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Anti-abortion ‘abolitionists’ take slavery rhetoric to the next level

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lailluminator.com – Kelcie Moseley-Morris – 2023-09-02 10:00:28

Anti-abortion ‘abolitionists' take slavery rhetoric to the next level

by Kelcie Moseley-Morris, Louisiana Illuminator
September 2, 2023

The first time Tina Marshall heard anti-abortion protesters call themselves “abolitionists,'” she said she burst out laughing.

Marshall, a Black woman who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, was counter protesting at an abortion clinic when a mostly white group — save one Black woman — surrounded her and told her they were abolitionists.

“I rolled my eyes and said, ‘Can't you people ever think of anything original? Do you guys have to steal everything?'” Marshall said.

Anti-abortion demonstrators have told her she hates her own people. She's seen the mostly white men and women put their fists in the air and say, “Black Lives Matter.”

Marshall started volunteering as a clinic defender, as abortion rights groups call it, about two years ago, so she was unfamiliar with some of the rhetoric around abortion until recently. Much like the rest of America, in her view.

“They've been doing this for years, and nobody cared, and it's only because of Roe now that everybody's antennas are up,” she said of last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended the federal right to abortion. “Even before that, I've been out here over two years, and nobody cared about all the jeering and heckling of Black women.”

The co-opting of imagery from slavery, the Civil Rights Movement and other Black experiences to argue against abortion goes back more than a century, depending on who you ask, but the so-called “abolitionist” sect of anti-abortion groups has gained more momentum in political circles and state legislatures in recent years. With statistics showing higher rates of abortion by Black people in some states and the Black community's reverence to culture and religion, it's easy to see why such anti-abortion groups are focusing on African Americans.

William Hart, a professor of religious studies at Macalester University in Minnesota, told States Newsroom in an email that from his research, most Black Christians and non-Christians tend toward cultural conservatism, but they don't typically have strong feelings against abortion. Those who do think abortion should be illegal are often viewing it from the historical belief that family planning and abortion were forms of Black genocide, Hart said.

“The anti-abortion religious right is appealing to Blacks on religious grounds because they understand that Blacks are susceptible to the argument even if their reasons diverge,” he said.

Activists have also argued over how civil rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would feel about abortion if he was alive today. King's niece, Alveda, has said she thinks he would be anti-abortion. Others point to his quotes about the importance of family planning to say he was an advocate of reproductive rights.

The slavery comparison has historically been used by both sides of the abortion debate, according to research published in 1994 by Professor Debora Threedy, who is now retired. While anti-abortion groups use the comparison as a civil rights argument, harkening back to the days when slaves were widely viewed as less valuable human lives, abortion rights activists point to the implied slavery of not having a choice whether or not to give birth to a child, sometimes referring to it today as “involuntary servitude” and invoking “Black Lives Matter” to argue for bodily autonomy.

Threedy said the comparison to slavery in particular allows people to argue from the side of moral certainty, because nearly everyone today would agree that slavery was wrong then and wrong now.

“From where we stand now, on the slavery debate, we're all on the side of the angels,” Threedy said. “By co-opting that rhetoric, what you're saying is, ‘I'm on the side of the angels. They're not on the right side of history, they're not occupying the moral high ground — I am.'”

While the terminology is invoked on both sides of abortion politics, the anti-abortion activists who call themselves abolitionists have adopted it more as an identity over the past decade, and it has caused rifts among groups with similar goals.

Abortion abolitionists draw comparisons to history

At a recent conference hosted by Operation Save America, an extreme anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ organization with a history of physically blockading abortion clinics around the country, those rifts were openly discussed. The group's director, Jason Storms, opened the conference on July 17 at Pray's Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia, by stating his organization would no longer associate with T. Russell Hunter, the leader of Abolish Human Abortion.

Hunter has frequently taken to Facebook, YouTube and other platforms to imply or directly state that groups like Operation Save America, Students for Life of America, Live Action and others don't always advocate from an exclusively “abolitionist” standpoint and are not as committed to ending abortion as he is.

Those who call themselves abortion abolitionists, such as Hunter, see that as an example of the difference between their views and that of the “pro-life” groups, which generally oppose criminal penalties for the pregnant person.

On a recent episode of a called The Serrated Edge, Hunter said he researched abolition in the context of slavery when he was in graduate school, and he saw parallels between the immediate abolitionists and those who opposed slavery but were in favor of more gradual, incremental approaches to ending it. To him, the abolitionists took a more biblical stance by calling the practice a sin and calling on the nation to repent.

