In a September shooting that stunned the nation, a Tulsa police officer shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man. That same week, the shooting of armed black man Keith Lamont Scott sparked protests and rioting in Charlotte.
These cases followed a series of shocking deaths over the summer, particularly the shooting of Philando Castile as his girlfriend watched from the passenger seat.
Most recently, San Diego police killed an unarmed man—after his sister asked officers to help him because of his mental state.
We don’t know all the details of these cases. But we can still discuss how we should respond to them. Specifically: How should pro-life advocates respond to police brutality and growing frustrations in the African-American community?
When police brutality comes up in conversation, I’ve heard fellow pro-life advocates shift the dialogue to high abortion rates in the black community. “If black lives matter, why are you aborting your children?” they ask. Their underlying message: it’s hypocritical for the black community to care about those dying from police brutality and not for those in their community who choose abortion.
Meanwhile, I’ve read countless comments discussing police brutality, in which abortion statistics are brought up solely to suggest that there’s a bigger issue we should worry about. While it’s true that statistics show more black pre-born children die from abortion than black people die at the hands of the police, these are two separate issues. Both deserve attention without being pitted against each other.
Abortion deaths may be “bigger” in numbers, but this doesn’t negate the fact that any life lost through violence is a tragedy.
#BlackLivesMatter Should Be A Pro-Life Message
I remember when #BlackLivesMatter first began surfacing after the death of Trayvon Martin. When I saw the hashtag, it spoke a powerful truth to me. The message that black lives are valuable is one I identify with and believe in. I have worked more than a decade to show my people how high abortion rates have devastated our communities. I’ve educated others on the racist history of Planned Parenthood, revealing how founder Margaret Sanger aimed to decrease the black population.
Black Lives Matter activists communicated a truth I believed in—but for a different purpose. I felt conflicted, because I couldn’t reconcile our messages around a mutual desire to preserve life. I also grieved over the tragic deaths of Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and 12 year-old Tamir Rice, among others. At the same time, I grieved over the 16 million black children aborted since Roe v. Wade. It’s why I spent years praying at the Supreme Court for innocent lives. It’s why I serve in a local pregnancy resource center today.
I wanted to join these causes together. I longed for my black brothers and sisters to take to the streets in protest for the unborn, as well as for those harmed by police brutality. That desire to fight for life at every stage is good and right. But I fought a growing judgment towards those passionate over lives lost to police brutality, yet seemingly apathetic towards those lost to abortion.
Both Movements Seek to Protect Life
As the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement continued, I began to listen more attentively. Listening doesn’t mean I must agree with everything a person says or does. Listening is an act of love—an opportunity to be humble and hear the heart cry of another. As I listened to both friends and strangers, I heard stories of discrimination, decades of pain, and legitimate fears.
While listening, a thought came to me. I wanted my people, the black community, to hear my pain over children killed via abortion. But they wanted others to hear their pain over the loss of their sons and daughters via police brutality. That realization led me to understand, in a deeper way, that the black community is collectively in mourning.
This new empathy inspired me to commit to speaking with compassion and hope. I decided to look at police brutality and abortion as separate issues, both deserving of attention. I challenged myself to not interject abortion into the discussion of police brutality in ways that might accuse or shame the black community.
This does not mean I am unaware of the fact that Black Lives Matter as an organization supports abortion rights. BLM leaders partner with the pro-choice women of color organization Sister Song. This is one of many planks in the BLM platform that I clearly do not support.
How To Empathize With A Cause That’s Pro-Choice?
This puts me in an interesting place. How can I empathize with a movement that advocates for something I disagree with? I’ve found the best way to do this is to see the movement for what it is: a broad group of people with varying levels of involvement, all trying to raise awareness and fight the specific issue of police brutality.
The person who leads a BLM march and the teenager who tweets #BlackLivesMatter are different people with unique ambitions. But they both want to protect black lives. Black Lives Matter as an organization has initiatives and an agenda. By acknowledging black lives are important, I do not support every action members of the Black Lives Matter movement take.
Rather, I look at the people in BLM as individuals in a larger movement—and I show solidarity to them in their cause for justice. I do not agree with every tactic or protest on behalf of BLM. But I believe police brutality is real and should be addressed. I am glad BLM is having this dialogue and bringing it to the national stage. Perhaps through open lines of communication, we can all work together to bring positive change.
Pro-Lifers Shouldn’t Ignore Police Brutality
What does the mean on a practical level? For starters, I’ve come to believe that using certain questions as a knee-jerk response—“If black lives matter, then why are your abortion rates so high?”—is hurtful to the people I want to reach. It deflects from the issue BLM is fighting for. It suggests that if black people don’t care about unborn lives as much as adult lives, then they don’t care at all.
But many in the black community do care about the lives of the unborn as much as the lives of adults dying in the streets. Most of my black friends are staunchly pro-life. But they admit to feeling isolated among white pro-lifers when issues of race are discussed. Black leaders who’ve united with the pro-life movement are at times rejected and accused when they speak against racism. They are told to move past it, to “not see color,” to focus on more important issues like abortion (even when they already are) or “black on black” crime.
What about those who care about people dying from police brutality, but not from abortion? These are the people we pro-lifers must reach. Just as the BLM movement has rallied people, we as pro-life advocates can use our creativity, passion, and message to do the same. Instead of accusing the black community of not caring, let’s work to help more of them see abortion as a human rights issue worth caring about.
How do we bridge the divide? How do we all—regardless of race—stand for the pro-life message and communicate it to the black community with love?
Pro-Lifers Must Display Compassion and Care
First, we must seek to listen and care. We must refuse to use tools of shame, and instead uplift people with hope. Many black Americans already understand the issues that ravage our communities. They are not looking for a lecture. They are looking for compassionate people who will fight for change.
I work with women daily who make decisions to parent, place their child up for adoption, or abort. I’ve never had an abortion-vulnerable woman talk about politics or race while making a pregnancy decision. Instead, these women share their financial issues, fear of abandonment, and need for practical resources.
Discussions of movements and politics definitely matter. And I’m not saying we should stop discussing abortion with the black community. These discussions are vital. But how we have these discussions, and when we have them, is important. If we want others to listen to our concerns, we must listen to theirs as well.
As the black community sees the pro-life movement act in caring, compassionate ways, they will understand that we care about the fate of their children. Black lives do matter—from the unborn child to the elderly. As pro-life advocates, we of all people should make that message clear.