Can Black Women Save Struggling Planned Parenthood?

December 17, 2013  |  

via @PPFAQ

Planned Parenthood has been under heavy attack from anti-abortion organizations, particularly after the release of its annual report last month showing millions in taxpayer funding and a reduction of non-abortion health services. And as states such as Texas, which recently became one of 13 states to ban abortion after 20 weeks, many local Planned Parenthood clinics have closed.

But black women are coming to the rescue. Among the African-American celebrities actively  promoting the organization are Star Jones and Nia Long. Recently Jones joined Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards for an off-the-record discussion of reproductive health and Planned Parenthood’s future with a room full of African-American female influencers, including BET President Debra Lee, producer Crystal McCrary and CBS medical expert Dr. Holly Phillips, reports The Root.

Alexis McGill Johnson, a former political adviser to Sean “Diddy” Combs (remember his get out-the-vote campaign?) and Russell Simmons, hosted the event in her home. Johnson is currently chairwoman of the Planned Parenthood board of directors.

“Women’s health is one of my primary issues. I work so hard to make sure women are aware of ownership of our own bodies, and I see everything Planned Parenthood does as connected to women’s health,” Jones told The Root. “I know the nation thinks of Planned Parenthood in a very myopic way.”  But, she adds, “[w]hen it comes to women’s health, they are the first line of defense for most lower-income women in America.”

The event at Johnson’s home was the latest event in Planned Parenthood’s multiyear campaign to boost its outreach to communities of color. Johnson was appointed board chairwoman earlier this year, in January Debra Alligood-White joined the organization as general counsel, and, Alencia Johnson became press officer focusing on African-American media in April, joining Kristi Henderson, who started as director of communications in April 2011. Of the organization’s nine-member executive team, three are black.

Although from 1978 to 1992, Faye Wattleton served as the organization’s first–and only–black president, Planned Parenthood has long suffered from image issues and ineffective outreach in communities of color. “This became particularly evident as the “black genocide” movement began gaining momentum and significant media in recent years. In 2011 billboards depicting black children with the tagline ‘the most dangerous place for African Americans is in the womb’ appeared,” reports The Root. The group behind the billboards accused Planned Parenthood of targeting minority communities.

Plus, the organization’s complicated early history has undertones of racism. For example, the organization’s founder, Margaret Sanger, spoke in front of organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.

According to PBS, “A significant faction within the Black Power movement believed that population growth was key to increasing black political strength. At the 1967 Black Power Conference in Newark, N.J., attendees passed an anti-birth control resolution declaring birth control to be the equivalent of black genocide.”

But as black women continue to have the highest rate of unplanned pregnancies of any community, access to contraception has become important. The battle has put the spotlight again on Planned Parenthood, making it one of the most visible political activist groups in the country–and black women are increasingly vital it to win this fight.

“Women of color are leading in so many ways, and I felt it was really important to gather a group of women who have been successful in banking, media and politics, just ideas for how we can use our power to push for the issues we care about. Planned Parenthood is one of those issues,” said Johnson.

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