Black Pro-Life Pioneers: Erma Clardy Craven

By Dave Andrusko

Erma Clardy Craven

Erma Clardy Craven

February is Black History Month – a time to look back on the lives of African-Americans who have made a significant and profound impact on our society. Over the next few weeks we will be reflecting on the lives of several African-American pioneers of the Right to Life Movement.

We will, of course, write about the legendary Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson, the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and three-term president of National Right to Life. But today we turn out attention to the late Erma Clardy Craven.

As it happens I knew Erma back in Minnesota in the 1970s. A genuine one-of-a-kind, Erma’s kindness, her help to young pro-lifers (like me), and her infectious laugh are memories that remain fresh in my mind.

A while back, Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, wrote about Erma. Mrs. Tobias explained that Erma was a vocal human rights activist who served on many boards, including the National Right to Life Committee and NRLC’s state affiliate, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. She was the kind of woman that when she spoke everyone–I mean everyone– stopped to listen.

Mrs. Tobias referred to a prescient article Erma wrote way back in 1972—the year before Roe was decided—titled “Abortion, Poverty and Black Genocide– Gifts to the poor?” It was one of the very first pieces of pro-life literature I ever read, and, as Mrs. Tobias said, its arguments “are as relevant today as they were in 1972.” Here are a few quotes:

“Throughout the course of American history, the quality of human life has often been improved at the expense of the weak and oppressed. The tragic awareness of this reality leads one to the inexorable conclusion that the quality of life has never been a universally applied concept. This has never been so true as it is today in the move toward human abortion.

“It takes little imagination to see that the unborn Black baby is the real object of many abortionists. The move toward the free application of a non-right (abortion) for those whose real need is equal human rights and opportunities is benumbing the social conscience of America into unquestioningly accepting the ‘smoke screen’ of abortion. The quality of life for the poor, the Black and the oppressed will not be served by destroying their children.

“Genocide has come to mean acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethical, racial or religious group as such; by killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

Ms. Craven was ahead of her time. She keenly understood the menace of Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortions in the United States.

The modern Planned Parenthood has identified its “core clients” as “young women, low-income women and women of color.” Small wonder that while African Americans make up just 13.3% of the U.S. population, they account for 35.6% of all abortions.

In her thoughtful perspective on Erma, Mrs. Tobias concluded, “Despite these numbers, we are seeing individuals follow in the footsteps of individuals like Erma Craven and they are working hard to see that African-Americans recognize the threat of abortion to the African-American community.”