“I thought, these (abolitionists) are amazing, what they're doing,” Hunter said. “They could've been anything, and instead, they saw the plight of their neighbors on these transatlantic vessels … and they decided to give themselves to that because they saw those men as their neighbors.”

The two sides of the anti-abortion movement have clashed more in recent years over legislation that would eliminate abortion entirely without any exceptions, including to save the life of the pregnant person, and would attach criminal penalties for the person who sought the abortion, which in some states would include the death penalty.

An “abolish abortion” bill introduced in the Louisiana legislature crafted in partnership with the Foundation to Abolish Abortion in 2022 did not advance after opposition from abortion rights groups as well as anti-abortion organizations, including the Louisiana Family Forum and Louisiana Right to Life. In Idaho, Rep. Heather Scott has introduced a similar bill for three years in a row, but it has not advanced to the House State Affairs Committee. Rep. Brent Crane, who is chairman of the committee, said in 2022 that he would not give a hearing to an “extreme” bill that would put a pregnant person on trial for murder.

During a panel discussion at Operation Save America's conference in July, Storms was joined by six other men to talk about abolition versus incrementalism in approaches to ending abortion, and said his group staunchly believes in criminal penalties for those who seek out the procedure but shied away from labeling the group as abolitionist or “pro-life.”

Zach Conover, communications director of the national organization End Abortion Now, was also a panelist, and he described the failure of a similar bill his group sponsored in 2019 in Arizona as a result of the National Right to Life group's opposition to it in a letter signed by more than 70 of its chapter members. He also referenced the Louisiana bill.

“What happened in Louisiana should've been national news,” Conover said to the panelists. “It was really the first time that the pro-life establishment had shown their cards to that extent.”

Gabriel Rench, a member of the extremist Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, also compared abortion to slavery, saying if churches in America had taken a stand against slavery, the Civil War would never have happened.

“We ended slavery through the blood of people instead of through the blood of Christ. When you have a massive cultural sin like slavery in America, you end it through the gospel, you don't end it through a war,” Rench said during the discussion. “We need to end abortion, which is awful — way worse than slavery, by the way. The slave trade had four, five million slaves max in America? And 600,000 people died. How much has abortion killed?”

According to historians, at least 12.5 million men, women and children were captured and enslaved from Europe and Africa between 1526 and 1857, and 10.7 million were taken to North and South America. That doesn't include the unknown numbers of people who did not survive the journey on tightly packed ships across the ocean.

Historians say a little more than 300,000 slaves were brought to the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 1.3 million abortions per year between 1980 and 1997, after which the numbers dropped to less than 650,000 per year since 2013.

‘They're trying to hitch them together'

Amanda Roberti, an assistant professor of political science at San Francisco State University, has researched the rhetoric of abortion politics for more than a decade. She said the civil rights language is often invoked as one of many strategies to capture more audiences, as any cultural advocacy movement would do. But it doesn't mean every group will take the same approach at the local, state and national levels.

“There is a widespread and widely cast approach going on here, but that is something that social movements can do, especially when they're multi-faceted like the anti-abortion movement is,” Roberti said. “They have an overarching goal of the end of abortion, but I think there are other groups that have slightly different tactics and what they want to pursue.”

Anti-abortion groups have also used the names of feminist leaders from history along with the names of Black activists. In 2011, U.S. Congressional representatives considered a bill titled the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” to impose criminal penalties for abortions that were performed based on the sex or race of the child. It's unclear to historians whether Anthony, an early feminist leader, or Douglass, a slavery abolitionist, were against abortion.

“There's a whole psychology behind it, because they're trying to usurp a tragic historical fact and rise abortion to that level, they're trying to hitch them together,” Roberti said.

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‘Black women are the most marginalized'

Mandisa Thomas, a Black woman who lives in Atlanta and volunteers with an organization called We Engage, went to counterprotest at a local abortion clinic when Operation Save America held its conference in July. Abortion is banned after six weeks of pregnancy in Georgia, but members of the anti-abortion group gathered outside A Preferred Women's Health Center just outside Atlanta during the morning hours that week and attempted to stop individuals from going into the clinic, using microphones with amplified speakers to shout religious messages encouraging the patients not to go through with their appointments. Many of the patients who came to the clinic one morning were Black women.

