It is an anomaly to me to see the drift in government to control in micro-detail certain aspects of our society and yet determine to be hands-off on other key issues. I often am asked questions by the media on these choices. Recently the American public was given an edict that affects many religious non-profit organizations.
The debate over the new Health and Human Services regulations, which require all employers to pay 100% of the cost of contraception including abortion-inducing chemicals, has been rightly cast as an intrusion on religious liberty. Opponents of such regulations are no more advocating a ban on contraceptives than vegetarian restaurants are advocating a ban on meat. They are simply saying that companies shouldn’t have to pay for services to which they object for moral reasons.
But black Americans in particular would be wise to pay close attention, since the age old contraception battle has special historical significance to them. For over a century, “reproductive services” have been special code words for the constant, silent effort of the powerful to control black breeding. And this control has often come in the form of a “helping hand.”
From the earliest days of our nation, people in power have wanted to control black reproduction. Before the Civil War, slave owners had a financial interest in increasing the birthrate among their slaves. This was a matter of simple economics: even before the transatlantic slave trade was outlawed, it had become cheaper to “breed” your slaves than to import new ones. Female slaves were pressured to become pregnant (often they were raped).
After emancipation, black birthrates (and marriage rates) were higher than whites, causing great concern in the growing movement known as Eugenics. An elite group of whites began to see the growth of the black population as a direct threat to their community. Blacks at this time actually had a higher employment rate than whites, because black men were willing to work for lower wages. In a time when many intellectuals were becoming paranoid about overpopulation, some began to fear that blacks would compete with whites for the resources needed to survive.
Powerful whites no longer wanted blacks to make more babies that they could enslave; now they wanted blacks to stop having babies that would compete for their jobs or overcrowd their cities. Their goals changed from forcing them to breed to preventing them from breeding.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.