The recent passage of the Texas Heartbeat Act, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 19, has resulted in feverish alarums across the land. These came after the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to block the law in late September, following an emergency application made by over a dozen Texas abortion providers and their allies. In the wake of the Court’s decision, the House of Representatives hastily cobbled together and passed its euphemistically titled Women’s Health and Protection Act (WHPA) on Sept. 24, a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade and eliminate any attempts by states to regulate abortion for just about any reason.

All too predictably, not a single representative of the 57-member Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) voted against WHPA, which was cosponsored by black congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). Pressley and her fellow Black Caucus members (26 of whom are women) have substantial majority support among black Americans.

The seemingly solid support for the pro-abortion status quo among blacks is puzzling to pro-life advocates given that polls show blacks are the most religious racial grouping in America. According to a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of blacks believe in God as described in their religion’s holy scripture. The usual explanation for the discrepancy between what Christian moral law demands and what millions of Christian blacks support when they vote for the Democratic Party is simply that they are not so much voting in favor of abortion rights as they are against Republicans, whom they regard as the enemy of black progress. But the nub of the problem may lie deeper.

A glance at the abortion statistics may point us in the right direction. The Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2018 black abortions stood at 33.6 percent of all abortions performed in the United States per annum, although blacks make up only 13.4 percent of the national population. Thus, black women are five and a half times more likely to abort their babies than non- Hispanic white women, although black women have substantially higher pregnancy rates. But even after controlling for higher rates of pregnancy, black women are aborting their babies at three and a half times the rate of white women. Since 1973 abortion rates among black women have been steadily climbing, from 24 percent in the 1970s, to 30 percent in the ’80s, to 34 percent in the ’90s, to 36 percent in the 2000s prior to the more recent increase.

Such stark figures are troubling, to say the least. Some 20 million black children have been aborted in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade. The black population, which currently stands at 47 million, was reported to be growing at a slower rate than other races in the 2010 Census. Many pro-life advocates attribute this slowed growth to the aggressive marketing of abortion procedures by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. There is probably more than a grain of truth in this. Another, perhaps more convincing explanation is the failure of those in positions of moral and political authority in black communities to speak out in favor of the humanity of unborn children.

One must particularly wonder about those pastors who lead African-American churches. No reliable statistics allow us to speak objectively about the numbers of black pastors who may actively oppose abortion or seek to persuade black women to refuse that option. Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests that most black pastors are, all too often, simply silent in the face of what must be regarded as a scandal and a stumbling block—a grotesque affront to the biblical message.

Remarking on this code of silence in a 2020 interview with Catholic World Report, Walter Hoye, a black Baptist minister from California, states that the primary reason “nobody’s preaching” on abortion in black American communities is that “black leadership is post-abortive.” What does Hoye mean by that arresting term? For black pastors, he continues, “that means there is an abortion in his life somewhere… mother, wife, son, daughter…probably the entire congregation he’s preaching to is postabortive.” In short, the issue has become so sensitive, and congregations so defensive, that pastors are reluctant to speak openly about it, lest they lose their jobs (as Hoye did a few years ago).

If black Americans in this post-abortive culture are defensive and hostile toward their own ministers when the latter preach on the subject, it follows a fortiori that those same black Americans are even more deeply resentful when whites solicit their support for the pro-life cause. As Hoye and others attest, African Americans tend to regard the pro-life movement as a Republican thing, and thus linked to a culture of white supremacy. When they see pro-life marches or rallies on television, they observe white evangelical and Catholic faces, but very few black ones.

A key factor in the post-abortive code of silence is group identity, which for black Americans has been rooted in victimhood for almost a century now. As early as 1928 Zora Neale Hurston lamented what she called the “sobbing school of negrohood.” What in the 1920s was an idea of victimization embraced mostly by black intellectuals like W.E.B. DuBois has now become a pervasive group mentality in black America.

Sociologists inform us that group identity is shaped and sustained by a shared mythology—that is, by beliefs and assumptions held in common that may have only a tenuous relationship to reality. Any transformative change on abortion within black America will have to come from within that community, and especially from its religious and political leaders, who must rediscover their religious and moral convictions. Some signs of change have become evident. Back in December when Sen. Raphael Warnock, himself a minister, was campaigning in a runoff election against Republican Kelly Loeffler, a group of 25 black pastors signed an open letter to Warnock, taking him to task for his pro-choice rhetoric.

According to Warnock’s critics: “As a Christian pastor and as a black leader, you have a duty to denounce the evil of abortion, which kills a disproportionate number of black children. Your open advocacy of abortion is a scandal to the faith….” We must pray that such displays of conscience will become less and less rare.