Thomas said she has often heard the abolitionist language from anti-abortion protesters, and she finds it insulting.

“The fact that they think they are being abolitionists is offensive, because they're not being liberating at all,” Thomas said. “It really undermines the movements of people who did sacrifice their lives to make sure that all of us do have the freedom of choice, especially when it comes to reproductive choice and reproductive health.”

Marshall, who founded the Black Abortion Defense League in North Carolina, was also at the Atlanta clinic in July. Marshall said she started her organization because she didn't see many Black people on the abortion rights side.

“I just thought, being a Black woman who had an abortion so many years ago, there's a common language that we can speak, Black person to Black person,” Marshall said. “Black women are the most marginalized if you ask me. Nobody loves Black women except for other Black women, and sometimes we hate each other too. We're an easy target because nobody wants to jump up to really save us.”

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2020, 39% of abortions in the United States were among non-Hispanic Black people, while 33% were among non-Hispanic whites, and 21% were Hispanic. In states across the South, such as Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, more than twice as many abortions occurred among Black people in 2020 than among white people. In all three states, the poverty rate among Black people is also two to three times higher than among whites, and maternal mortality rates among Black women are higher than anywhere else in the country. Anti-abortion groups often target clinics in communities where a majority of the population is Black, typically in the South, for protests.

The disproportionate rates of abortion by race in some states are often cited on websites and in the literature of anti-abortion groups as a crisis to be addressed. Right to Life of Michigan has an entire page on its website titled “Black Abortions By the Numbers.” Focus on the Family cites the rate of abortions among Black women on its website as well.

But a 2022 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 59% of white respondents and 68% of Black respondents supported abortion to be legal in most or all cases.

That disparity in support could be one reason for trying to persuade communities of color to turn against abortion rights, said Grace Howard, an assistant professor of political science at San Jose State University. But on the other hand, Howard said tactics like the billboard could also be directed at white people like herself, to motivate her to action.

Some groups have paid for billboard advertisements that make race-based arguments around abortion, such as one in New York City in 2011 with a picture of a young Black girl that said, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”

The billboard was paid for by an anti-abortion group in Texas called Life Always and approved by the group's founding board member Stephen Broden, a Black pastor in Dallas. Broden said at the time in a statement that, “Our future is in jeopardy as a genocidal plot is carried out through abortion.”

The billboard was placed in a largely white community to garner the most attention, Broden said.

For some, reproductive justice is the answer

Roberti said the history of violence against Black women should also be considered when people use language related to slavery and civil rights. Research shows women who were enslaved were often raped and forced to bear children that could then be sold to other slaveowners. They were also subject to forced sterilization and other reproductive control measures.

“Black women have been subject to a lot of reproductive violence, so in a way they're (anti-abortion activists) tapping into an argument that is real, but then applying it to a policy output that's not going to provide any kind of justice,” Roberti said.

Howard is also a scholar of the reproductive justice movement, a social justice concept formed by a group of Black women in 1994 that looks beyond the statistics and demographics of abortion and works to strengthen the infrastructure of social supports around marginalized communities. That includes increasing access to contraception, adequate health care during and after pregnancy, reducing poverty rates and other measures that would increase quality of life and provide real choice, according to Sister Song. Howard said it's a solution that could lower the number of abortions obtained in the U.S. each year, including among communities of color.

“For some people, they are having abortions because they know they won't be able to raise this child the way they want to,” Howard said. “If you want fewer abortions, then a social safety net might change things, if someone knows they might be able to care for their child with dignity.”

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Landry removes job requirements, trumps local authority for industrial tax breaks

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lailluminator.com – Greg LaRose – 2024-02-22 05:00:54

Landry removes job requirements, trumps local authority for industrial tax breaks

by Greg LaRose, Louisiana Illuminator
February 22, 2024

Companies that receive major breaks on their local property taxes to invest in large industrial projects in Louisiana will no longer have to set hiring goals to get the incentive, plus they won't need approval from local taxing authorities if the governor is in favor of their proposal.   

Gov. Jeff Landry signed an executive order Wednesday that upends the standards and approval process that's been place for the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) since 2016. The signing took place during the governor's appearance at a Louisiana Association of Business and Industry luncheon, according to the Baton Rouge Business Report

“This program is about capital investment. It is not about job creation,” Landry said.

Since 1998, Louisiana has awarded more than $20 billion in local tax breaks to industry through its Industrial Tax Exemption Program, according to an Ohio River Valley Institute analysis. 

