Meghan - posted on 03/14/2010 ( 2 moms have responded )
Standing behind a banner that read "Black children are an endangered species," six black pastors joined a handful of white anti-abortion protesters Friday on the sidewalk of Cherry Street in front of the new Planned Parenthood clinic in a prayer vigil.
The clergy members and the Pro-Life Coalition of East Tennessee say the relocation of the clinic from a predominantly white neighborhood in West Knoxville to a predominantly black one on the east side of town is, in part, racially motivated.
"Yes, I think they target black neighborhoods and black women, Hispanics and poor people," said Cecil Clark, pastor of True Vine Baptist Church, a black congregation located across the intersection in front of the clinic.
A Planned Parenthood leader said the East Knoxville community has welcomed the new clinic, which he said has seen a steady stream of clients all week.
"We have been in the Knoxville community for more than 50 years," said Jeff Teague, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood for Middle and East Tennessee. "We are a trusted health care provider. We provide preventive services for people who desperately need our help, and we are proud to be there.
"When we were looking for a location, we looked for one that was convenient for all of our clients, who travel from all over East Tennessee."
The clinic opened this week to offer women's health services like birth control and cancer screenings. It does not do surgical abortions but does end pregnancies using the pill RU486, according to Teague.
Abortion rates for black women are higher than for women of other races, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, black women were more than three times as likely to get an abortion as white women, and twice as likely as Latino women to get an abortion.
"Seventy percent of their clinics are in minority neighborhoods, and that alone should tell you something," said Johnny Watson, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Knoxville, who attended the vigil.
Watson said he will encourage his congregation this Sunday to attend a speech by Catherine Davis, the minority outreach coordinator of Georgia Right to Life, who will speak at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Knoxville Baptist Tabernacle in East Knoxville.
Davis has been instrumental in erecting 80 billboards around the Atlanta area that show a close-up of a black baby boy with the words "Black children are an endangered species."
"I believe it's because those clinics were deliberately located in black neighborhoods and that the community is being targeted. That's what I believe, and that's the message I'm bringing to Knoxville," said Davis in a phone interview. "I tell you my heart is absolutely broken at the numbers of blacks that are dying."
The Pro-Life Coalition of East Tennessee is sponsoring the speech. It also has held a Rally for Life at True Vine Baptist Church, across from the clinic, where it showed a documentary film called "Maafa 21," which coalition leaders say makes the case that abortions in the United States are part of a plan for black genocide. The coalition also has held the prayer vigil the last three Fridays in front of the Cherry Street clinic.
Black pastors who participated in the vigil acknowledged their church members do not all agree on the issue of abortion.
A 2007 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 47 percent of black Protestant church members thought abortion should be legal in most or all cases, and 46 percent though it should be illegal in most or all cases.
"I think the consensus is they want that freedom of choice," said Watson, "but they don't realize the consequences of those choices. I think we as black pastors need to teach the consequences of the choices you make, good or bad. We're trying to teach them there are alternatives."
Added Clark: "We stand for not aborting babies, period. We're concerned about all kids, regardless of what their color is."
Other black leaders support abortion rights.
"You don't put a grocery store 20 miles from where people need food. You don't put a public health care clinic 20 miles from where low-income people need health services," said Loretta Ross, the national coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective in Atlanta. "To call it racist is just ridiculous unless everybody who puts a store in a black community is trying to exploit us. It's unfortunate that it's being framed that way."
In August 2009, Planned Parenthood intended to move from its West Knoxville location to Homberg Place in Bearden, saying it needed more space. But the Pro-Life Coalition of East Tennessee mounted a campaign opposing the relocation, and the clinic and the Homberg property owner came to a "mutual business decision" to halt the move.
Planned Parenthood then bought the building on Cherry Street under the name Leonard Lawson LLC for $296,250, according to property transfer records.
Rebecca D. Williams is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.
DO YOU THINK THIS WAS RACIALLY MOTIVATED OR NOT?