Challenging Dogma

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Criticism of the Incorporation of Race in the “Too Many Aborted” Anti-Abortion Campaign-Kristie Yeung


Abortion exemplifies a major, on-going controversial public heath issue in the United States. Since its legalization in the United States in the Roe vs. Wade case of 1973, abortion has been a widely debated issue (12). Anti-abortion groups have contested the morality and humanness of abortions and have addressed the issue publicly by “boycotting suppliers of abortion providers, thwarting ‘immoral’ sex and contraception education, and promoting chastity before marriage, and adoption over abortion” (12). Pro-choice groups focus on providing funding for women who often require services/abortions as a result of “geography, youth, poverty, and inadequate education” (12).

Despite the mixed perceptions of abortion within the United States, countries with legalized abortion have proven to successfully reduce “maternal mortality and morbidity resulting from illegal abortions” (2). The “legalization of abortion leads to a substantial drop in abortion-related mortality and morbidity” while often, “more restrictive access to abortion services leads to a significant increase in maternal mortality and morbidity” (2). While the research indicates that legalization of abortion helps to reduce mortality in women, many groups around America have developed far-reaching public campaigns against giving women the choice of abortion. One particular group, the Radiance Foundation began a much debated campaign to address this public health issue.

“Too Many Aborted” and The Radiance Foundation:

“African American women are five times as likely to receive abortions as White women.” (7)
The Radiance Foundation has developed an anti-choice campaign which launched in 2010 in Georgia known as “Too Many Aborted,” which focuses on African American women as their target demographic. “Too Many Aborted” advocates controversial anti-abortion billboards, posters, and flyers which compare abortion in African American women to that of the enslavement experienced by African Americans in the history of the United States. Some of the billboards that are currently displayed in several states deliver messages such as “Black Children are an Endangered Species” and “The Thirteenth Amendment Freed Us, Abortion Enslaves Us” (16). The group also briefly mentions adoption as an alternative to abortion. Co-founder of the Radiance Foundation, Ryan Bomberger is quoted:
“We’re exposing the lies and distortions of the abortion industry, and many are waking up to the truth. Adoption isn’t the only solution to unintended pregnancies, but it is a beautiful alternative to abortion’s destruction of hope and possibility" (15).
Another primary focus of “Too Many Aborted” is to discredit Planned Parenthood “the largest single provider of birth control and abortion services in the black community.” The anti-abortion group also speaks out against Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger for “targeting the community for ‘genocide’ ” (8).
“Too Many Aborted” represents an unsuccessful public health campaign due to its overemphasis on race and labeling, segregating African American woman and blaming them for depleting the African American community and bringing African Americans back into slavery.

Racism and Abortion As One Entity:

The “Too Many Aborted” campaign equates abortion to racism and slavery in many of their billboard advertisements. Abortion and racism are two separate issues that require specific and individual evaluation. Equating the two problems to each other desensitizes the magnitude of each public health issue (13). Although African American women have higher rates of abortion than whites, and race has been found to influence abortion rates, the two issues are not mutually exclusive (7).
“Too Many Aborted” utilizes institutional racism as a primary argument for its campaign. Institutional racism as defined by Professor James M. Jones represents “established laws, customs, and practices which systematically reflect and produce racial inequalities in American society” (5). This societal practice may intentionally or unintentionally enforce ideas of discrimination and racism (13). Black anti-abortionists “have interpreted the legalization of abortion as genocidal because most of those who take advantage of opportunities opened up by the new legal statues are impoverished black women” (17). However, the availability of birth control to low income African American women also represents social reform in that safe abortions became available to the poor as well as the affluent (17). Many low-income African American women receive their primary birth control, gynecological, and general medical care from centers such as Planned Parenthood, a primary reason why “Too Many Aborted” targets the organization. (15)
Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, was a leader in the birth control movement and founded Planned Parenthood Federation in 1942 (9). Her “role in oppressing Black women’s reproductive rights and the overall goals of her efforts” has been intensely debated, but her fight for birth control has largely shaped the contraceptive movement in America today. Although an avid supporter for women’s reproductive rights, Sanger also advocated negative eugenics which endorsed “forcible and coercive sterilization of the so-called unfit—which typically means Blacks; Litina(o)s;Native Americans; the poor; and/or mentally ill” (9). Sanger’s legacy as a eugenics enthusiast remains today over Planned Parenthood; however, the organization clearly depicts its mission as “an explicit commitment to bioethics; education; and patient’s rights to privacy” (9). “Too Many Aborted” fails in recognizing that although Planned Parenthood may have been founded by an individual who supported eugenic ideology, the organization continues to serve as the primary provider of not only gynecological and contraceptive services to low-income women of color, but also essential medical services as well.
Properly addressing the complex issue of abortion and ethnicity requires “working honestly on race and power relations” because it “is not only the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing to do to defeat race- and gender-based attacks on abortion and women's rights” (8). Identifying that racism and abortion are separate entities but have many overlapping components represents an important first step in interpretation of the topic.

