03.30.11

The Antiabortion Crowd's Latest Target: African Americans

A new Chicago billboard featuring Obama's face, another in New York with a young black girl—both with pro-life messages and part of an anti-abortion front group's attempt to tie its cause to the civil-rights movement.

A new Chicago billboard featuring Obama’s face, another in New York with a young black girl—both with pro-life messages and part of an antiabortion front group’s attempt to tie its cause to the civil-rights movement.

On Tuesday, a billboard went up on the South Side of Chicago featuring Barack Obama’s face, drawn in a crude approximation of Shepard Fairey’s iconic image, next to the words “Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted.” The group behind the ad, Texas’ Life Always, has promised to unveil 30 more such signs in the president’s hometown.

It’s just the latest attempt by the antiabortion movement to wrap itself in the cloak of the civil-rights struggle. In February, Life Always erected a giant billboard in New York’s SoHo with a photograph of a young black girl under the words “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” That was also the month white Republicans discovered their passion for racial justice, choosing a congressional debate to accuse Planned Parenthood of targeting African Americans.

The antiabortion movement has been trying to reach out to African Americans for a long time by tarring modern family planning with the shameful legacy of eugenics. But while African Americans tend to be more socially conservative than white liberals, they’ve mostly been wary of the religious right and the Republican Party, and for good reason. The Christian right, after all, is rooted in a backlash against the civil-rights movement—Jerry Falwell, for one, used to preach that the end of segregation would lead to the destruction of the white race. And the modern GOP, which anathematizes our president as a thuggish Kenyan socialist, doesn’t have a lot of credibility when it professes to worry about the future of black leadership. That’s why front groups are necessary.

The website of Life Always lists its founder as a Texas African-American pastor named Stephen Broden. Another African-American pastor, Derek McCoy, is listed as a board member and is quoted as saying, “Our future leaders are being aborted at an alarming rate. These are babies who could grow to be the future presidents of the United States, or the next Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, or Maya Angelou.”

But dig a little deeper, and it’s clear that the man behind Life Always is Brian Follett, a white conservative activist from Austin, Texas. Follett was a major backer of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, donating more than $40,000 to the famous smear campaign. A passionate foe of abortion, in 2004 he founded a group called Majella Cares Outreach, with the goal of “reducing abortion through mass media education,” according to its website. In 2009, Majella rebranded itself as Heroic Media and expanded into Chicago and then into Florida. Life Always is simply a front for Heroic Media—Texas state records list Follett as Life Always’ registered agent, and both organizations have the same official address in Austin.

“Our future leaders are being aborted at an alarming rate. These are babies who could grow to be the future presidents of the United States,” says an African-American pastor.

Heroic Media is close to several major Republicans. Mike Huckabee has raised money for the group, most recently at an Orlando event in February. Sarah Palin has headlined Heroic Media events in Dallas and Jacksonville, Florida. In April, she’ll be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser in Bethesda, Maryland, for the group. Tickets start at $250, and for $20,000, attendees get a private meeting with the ex-governor. There’s no reason to think that Follett, Huckabee, and Palin are anything but sincere in their opposition to abortion. Whether they’re sincere in their deep concern for African Americans and their fear for the loss of the next Obama is another question entirely.

Michelle Goldberg is a journalist based in New York. She is the author of The New York Times bestseller Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World, winner of the 2008 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award and the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize. Goldberg's work has appeared in Glamour, Rolling Stone, The Nation, New York magazine, The Guardian (UK) and The New Republic. Her third book, about the world-traveling adventuress, actress and yoga evangelist Indra Devi, will be published by Knopf in 2012.