Why sexual health advocates are pushing to get Black men to the front of the abortion conversation

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, effectively nullifying a federal right to abortion, pro-choice activists were left reeling. Since the annulment, 21 states have modified their abortion laws and restrictions leaving abortion advocates exploring ways to bring more understanding about abortion rights to wider audiences.

Enter Planned Parenthood’s “The Huddle,” a touring event aimed at Black men interested in joining the fight for sexual and reproductive freedom and amplifying the voices of those most directly impacted -- or at least spark some curiosity among them.

“The Huddle” will feature Black men from Detroit on a panel discussion in front of an audience of predominately Black men, seeing as Detroit is the last stop. The event has received support from several community leaders, the nonprofit action group Detroit 300, and people who identify as LGBTQ.

“Abortion bans affect everyone. So men, couples, families. It takes two to tango, as they say,” says Gabriela Sullen, the associate director of Constituency Programs for Planned Parenthood. “As I’ve been having conversations with men, they’re naturally like, ‘Why does this matter to me?’  I’ve just been letting them know it's about the pregnancy continuum; the before, the during, and after.” 

Men being involved in discussions about abortion isn’t new, but Black men being encouraged to participate in the abortion conversation is largely uncharted territory. 

“This isn’t something that's just been on our minds now,” Sullen says. “Back in 2022, I went to a Congressional Black Caucus event for the first time and I saw Planned Parenthood have conversations with Black men. Valid points were brought up and good questions were asked like, ‘What if we said we were done having kids?  What if a doctor told them that they were unable to have kids?’”

The “Huddle” seeks to bring together more Black men who want to know more about abortion, the health risks associated with pregnancy, and the role they can play in advocating for reproductive freedom. A poll from All* In Action Fund and HIT Strategies published on last May shows that 88 percent of Black men support total legal abortion.

“We do know that with Black men in particular, it's not totally an abortion rights thing but it’s a ‘pro-choice’ thing. They want people to have a choice. It feels like a violation of our rights, and more and more of our rights are being stripped away from us,” Sullen says.

Sullen promises this won’t be your typical pro-choice round table.  The men will discuss sexual assault, the emotional decison making that exists during an unexpected pregnancy, and the economics and environmental risks that comes with raising a child.

“How are you bringing in a child when you don’t have clean water in Michigan?” she says. 

Other topics the men will delve into include people who are pregnant while in abusive relationships and how to support them without judgment. Some may feel that they have to secretly terminate the pregnancy in fear of abuse from their partner. Additionally Sullen wants to show how mass incarceration and the criminal justice system affects black families

“Look at how our Black fathers have been taken out of the picture, whether institutionalized like our men going to jail or the separation of Black families,” she says 

Sullen wants all these topics to be discussed with transparency and honesty. “The Huddle” is a space for men to be unfiltered which should allow them to speak to their own culpability. Sullen points out that both men and women both have sexual reproductive organs and are equally responsible for how they’re used.

“A panelist told me that men need to be held accountable to themselves and their bodies with whom they choose to procreate with,” she says.
The word “accountability” applies in numerous contexts, Sullen says.  Access to sexual and reproductive rights should be accompanied with accessibility to condoms, information on STI testing, and available resources on sexual health.  

“Right now in Michigan, syphilis rates are up 600 percent. A lot of people don’t even know that. For some people if that goes untreated, it could make you infertile, so this is so important beyond just having a convo about abortion,” she says.

Sullen says the racial disparities related to Black women and healthcare is also a topic worth exploring. KFF reported in January that between 2017 and 2021, 12 percent of Black women between 19 and 64 lacked health insurance. A month later, KFF showed that Black women are more likely to have higher medical debt than their white counterparts. 

“When we talk about having access to health care -- particularly abortion which is sexual health care -- then that's where we see a lot of the discrepancies.  And again, this is part of the pregnancy continuum. So the before, during, and after an abortion doesn’t sit on its own island, it's a part of that ‘during’ piece.  Anything can happen where a person might need to have an abortion whether it's by choice or by any medical decision,” Sullen says.

Sullen concerns are valid; Black women in the United States are more likely to die during pregnancy than their white counterparts. According to the CDC, in 2021, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 69.9 per 100,000 live births, which is nearly three times the rate for white women.

“It's a lot of amazing men who want to be in their children’s lives and abortion is a part of that.  It may or may not happen on that particular journey of pregnancy…It's about what does support look like as we’re going through this life changing situation?”

Ultimately Sullen hopes attendees walk away from “The Huddle” with an increased awareness of women's reproductive rights and the role they can play in that effort.

“My panelist have said things like, ‘We really do need to have these conversations because I have how men and women have been pitted against each other and we need to just come together," she says. "It’s a conversation around healthcare, It's a conversation around our bodies which we've been disenfranchised from, and been told we can’t make proper decisions about.”

The Huddle will take place Friday, June 28, 2024 5-7:00 p.m. Location will be given after registering here: https://www.weareplannedparenthoodaction.org/a/planned-parenthood-advocates-michigan-huddle

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Read more articles by Kahn Davison.