Blacks split on issue of abortion Genocide to some is vital choice to others

The issue of abortion, controversial everywhere, has an even sharper edge for some blacks. They go beyond the anti-abortion belief that abortion is murder: They believe it's genocide.

"It's a way to eliminate a certain group of people," said Erma Clardy Craven, a retired social worker, who for 21 years has spoken against abortion. "It's elitist, racist and genocidal."


And she said it's being pushed on poor women by members of a power structure "to suit their own genocidal ends."

To that, Jane Johnson, vice president for affiliate development and education at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in New York, has a sharp response:


"Genocide, the elimination of a race or people, has no bearing when it comes to an individual woman making a decision about reproduction.

"To presume that one group of people is so incapable of making a personal decision is an insult," Ms. Johnson said.

Ms. Johnson, like Mrs. Craven, is black. Both were social workers. Both saw poverty in New York slums. But on the issue of abortion, they differ profoundly.

Mrs. Craven, 74, a Minnesotan who describes herself as "a liberal Democrat and a radical Methodist," is firm in her belief. She brought her argument to Baltimore over the weekend, in talks sponsored by Defend Life, an anti-abortion organization.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research group that specializes in issues such as abortion and birth control, black women have abortions at more than twice the rate of whites.

Twenty-one white women per 1,000 have abortions, compared with 57 black women per 1,000.

"The pressure on welfare women today is to have abortions," said Mrs. Craven, who favors education about birth control. "The pressure is primarily from people who are making money promoting it, primarily Planned Parenthood."

Planned Parenthood officials have heard the charge before. They dismiss it, saying they don't recruit clients; they serve women who need help.


Black women have abortions at higher rates because they tend more often to use "crisis care" for their medical problems, Ms. Johnson said.

"Unintended pregnancy has been the scourge of women, particularly minority women, as long as they have been in America," Ms. Johnson said.

Ms. Craven's charges echo accusations first raised in the 1960s, when members of black power movements linked efforts to legalize abortion with alleged white paranoia about poor minority groups. But it is impossible to say how many black Americans share Mrs. Craven's beliefs.

She says the movement for abortion rights is fostered by federal officials who want to control the numbers of blacks and poor people. Blacks are "the target population," she said last week from her home in Minneapolis.

But among blacks -- as among any group -- opinions on abortion vary widely and range in intensity.

"Genocide?" asked Baltimore Democratic Del. Delores G. Kelley, who supports keeping abortion available. "To have unwanted or unplanned children is to commit genocide.


"African-Americans really are not monolithic. Many, many African-Americans are pro-choice," Ms. Kelley said. " Parents who say they are not prepared to raise a child should be taken at their word."

Polls taken by The Sun in 1989 and earlier this year show that blacks, like whites, tend to believe government should not intrude on a woman's decision to have an abortion.

In February, more than 50 percent of blacks polled said they would support a law to keep most abortions legal in Maryland. Thirty-two percent of the black respondents said they would vote no.

And in a December 1989 Sun Poll, nearly 79 percent of blacks agreed that government should not interfere with a woman's decision to have an abortion. About 13 percent disagreed.

Many black elected officials support keeping most abortions legal. Among them is Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has volunteered to campaign for a new abortion law, on a referendum in November, that would protect the right to abortion in Maryland.

But the Rev. Doug Wilson, who is regional director of the Coalition forthe Restoration of the Black Family, believes that support for abortion rights is misguided. He said abortion is weakening the structure of the black family.


Rooted in slavery and discrimination, the black family tradition is different from the European family history, Mr. Wilson said.

"When we look at our parents, we know they had numbers of children and they cared for them all. The feeling was: If you're pregnant, there's a way."

Now, he believes, abortion is being sold as a convenience for women.

But what of children who are born into abject poverty? "At least no one took a life," Mrs. Craven said.

And what of women who believe they are too poor to care for another child? "I do not consider abortion a boon to women," Mrs. Craven said.

"Nobody's opposed to family planning," she added. "We agree you have the right to control your own body. But why must you commit murder to do it?"