Black vs. White Dichotomous thinking:

“Too Many Aborted” poorly utilizes advertising theory in its campaign. In a study conducted by Sparkman and Austin, retail newspaper advertisements in color observed a 41% increase in sales as opposed to black and white advertisements (13). All the images distributed by the “Too Many Aborted” campaign are in black and white. The dark coloring of the posters creates negative feelings within the observer, while color would have drawn the reader more to the billboards (14). The images are not inviting to the target audience and instead instill fear and guilt in the reader.
The black and white coloring of the materials also echoes dichotomous thinking of right and wrong. Abortion represents a complex issue with multiple sides and viewpoints even within the pro-choice and pro-life arguments. “Too Many Aborted” causes its audience to struggle with cognitive dissonance by asserting that there are only two options: 1. Join the campaign and support the African American race or 2. Decide to have an abortion and support White eugenics in their depletion of the African American race. This either-or approach engenders conflict and uneasiness within an audience who may have not decided their position on the topic.
According to Leon Festinger in When Prophecy Fails, “Dissonance produces discomfort and, correspondingly, there will arise pressures to reduce or eliminate the dissonance” (4). When an individual experiences cognitive dissonance, they experience one of three options: 1. they may “try to change one or more of the beliefs, opinions, or behaviors involved in the dissonance,” 2. “acquire new information or beliefs that will increase the existing consonance and thus cause the total dissonance to be reduced” or lastly 3. “forget or reduce the importance of these cognitions that are in a dissonant relationship” (4). In relation to the “Too Many Aborted” campaign, an individual experiencing the first reaction may change their beliefs or ideas regarding abortion and race. This option may benefit or hurt the campaign depending on how the individual interprets the advertisements. However, in the second and third cases, the individual may in fact perform the opposite act as that advocated by the campaign due to the discomfort that the advertisements produce. They may also completely disregard the advertisements due to dissonance in emotions, morals, and values that they stir up. The “Too Many Aborted” campaign misuses advertising theory to disseminate its message and instead creates cognitive dissonance within its audience, reducing the impact of the campaign.

Targeting African American Women:

“Too Many Aborted” places added pressure on African American women in their personal decision of abortion. The campaign also uncovers the issues of racism tied with sexism that African American women experience (7). One of the first original advertisements for the campaign included billboards with a young African American boy displaying in bold letters, “Endangered Species” (15). The insinuation that the African American “species” has become depleted puts pressure on African American women to reproduce in order to regenerate their race.
The campaign places excessive responsibility on African American women because they are faced “with two directly contradictory social pressures: that in order to be real women, they should have children, and that as Black women, others resent when they have children and attempt to prevent them from doing so” (9). This conflict has been proven to elevate “emotional distress at any point in their lives” when African American women consider the possibility of having children, especially during pregnancy (9).
It is unnecessary and unethical to place this sort of responsibility and stress on an individual of a particular sex and race.
A woman’s decision of abortion occurs “in context of her commitments to the needs and interests of everyone concerned, including herself, her child, and other members of her household” (11). Including the issue of race places enormous pressure and power on an individual to make a personal decision based on not only personal needs, but also that of her ethnic identity. Stephen Schwarz argues in Understanding Abortion that “Abortion decisions are dependent on the specific features of a woman’s own individual experience and that “no one should expect to set the agenda for these considerations in any universal way” (11). When a woman becomes pregnant, “significant physical, emotional, social and economic changes” take place in her life that she must consider (11). “Too Many Aborted” disrespects this intimate and emotional experience in a woman’s life by adding the consideration of race and asserting that the choice of abortion is morally incorrect when really the choice is subject to individual interpretation.

