America is working its way through a transformative social moment. Nearly everyone is talking or thinking about how Black lives matter. More importantly, Americans are now intensely examining how lives of Black Americans should matter in terms of being respected and treated with justice and humility.
But sadly, this remarkable moment in American history fails to recognize a grave injustice similar to the one that it seeks to remedy. Among the many shouts demanding freedom and equal protection for Black Americans, silence excludes the millions of targeted preborn Black children who also deserve justice and humility.
The tragic public murder of African-American George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers has led to a global outcry like none before. And the officers’ unapologetic, self-assured show of power is part of the terror that regularly assaults African-Americans in all aspects of their lives — not just on the mean streets, but also in genteel boardrooms and supposedly enlightened liberal academies.
Many Americans who were previously ignorant of or who ignored the persistent scourge of racism, have suddenly become compelled to acknowledge its present-day pervasive and pernicious effects. Even those skeptical of how widespread it is can no longer deny the significance of racism’s injury to the lives and livelihoods of Black Americans. And unfortunately there are many, I among them, who understand the depth of American racism, because we have been drowned in it.
In 2007, I spent 12 days on hunger strike as a final act of protest against the racism of faculty members and executives of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who refused me tenure. In the middle of the review of my tenure case, MIT faculty members attempted to block me from competing for the prestigious National Institutes of Health Director’s Pioneer Award for exemplary contributions and vision in biomedical research. When I ultimately received the award, the MIT provost shrugged and said that it was “just a grant.”
In the weeks after the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained renewed growth and support. But, predictably, the number of counter protests to Black Lives Matter has increased as well. Some attacks have been direct, while others, like the rephrasing that “All Lives Matter,” undermine the demand for equal human rights for all by shifting the focus away from those whose chronic mistreatment is the essential problem. Effective social change cannot happen unless the source of injustice is the focus of reform.
We are in a moment of national reflection on the meaning of life in America, both among and between the powerful and the dispossessed. The crucial advance in reason and morality is that the lives of Black Americans matter as much as those of all others; and the only requirement for their just treatment is the simple fact that they are human beings, too. There is no legal, political, economic, social, ethical or moral license for unjust oppression of anyone, including Black Americans. Our lives matter, too.
Yet, despite the power of this moment, there is a deeply tragic aspect overlooked by many. Though the irony of this tragedy is biting, many overlook it or look through it. In these high-minded times, our country is forgetting the most precious of humanity: our children; our preborn children. The irony of their exclusion in this national moment of social piety is a stark reminder of how hard it is to unlearn the habit and rationalization of human oppression.
In the United States, more Black American lives are lost to abortion each year than the total number of all other causes of death. Black children account for a disproportionate percentage of the more than 60 million lives lost to legalized elective abortions as a result of Roe v. Wade.
In an upcoming report in the peer-reviewed journal of Health Services Research & Managerial Epidemiology, my colleagues and I show how the racial disparity of abortion is the overwhelming cause of the destruction of Black lives in America. Abortion is the hushed killer of Black life that has silenced millions of George Floyds before they even took their first breath of air. Yet, in this remarkable moment of social reform history, the lives of Black preborn children have been forgotten.
In the present upheaval, Americans must recognize the urgency of protesting for the lives of our preborn children, too. We must, in particular, offer support to Black mothers who disproportionally lose their children to state-sponsored abortion. We will not become the moral nation that many cry we should be until we are consistent and fully critical in our stated moral cause. Black lives do matter, both the born and the preborn.
• James L. Sherley, M.D., is an associate scholar of the Charlotte Lozier Institute. He is co-author of a new report, “Perceiving and Addressing the Pervasive Racial Disparity in Abortion.”