protecting abortion rights, including a state constitutional amendment. Dozens of Democrat state senators and delegates stood by with much enthusiasm. “We’re going to make sure that Maryland is a safe haven for abortion rights long after I’m governor of this state,” Moore declared.
Missing from the speech was one cold fact: Black Americans have a disproportionately higher number of abortions than their white counterparts. Moore’s speech made no mention of these disparities and conveniently so. The whitewashing of these statistics has allowed Moore and the Democrat party to build upon their 2022 victories where they framed abortion as an issue that affected suburban white women just as much as it does for their urban Black counterparts.
But the reality is stubborn and inconvenient. A 2020 study cites CDC data that show Black abortion rates being nearly four times—yes four times–higher than white rates. The study notes that “Between 2007-2016, the Black rate declined 29% and the white rate declined 33%—meaning that the racial disparity actually increased rather than decreased.”
In neighboring Pennsylvania, 2018 data show that abortions accounted for 23.9% of white premature deaths and 62.7% of Black premature deaths. This figure is only magnified nationally where the number of babies aborted by Black women each year far exceeds the combined number of Blacks who drop out of high school, are imprisoned, and are murdered.
Maryland is among the very few states that does not report the race of aborted fetuses, which almost guarantees blissful ignorance on the real possibility that abortion is largely a Black issue. This convenient oversight allows Moore and Democrats to overlook the critical factors that underlie the Black-white disparities in abortion rates. It gives the illusion of color-blind politics and policies that do no service to marginalized Black communities. While Black mothers struggle with the factors that underlie unintended pregnancies that sometimes lead to abortion, Moore provides a sanitized picture of abortion as being a medical procedure that benefits Blacks and whites alike.
A few weeks ago, I read that Delegate Ariana Kelly, a white woman, was selected to become the new chair of the Subcommittee on Minority Health Disparities. Like many Black Marylanders, I thought to myself: “How about that! The Maryland General Assembly has now its highest number of Black delegates and senators in history and yet we have a white liberal activist chairing a subcommittee dedicated to our health.”
The omission of racial disparities in abortion rates is concerning. It suggests that Blacks and whites have equal access to support systems and ante-natal care in addition to experiencing the same rates of unintended pregnancies. The truth is that behind nearly every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. This applies to all women—Black, white, Latina, Asian, and Native American alike. Not surprisingly, the variation in abortion rates across racial and ethnic groups relates directly to the variation in unintended pregnancy rates across those same groups.
Black women’s unintended pregnancy rates are the highest of all. These higher rates reflect the difficulties that many Black women face in accessing contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively over long periods of time. But we will never be able to address these issues if abortion is merely framed as a medical procedure no different than an appendectomy or a root canal that affects every race equally.
With time, more Black Marylanders will view abortion not as an esoteric argument of where life begins, but rather as one of racial survival. Wes Moore and Maryland Democrats may soon have to account for racial disparities, which will require them to acknowledge the dark truth that abortion has disproportionally fallen upon Black women. And with that truth, they will also have to acknowledge the hypocrisy of their messages of “No One Left Behind” in light of their fixation with examining racial disparities in all areas (e.g., education, incarceration, poverty) except this one.
Maybe, Wes Moore will be honest and acknowledge that Black women are critically affected by seemingly colorblind policies on abortion. Likely, he will not. And so, we should forcefully and persistently remind him and Maryland Democrats: abortion is a Black issue and we must start protecting pre-born Black children.