Flow from the ITEP spigot slowed significantly in 2016 then-Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order that required local approval of industrial tax exemptions. He also reduced the tax break available from 100% of property taxes to 80% and inserted a job-creation requirement for companies. Landry's order keeps the tax reduction at the same level.

The executive order he signed Wednesday also condenses the process for companies to receive local approval on their tax exemptions. Previously, each local body that collects property taxes had to approve tax breaks independently with a separate public hearing. For example, a parish school board could approve the tax exemption, but a parish council or sheriff could reject it. The business would then receive a partial tax break.  

Landry's new arrangement calls for a single parish industrial board, which would include representatives from the taxing agencies, to consider ITEP applications. Its vote would apply to all local agencies that receive property taxes, meaning companies would get approval a total tax break or none.

The executive order also upends the sequence of approval to award industrial tax exemptions, placing ultimate power in the governor's hands. Local approval has been necessary for an ITEP request to advance for consideration to the state Board of Commerce and Industry, a 24-member panel of appointees from business groups and the governor. 

Now, under Landry's order, companies will first submit their applications to the Board of Commerce and Industry. If their request is approved, the state panel will then notify a parish industrial board that it must hold a public hearing on the application within 45 days.

However, the order says little about what weight the local recommendation has in the ITEP approval process or how it factors into the governor's decision.

“Input from the Local ITEP Committee is important for consideration of an industrial tax exemption; however, it should not unduly delay the ITEP application process,” the order reads.

In an email, the Illuminator asked Landry spokesperson Kate Kelly about the governor's ability to override a local ITEP vote.

“The governor is the final say,” Kelly said.

Together Louisiana, a coalition of church and civic groups, has been highly critical of the state's generous ITEP giveaways. In a statement Wednesday, the group questioned whether Landry's order turned the incentive program into “a gift.”

“If a corporation gets a tax exemption, not to bring in a new plant or create jobs, but just as a public subsidy for its routine capital investments — investments, that is, that would have happened anyway — the result is not economic development. It's the opposite,” the Together Louisiana statement said. 

“In that scenario, local communities don't get new economic activity, but they still lose the millions in tax revenue from their schools, roads and police,” the statement continued. “They lose jobs — the teachers, construction workers, sheriff's deputies and others who would have provided the services that went unfunded. And their property taxes start going up, to fill the holes in the tax base left by each new round of gratuitous giveaway.”

Without any job requirements, companies can now apply for tax exemptions for most any large-scale investment in Louisiana. Landry's order does specify that maintenance expenses, environmental compliance upgrades and replacement parts that are not part of an extensive restoration do not qualify for ITEP awards.

The order goes into effect for all ITEP applications moving forward, effective Feb. 21, but does not apply retroactively to applications or exemptions.

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Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Criminal justice reform advocates ask court to force Legislature to hear from public

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lailluminator.com – Piper Hutchinson – 2024-02-21 16:51:56

Criminal justice reform advocates ask court to force Legislature to hear from public

by Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator
February 21, 2024

Three Louisiana criminal justice reform advocates have asked a state court to prevent the Legislature from discussing several proposals until more public testimony is heard on the bills. 

Their petition was filed Wednesday in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge by Norris Henderson, executive director of Voice of the Experienced, Ronald Marshall, chief policy analyst with Voice of the Experienced, and Erica Navalance, a staff attorney with the Promise of Justice Initiative. Read the full petition below. 

They contend House Administration of Criminal Justice Chair Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, has irregularly limited public input over two days of hearings during a special session on crime policy. The agenda for the session features a string of bills, with Gov. Jeff Landry's support, that call for harsher consequences for criminals.   

The committee enacted a rule to limit each public commenter to three minutes and cut off public debate after proponents and opponents of a bill each testified for one hour. The three-minute rule is a common practice at the Capitol, but overall time limits are seldom used. 

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Committee members said they supported these rules to get through testimony more quickly. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the committee had a full schedule of bills that attracted a large number of public comments. The special session doesn't have to end until March 5, but leaders have suspended the rules several times in order to expedite hearings on bills rather than letting them lay over for a day between hearings. 

House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Matthew Willard of New Orleans and other Democrats have criticized Republicans for fast-tracking legislation that would almost totally reshape Louisiana's criminal justice system, giving the public limited opportunity for input. 