Proposal For “Support Life, Support Family”:

As a proposal to modify or reinvent the “Too Many Aborted” anti-abortion campaign, I suggest the pro-adoption campaign, “Support life, Support family.” This campaign consists of billboards, posters, television commercials, and a strong online presence. The primary audience of the campaign would be African American women; however, the campaign also applies to women of all races who are considering abortions. The billboards and posters of “Support Life, Support Family” would display personal photos of adopted children with their families along with a website link to read the stories of successful adoption. The families of adopted children will share their stories in television commercials in which they explain how adoption has affected and changed their family life. The online website would also have counseling resources for women who are considering abortion or adoption, placing no judgment on either decision.
Instead of shaming and creating guilt in African American women for having abortions, “Support Life, Support Family” encourages the positive aspect of giving a child up for adoption. Unlike “Too Many Aborted,” “Support Life, Support Family” would aim to lower the abortion rate without using race as its central core value. Instead, “Support Life, Support Family” would have family, love, and appreciation as its core values. The simplistic name, “Support life, Support family,” expresses the message of the organization clearly and explicitly. The reiteration of “support” emphasizes a strong community and group atmosphere in which the individual is never alone. Instead of having abortion in the campaign name which often has a negative connotation, the words “life” and “family” stimulate a common understanding and relation in every human being regardless of race, gender, or background.
“Support Life, Support Family” would also research the motivations or reasons behind why African American women decide to have abortions whether they are based on social, economic, or biological factors. By performing this research, the campaign can better understand its target audience and attempt to find ways to resolve the underlying issues that lead women to abortion.

Personalization of Message:

“Support Life, Support Family” will effectively utilize advertising theory in spreading its message of adoption. The three components of advertising theory include a promise, support, and an overarching core value (14). Family represents the key component of the “Support Life, Support Family” campaign. The main promise of the campaign is that when a woman gives her child up for adoption, she helps to provide that child with a loving family and possibly a better life.
Using real-life success stories of adoption in commercials and having videos of these stories on the “Support Life, Support Family” website will reinforce this message of love, family, and acceptance. Although the mother of the child may not be able to provide her child with these qualities, she will be able to see from the commercials that she can give her child a chance of attaining a loving family by giving her child up for adoption.
By having actual adoption success stories as part of “Support Life, Support Family” the audience feels a more intense bond and relation with the cause when they recognize that these are real individuals who have had their own experiences with adoption. This personalization of the message delivered of choosing adoption will evoke human emotion and render women considering abortions or adoption to choose the latter (14).

No Judgment-Giving an Individual Control of their Life:

“Support Life, Support Family” does not place judgment upon women who decide to have abortions. The campaign shows real life experiences of adopted individuals and allows a woman to understand the possibilities of happiness she can provide for her unborn child. She can make her decision based on the Theory of Planned Behavior hypothesized by Icek Ajzen. This theory as described by Ajzen, states that “Intentions to perform behaviors of different kinds can be predicted with high accuracy from attitudes toward the behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control; and these intentions, together with perceptions of behavioral control, account for considerable variance in behavior” (1). Multiple factors influence a woman’s decision in having an abortion, but the ultimate decision lies in her self-efficacy or “how one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations” (3). Self-efficacy provides a woman a sense of control over her life and responsibility for the decisions she makes. The reinforcement of self-efficacy in “Support Life, Support Family” influences the critical decision between adoption and abortion.
“Support Life, Support Family” affects both the outcome expectations and perceived norms that ultimately lead to the decision of adoption. Through visual reinforcement of the success of adoption in families, a woman considering abortion will see the positive outcome of adoption. Promotion of adoption as a positive decision which will influence the lives of families, changes perceived norms of the act. Adoption becomes viewed as a successful method of addressing the issue of unplanned or unwanted pregnancy (14).

