In North Carolina, the six Democratic legislators who broke ranks last month to join the GOP in passing an infanticide bill all had something in common: None was white.
Five of them were black; one was Native American. They included state Sen. Don Davis, who became the hero of North Carolina’s pro-life movement last week when he crossed party lines again to thwart Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, sending the override measure to the House.
“One’s party affiliation should not determine one’s conviction to be an advocate for life,” tweeted North Carolina Right to Life. “Be sure to thank Senator Don Davis for voting to override Governor Cooper’s veto to protect born-alive survivors of abortion!”
Mr. Davis was hardly alone. In a legislative session that saw abortion rise to the forefront, black and Hispanic legislators were notable in their willingness to cross party lines, exposing a racial schism on a key Democratic issue and frustrating efforts to unite the party behind the push to “codify Roe.”
In New Mexico, for example, Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was rocked by a tough defeat in March after eight Senate Democrats voted against a bill to expand abortion access. Six of the senators were Hispanic.
In Nevada, the pro-choice Trust Nevada Women Act was approved last week by the state Senate on a 12-9 vote, despite two Democratic defections. One came from state Sen. Moises Denis, a pro-life Democrat whose parents immigrated from Cuba and whose cousin is Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican.
The other “no” vote was cast by Democratic state Sen. Marcia Washington, who is black, and had no qualms defying her fellow Democrats on the bill, aimed at “decriminalizing” abortion by removing, for example, a requirement for doctors to perform the procedures.
“I voted that way because I don’t believe in any form of abortion!” said Ms. Washington in an email.
Of course, non-white Democrats are still more likely to support such bills than oppose them. The Nevada bill was sponsored by state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, who said the measure “removes outdated laws that criminalize abortion.” A provision to remove the state’s parental-consent requirement was struck before the Senate vote.
Melissa Clement, executive director of Nevada Right to Life, said it took “tremendous courage” for the two Democrats to vote against the bill, saying “they experienced tremendous pressure and I have nothing but huge admiration for them going out on a limb.”
At the same time, she wasn’t shocked to see the Democratic opposition come from minority legislators.
“When you think about it, it’s not terribly surprising because abortions impact the African-American and Hispanic communities at a much greater level than the Anglo communities,” said Ms. Clement. “In some areas, more blacks getting an abortion than having babies.”
She referred to widely reported figures from the New York City health department showing that in 2013, black women gave birth to 24,108 babies and underwent 29,007 abortions, a statistic rated by PolitiFact as “true.”
Planned Parenthood for America, which has been accused by pro-life groups of targeting black women, has swung back by touting its work in providing health care, including Pap smears, breast exams and pregnancy tests, in minority neighborhoods.
The organization has also framed the issue in racial terms by accusing pro-life advocates of seeking to deny reproductive health care to black and Hispanic women, saying “there can be no reproductive freedom without racial justice.”
“We must work with communities of color to dismantle white supremacy — and the oppressive systems that stem from it — which prevents advancements in health equity,” said then-PPFA president Cecile Richards in a 2017 statement.
Abortion has declined for years among all racial groups, but black women still undergo more abortions per capita than their white or Hispanic counterparts.
A 2017 study by Guttmacher Institute researchers found that black women underwent 27 percent of all abortions, a significant decrease from nearly 40 percent in 2008, but still more than double their 13 percent of the U.S. female population.
That disparity has been hammered home by pro-life groups such as Black Dignity and the Radiance Foundation, headed by Ryan Bomberger, who is black.
“Abortion is the number-one killer in the black community. It’s the leading killer in the black community,” said Mr. Bomberger in a video. “It actually outnumbers all top 15 causes of death combined.”
In Illinois, Democrats had high hopes for ambitious pro-choice legislation after newly elected Gov. J.B. Pritzker vowed in January that the state “will be the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to guaranteeing women’s reproductive rights.”
Since then, however, a bill to repeal the state’s parental notification requirement has stalled in committee. So has the Reproductive Health Act, which would remove virtually all restrictions on abortion, after thousands turned out at a rally against the bills in March.
Five Democratic House co-sponsors have since withdrawn their support. Four were black female legislators, according to the Illinois General Assembly page.
Mary Kate Knorr, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, credited the work of pro-lifers such as Chicago pastor Ceasar LeFlore in minority neighborhoods, as well as what she described as the growing sense that such communities have not been well served by abortion.
“I think there’s concern in general just about the clinics in minority neighborhoods,” said Ms. Knorr. “I think they really were concerned that this would be bad for their communities in particular.”