The court petition seeks to prevent the full House of Representatives from discussing the bill until the House Criminal Justice Committee holds another hearing to allow more public comment. The complainants say they traveled to Baton Rouge to testify, but the committee's time limits prevented them from speaking. 

House Speaker Phillip Devillier, R-Eunice, defended the committee, arguing two hours of discussion per bill is reasonable, and that the Legislature is allowed to suspend the rules to advance bills. 

The complainants want to pause debate on four bills: 

House Bill 4, by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carenco, which limits post-conviction relief opportunities. House Bill 6, by Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, which expands the methods by which Louisiana executes people and shields records related to executions from public viewHouse Bill 9, by Villio, which eliminates parole in almost all circumstances House Bill 10, by Villio, which limits good time credits and credit for time served

 

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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Biden unveils latest round of student loan cancellation to aid 153,000 borrowers

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lailluminator.com – Jennifer Shutt – 2024-02-21 16:26:30

Biden unveils latest round of student loan cancellation to aid 153,000 borrowers

by Jennifer Shutt, Louisiana Illuminator
February 21, 2024

President Joe Biden expanded his push to eliminate student loan debt Wednesday, saying during a speech the initiative is part of a campaign promise to address the “broken” system.

“While a college degree is still a ticket to a better life, that ticket is too expensive,” Biden said. “And too many Americans are still saddled with unsustainable debt in exchange for a college degree.”

Biden, who made his remarks while on a trip to California that also included fundraising for his 2024 campaign, argued that canceling student loan debt not only helps those who receive the benefit directly, but those in their communities.

“When people's student debt is relieved, they buy homes, they start businesses, they contribute, they engage in the community in ways they weren't able to before and it actually grows the economy,” Biden said.

The latest round of student debt forgiveness includes nearly 153,000 borrowers and a total of $1.2 billion in debt, according to a fact sheet from the White House.

Those receiving loan forgiveness are enrolled in the Saving on a Valuable Education or SAVE repayment plan, have been paying back their loans for at least 10 years and originally took out less than $12,000 in loans.

This week's actions bring total student loan cancellation by the Biden administration to $138 billion for nearly 3.9 million people, according to the fact sheet.

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Repayments tied to income, family size

The so-called SAVE Plan allows borrowers to set their student loan repayments based on their income and family size, not the amount of student loan debt they hold.

“The SAVE plan ensures that if borrowers are making their monthly payments, their balances cannot grow because of unpaid interest,” according to the White House's fact sheet. “And, starting in July, undergraduate loan payments will be cut in half, capping a borrower's loan payment at 5% of their discretionary income.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on a call with reporters Tuesday there are about 7.5 million people enrolled in the SAVE Plan and that 4.3 million don't have a monthly payment.

“Many SAVE forgiveness recipients come from lower- and middle-income backgrounds,” Cardona said. “Many took out loans to attend community colleges. Some were at high risk for delinquency and default. That's why the actions we're announcing today do matter.”

Cardona said those eligible for this round of student debt cancellation would receive an email from Biden telling them about the move.

New FAFSA rollout criticized

Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy said in a written statement the latest round of student loan forgiveness is misguided.

“The Biden Department of Education has been unable to fulfill their basic responsibilities mandated by Congress and essential to families, like implementing FAFSA,” Cassidy said, referring to the application college students fill out to access student aid, including grants, scholarships and loans.

The Biden administration's efforts to revamp the form have been marred by delays and errors. 

“Instead, they have spent a considerable amount of time prioritizing their student loan schemes to shift someone else's debt onto taxpayers that chose not to go to college or already paid off their loans,” Cassidy added. “This is unfair, manipulative and a cynical attempt to buy votes.”

Cassidy is the ranking member on the U.S. Senate's Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee, often referred to as the HELP Committee.

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Supreme Court decision

Biden, speaking at the Julian Dixon Library in Culver City, California, criticized the U.S. Supreme Court for blocking his original student loan forgiveness plan. 

“Early in my term, I announced a major plan to provide millions of working families with debt relief for their college student debt,” Biden said. “But my MAGA Republican friends in the Congress, elected officials and special interests stepped in and sued us. And the Supreme Court blocked it. But that didn't stop me.”

Biden said the justices' opinion in that case led him to “pursue alternative paths” for student debt relief, which includes the announcement he made Wednesday.

Canceling some student loan debt, Biden said, is about giving people a chance.

“That's all we're doing … giving people a chance, a fighting chance to make it, because no one who is willing to work hard in America should be denied the opportunity to have that chance.”

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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