Improving Self-Esteem:

Research on its target audience of African American women represents an integral component of “Support Life, Support Family.” Conducting research allows the campaign to pinpoint the reasons that abortion exists with such prevalence in African American women. An evaluation of the environmental, social, and economic atmosphere where African American women subsist is needed to better develop a successful intervention.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, humans require a set of basic needs before they can strive for higher, more complex goals such as self-actualization (6). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs begins with basic physiological needs such as food, water, and shelter followed by safety, love/belonging, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization (6). When basic needs lower on the Hierarchy of Needs are not satisfied, it is often difficult for an individual to attain higher levels of self-development. Due to this phenomenon, “Support Life, Support Family” aims to utilize a multifactorial approach in addressing abortion, striving to understand how factors such as race, poverty, gender, and class all influence African American women to have abortions (7). As lower level needs such as food, shelter, and safety become insured, African American women can access higher needs such as self-esteem.
Respect and confidence for self represent the most important motivators behind any type of change in behavior (14). Unlike the “Too Many Aborted” campaign, “Support family, Support life” does not place blame or pressure on the African American woman for her choices, but rather emphasizes the positive side-effects of her decision to give her child up for adoption. Observing how adoption benefits the life of a child and his/her family changes the mother’s outlook on adoption and may provide a sense of self-esteem for her positive contribution.


As formerly discussed, abortion represents a complex social, economic, political, and cultural issue. The campaign “Too Many Aborted” complicates the race and abortion debate with its controversial advertisements. Not only does the campaign target African American women in their personal choices of abortion, but the organization also excessively focuses on race as a means to stop a woman from aborting her child.
The campaign “Support Life, Support Family” offers an encouraging alternative to “Too Many Aborted.” The campaign offers the successful alternative of adoption rather than focusing on abortion as a negative act. Building on the relatable ideas of family, love, and acceptance stimulates hopeful messages which will inform the target audience that there are other options to abortion that may benefit the life of a child and his/her adoptive family.
Instead of debating whether abortion signifies a morally correct or incorrect practice, future public health interventions should design campaigns that put less judgment on women for their choices. Research represents an essential component in the determination of the root causes and decisions that push women towards abortion. Perhaps by addressing the underlying issues of class, environment, and lack of access to contraception, a woman can make decisions regarding her personal and sexual health before she is even faced with the issue of abortion.


(1) Ajzen, Icek. Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 1991; 50: 179-211.

(2) Bajos, N., Leridon, H., Warszawski, J., and Bouyer, J. The Legalization of Abortion: A Major Public Health Issue. American Journal of Public Health 1999; 89: 1763- 1763, 1/2p.

(3) Bandora, A. Self-efficacy Mechanism in Human Agency. American Psychologist 1982; 37: 122.

(4) Festinger, L., Riecken, H., and Schaucter, S. When Prophecy Fails (p 29). University of Minnetosota Press , 1956.

(5) Jones, J. M. Racism and Prejudice (p 438). McGraw Hill, 1997.

(6) Maslow, A. H. A Theory of Human Behavior. Psychological Review, 1943; 50, 374.

(7) Price, K. “It’s Not Just About Abortion: Incorporating Intersectionality in Research about Women of Color and Reproduction.” Women’s Health Issues 2001; 11: S55-S57. Retrieved from: 00156

(8) Ross, L. Fighting the Black Anti-abortion campaign: trusting Black Women. On the Issues Magazine, 2011. Retrieved from:

(9) Rosenthal, L. Explaining racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes: Unique sources of stress for Black American women. Social Science and Medicine 2001;72, 6: 977-983.

(10) Rousseau, N. Black Women’s Burden (pp106-108). Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

(11) Schwarz, S. Understanding Abortion: From Mixed Feelings to Rational Thought (pp. 16-17). Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books, 2012.

(12) Shostak, A. Abortion in America. The Futurist. 1991, 20-26. Retrieved from: 2f34-6151-4d3f-bb41-59f430f5770a%40sessionmgr104&vid=1&hid=122

(13) Sparkman, R., Austin, L. The Effect of Sales in Color in Newspaper Advertisements. The Journal of Advertising 1980:9, 4. Retrieved from:

(14) Siegel, M. Advertising Theory. Behavior SB721 Lecture. Boston University, Boston. March 8, 2012.

(15)The Radiance Foundation. Retrieved from:

(16) Too Many Aborted. Retrieved from:

(17) Weisbord, Robert G. Genocide? (p 179) Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1975.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home