Pastor's crusade aims to halt wave of black abortions
by Julia Duin; THE WASHINGTON TIMES
'It's killed more than Ku Klux Klan'
The Washington Times, January 10, 1997
The Rev. Johnny Hunter bemoans the plight of black Americans who are
killing themselves off at an incredible rate.
However, the weapon of choice Mr. Hunter seeks to destroy is not the
Saturday night special or the crack pipe, but the surgical scalpel. The killer
he is fighting is abortion.
"It's killed more blacks than the Ku Klux Klan ever lynched," says Mr.
Hunter, national director of Life, Education and Resource Network (LEARN) in
Black women are three times as likely to abort as white women and twice as
likely to have abortions as Hispanic women, according to data from the Alan
Although blacks make up 12 percent of the nation's population, they account
for 31 percent of its abortions, the Guttmacher Institute says.
"When you're a minority, you can't take that kind of hit and survive as a
race," Mr. Hunter says.
Heading a group that networks with 50 other pro-life outfits in 27 states,
Mr. Hunter is trying to buck the trend in the black abortion rate, saying that
black inertia and white perceptions are working against him.
He recalls the spring of 1992, when pro-life and pro-choice demonstrators
were lining up on both sides of a street near an abortion clinic in Buffalo,
When a black woman walked up the street, accompanied by her 10-year-old son,
clinic escorts rushed up to protectively surround her and usher her through
clinic doors. Then they discovered that the woman, Barbara Kirk, a pastor's
wife, really wanted to join the prayer pickets across the street.
"It was the funniest thing I've ever seen," Mr. Hunter says. "They just
whooshed her out of there."
But what wasn't funny to the pastor was the escorts' assumption that because
black women have the nation's highest abortion rates of any race, Mrs. Kirk was
there for only one purpose.
Guttmacher figures show about 34 million U.S. abortions have taken place
since the Supreme Court struck down anti-abortion laws in 1973. One-third of
that figure works out to more than 11 million black fetuses aborted.
"I met with some black pastors in Birmingham and they said, 'Brother, blacks
don't go to abortion clinics in Birmingham.' I invited them to go to the clinics
and some of them went. They were shocked," Mr. Hunter says. "In one hour, we
saw 12 women go into a clinic and all of them were black."
Sheila Massey, founder and director of African Americans for Life, based in
Charleston, S.C., says pastors in her town think abortion is a white issue. She
says that's why when she wrote or called 100 black Charleston pastors about
black abortion rates, only six responded.
"It was atrocious," she says. "Most of them felt it was a white,
evangelical issue; a Republican issue vs. a Democrat issue. They said they
[whites] didn't help us in the civil rights movement, and I said, 'What does the
civil rights movement have to do with this? Why should I look back to what may
or may not have happened in the past and not do anything now? These babies have
civil rights, too.' "
"If you look at a map of where blacks and whites live, you'd see a higher
concentration of clinics more accessible to black areas," says Dr. Haywood
Robinson, who once operated a Los Angeles abortion clinic.
Now a family physician in College Station, Texas, Dr. Robinson says "not
that many" clinic operators are black. "They are basically white-owned as
medicine in general is not a minority business."
Black political groups generally have been pro-choice. In March's vote on
partial birth abortions, most black House members voted not to outlaw the
practice. Reps. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat; Floyd H. Flake, New
York Democrat; and J.C. Watts, Oklahoma Republican, were the three dissenters.
"When the feminists came in the 1970s, a trade-off was made" between black
and female politicians, says Ken Wolfe, spokesman for Rep. Christopher H.
Smith, a pro-life New Jersey Republican.
"The women said, 'We'll accept affirmative action if you accept abortion.'
This constituency paired in the Democratic Party and voila, there was this
coalition that didn't before exist."
"We've whitewashed this issue in the black community just as we have in
society," Mr. Watts says in an interview. "Abortion is just a statistic, and
because of that, children are sacrificed on the altar of convenience. People who
say they're not pro-abortion, they're pro-choice; well, the end results are the
"The pro-lifers have been out-communicated and out-educated," he says.
"There's been a heck of a sales job in the black community to say abortion is
only a statistic; that it's not just a matter of life but of choice."
Akua Furlow, who co-directs LEARN out of Houston, says the publicity problem
exists because "the African-American pro-life community has been effectively
excluded from the media."
"Johnny Hunter organized the Buffalo demonstrations but [Operation Rescue
leader] Randall Terry got all the credit for it," Miss Furlow says. "No one knew
there was a black pastor behind it."
Things were different 20 years ago, when the Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote an
article condemning abortion in the January 1977 National Right to Life News.
Abortion, he wrote, was a "personal issue" with him, because his mother was
counseled to have an abortion when she was pregnant with him out of wedlock.
Mr. Jackson reversed himself in 1984 to embrace the pro-choice position and
was criticized for it in 1988 by Colman McCarthy, a columnist for The Washington
Post. The pundit said the old Mr. Jackson, who believed in speaking out
prophetically on social issues, would have beaten the new Mr. Jackson in a
Yet Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan "is very pro-life," Mr. Hunter
"When they had the conference on violence [in 1995], Louis Farrakhan said
you can't address the violence on the street until you address the violence in
the womb. But quite frankly, we've never seen a Muslim in front of an abortion
clinic to this day," he adds.
What riles black pro-lifers is Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest
abortion provider, which for 14 years was headed by a black woman, Faye
Kay Coles James, a Regent University dean, says Mrs. Wattleton has refused
to debate black pro-lifers such as herself. Others say Mrs. Wattleton seemed
oblivious of how Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger, recruited black
ministers and physicians to push sterilization or at least birth control for her
The "Negro Project" could be misinterpreted, Sanger wrote to one backer in
December 1939, and "we do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate
the Negro population and the minister is the man who can straighten out that
idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members."
A Planned Parenthood spokesman says there has been misinformation about
Sanger and that the group enjoys widespread support among blacks. Its ad
campaign in several black magazines portraying 11 black male celebrities as
"African-American Men for Choice [got] a lot of good response," he says.
Miss Furlow says Planned Parenthood has merely switched its emphasis from
black sterilization to black abortion.
Copyright 1997 News World Communications, Inc.