The XX Factor

Ben Carson Attacks Reproductive Health Care Access for Women of Color and Rape Victims

Ben Carson speaks at an anti-abortion rally in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 28, 2015, in Washington, D.C.
Ben Carson speaks at an anti-abortion rally in front of the U.S. Capitol on July 28, 2015, in Washington.

Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images

Last week, it was revealed that Ben Carson had done research on fetuses obtained from the very abortions he would like to ban women from accessing. But being a known hypocrite hasn’t slowed the retired neurosurgeon and current GOP presidential candidate down one bit when it comes to casting judgment on women. On the contrary, Carson had a moment on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show last week that should rival Todd Akin’s infamous “legitimate rape” moment, both in terms of ugliness to women and ignorance of biology. 

When asked by Cavuto on Wednesday whether he supported exceptions for rape and incest in his proposed ban on abortion, Carson, like Akin before him, tried to argue that such exceptions weren’t really necessary. “I would hope that they would very quickly avail themselves of emergency room,” Carson argued, referring to rape victims. “And in the emergency room, they have the ability to administer, you know, RU-486, other possibilities, before you have a developing fetus.”

As with Akin, it’s hard even to know where to begin. The biological ignorance on display here is astounding. RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” would not be given to a rape victim in an emergency room. The pill can only work on established pregnancies and is usually administered at abortion clinics. The pill Carson is likely thinking of is emergency contraception, which, as its name would suggest, prevents conception in the first place. Anti-choicers who don’t like the idea of women having post-sex contraception have frequently claimed that emergency contraception works by killing embryos, but in reality, it works by suppressing women’s ovulation so no conception can occur while she has the live sperm in her system. That Carson, who is an actual doctor, would conflate the two is particularly troubling. 

Just as insidious is his implication that a rape victim only deserves our sympathy—or, if you prefer, a rape victim is only legitimate—if she behaves in a certain way after the rape. To earn the right not to bear a child for a rapist by force, you have to pull it together right after the rape and go straight to the emergency room, keeping in mind to avoid Catholic hospitals, even if that means driving for hours out of your way. If you are in shock or denial after your rape or you fear the repercussions of reporting, too bad, so sad. Only the most pulled-together, brave rape victims get to say no to forced pregnancy. And even then, only 89 percent of the time, which is the effectiveness rate of emergency contraception

But even though he seems to break with the hard-line anti-choice stance against emergency contraception, Carson continues to appeal to anti-choice voters by going hard after reproductive health care access for women of color. 

“That 30 percent of abortions occur among black women, whereas their population number is 13 percent, so it’s almost triple the number of abortions rate for African Americans as whites,” Carson told Fox News host Eric Bolling on Thursday night. “It brings up a very important issue and that is do those black lives matter? The number one cause of death for black people is abortion.”

Comments like this suggest why Carson’s popularity is rising among the ranks of conservative voters, who love hearing a black man explain that black women making personal choices about their own lives is a greater threat to black people than police violence or economic inequality. He’s not wrong that black women have disproportionately high abortion rates, but that’s not because black women are some kind of murderous threat to their own people. It’s because black women have much higher unintended pregnancy rates than white women, in no small part because black women are more likely to have inadequate access to affordable gynecological care, including contraception. If black women had the same access to care as white women, these abortion rate discrepancies would likely shrink dramatically. 

But even though we know that contraception access prevents abortion, Carson is pushing for less access, particularly for women of color. “One of the reasons you find most [Planned Parenthood] clinics in black neighborhoods is so that you can find ways to control that population,” Carson told Cavuto on Wednesday. 

He doubled down on this claim on Thursday, telling Bolling, “And it is quite true that the majority and plurality of their clinics are in minority neighborhoods.”

In reality, most abortion clinics are in white-majority neighborhoods, and 14 percent of Planned Parenthood patients are black, which is directly proportional to the population at large. But this talking point is a popular one on the right, because under the guise of anti-racism, black women’s access to contraception and other health care services is being targeted for cuts, while white women’s access isn’t under nearly as much scrutiny. If conservatives such as Carson had their way, already existing disparities in reproductive health between black and white women would expand dramatically. 

Donald Trump continues to suck all the oxygen out of any room he’s in, but Carson is quietly building up a base of support among conservative voters. Sure, he may have done some fetal tissue research, but he is willing to go hard after reproductive health care access for both rape victims and women of color. And it’s that vein of cruelty that will keep him afloat, even amid legitimate charges of hypocrisy.