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TAC Bookshelf: Remembering the Black Pro-Life Movement

Here's what our writers and editors are reading this week.

Casey Chalk, TAC contributor: Ten years ago, Walter B. Hoye II, an African-American pastor and pro-life activist, was sentenced to 30 days in jail. His “crime” was standing on a public sidewalk outside an abortion clinic and holding a sign that read: “God loves you and your baby. Let us help you.” Hoye was arrested because Oakland’s city council in December 2007 passed a law termed the “Bubble Ordinance” to protect “access to reproductive health care facilities.” The ordinance prohibits protesters from approaching within eight feet of women within a 100-foot range of reproductive health clinics if they are “obstructing access” and do not have consent. Eventually, two higher courts exonerated Hoye, one overturning his criminal conviction, another judging that enforcement of the “bubble law” was unconstitutional.

Hoye’s story is told in Black and Pro-Life in America: The Incarceration and Exoneration of Walter B. Hoye II, written by Robert W. Artigo and released by a Catholic publisher. A quick search of prominent media shows why that latter one is the case: neither Hoye nor the National Black Pro-Life Coalition, of which he is a member, receive much mainstream media coverage. Neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times nor CNN, among others, reported Hoye’s tale. One will find little if any left-leaning media acknowledgment that there is a black pro-life movement in America, one that includes Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Consider these stats. There have been more than 50 million abortions in the United States since Roe v. Wade in 1973. The abortion rate for black women is almost four times that of white women. More than 19 million black babies have been aborted since Roe. Broad support for abortion among black leaders like Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, and Maxine Waters is thus self-defeating. It is one of the only identifiable examples in human history of a community’s political leadership supporting a policy that resulted in fewer members of that community, and thus less political power.

Perhaps if the liberal mainstream media—which claims to be deeply concerned with the welfare of the black community—provided a bit more balanced reporting on abortion, and especially its critics, this wouldn’t be so. Since Hoye was arrested, the annual number of abortions in the District has hovered between 1,200 and 2,900, consistently above the national average. This only compounds the black community’s suffering in the midst of a gentrification trend that unduly affects black residents with deep roots in D.C. Yet if the focus of WaPo‘s coverage is to be believed, persecution of the LGBTQ community is a more important story.

For this reason, among others, we need to become more familiar with stories like that of Hoye. It it is demonstrative, says Artigo, of an American political and legal system “which has often failed to fulfill its promise of faith, equal, unbiased treatment toward all, particularly toward black Americans.” The more Americans know that pro-life activism is not limited to a monolithic, largely white evangelical/Catholic alliance, the more they understand it includes members of all races and religious (as well as non-religious) communities, the closer we will come to making it once more illegal.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, Executive Editor of TAC:  Annalena McAfee once said her crossover from newspapers to adult fiction was “nerve-wracking” but she needn’t have worried: Her 2011 debut The Spoiler, sets her thirty-years in the news business off to extraordinary advantage. They say “write what you know”—and as we like to boast, journalists know a little about a lot. In The Spoiler, McAfee is able to pour a career of acquired knowledge and her intimate experience in the dizzying world of the London press into a sophisticated satire set on the threshold of the online media revolution.

I came across the book at a sale and was intrigued by the jacket: McAfee had served as the arts and literary editor of the Financial Times and founded and edited the Guardian Review. The Spoiler takes place in 1997, about the time I was leaving newspapers for online reporting, albeit here on the East Coast. She captures the milieu perfectly—the very point at which daily news had already shifted fully into an unabashed tabloid excess, but only a moment before it lurches garrulously onto the World Wide Web.The venality, the sex, drugs, day and night drinking, and especially the cynicism is on full display in this Upstairs, Downstairs treatment of the biz. It’s actually quite arch, but a fun “romp” nonetheless (though as a non-Brit, the speculative resemblances to real characters was sadly, lost on me).

The sordidly funny tale involves (Dis?)Honor Tait, a 79-year-old Martha Gellhorn  character whose decades of war correspondence have placed her in the pantheon of elite, upstanding journalists, but has left her wholly unprepared for the indignities of growing old. Alternately, we meet Tamara Sim (pleton?), an unsympathetic Bridget Jones, who toils away in “lists” and celebrity ambushes (i.e. Top Best Soap Opera Shags”) for the bottom-feeder celebrity gossip/TV listings section of The Monitor. She’s resourceful, young, and willing to cut any corner to break into a full-time gig. She gets her chance, seemingly, with a commission to interview Tait for the much more prestigious Sunday section. 

This set-up also allows McAfee to flex on her other natural source of practical perception: being a woman who has toiled in both lanes, as young and hungry and, if not even close to Miss Havisham territory (she was 59 when she wrote Spoiler and is happily married to British author Ian McEwan), a retired sage amidst an industry that is quite indistinguishable from the one she came up in. 

There is nothing more refreshing (and alarming) than a strong female writer facing age head-on. Margaret Atwood has exhibited this uncanny ability to chart with clear-eyed humor and honesty the twisted humor of time on a woman’s body and self-possession. In Blind Assassin, and then more recently in Stone Mattress, she’s masterful. McAfee’s ability to toggle between Tait’s isolation and regret, and Sim’s naiveté and desperation, is a pleasure to read. Her seeming knowledge of both worlds: the intellectual fatuousness of Tait’s heady salons and Sim’s seedy environs, filled with tawdry extra-marital affairs, deadbeats, and parasites, is impressive.

There is a plot here, and suspense as well. The main characters are alternately sympathetic, pathetic, and cruel. They are headed to an explosive collision. The fun is in how they get there, and wondering who will win out–age or youth, or neither.





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