Texas Democrat Wendy Davis made the news after leading an impressive filibuster of an extreme bill set to ban abortions after 20 weeks in non-surgical centers. She stood for 11 hours without leaning on anything or taking a bathroom break. She, her cohorts, and a large crowd of supporters managed to kill the bill and shine a spotlight on pockets of liberals living in a largely Republican state. It also illustrates how abortion has remained a heated issue in spite of Roe v Wade.
Sadly, this is not the first recent example of Republicans taking drastic measures to forbid abortions. In the year 2012 we have heard some astonishingly uneducated remarks said about abortion and rape. Perhaps the most surprising part is the fact that these men were political figures (implying a need for verbal tact) who made such comments in a public forum where they knew they were being videotaped. It demonstrates surprising views still perpetuated today.
If we look back on American history, women largely had the choice to terminate their pregnancies from colonial times to the nineteenth century. Newspapers featured euphemistic advertisements for abortion-inducing drugs. Convicting women for abortions was rare. By 1900, abortion was banned (unless it saved the life of the mother) to increase birthrates. The primary motivation was not religion.
There also isn’t a single word condemning abortion in the Bible. The Catholic church only started to officially ban abortions in 1869. And, up until then, there were varying opinions on the issue among all Christian denominations.
Today, however, the issue has become inextricably tied to religious beliefs. Considering the unwavering religious opposition to abortion, one would think that Christianity has been unequivocally pro-life throughout history. This is not the case.
In light of this political climate, I’ve decided to be yet another person to chuck a few pennies at this overly simplified and extremely polarized issue. To begin requires defining the radical pro-life stance: they do not believe in any or only some exceptions for abortion, and they can be against contraception. They may also seek legislation to limit and/or ban abortion. They may also be against contraception and/or condone rapists who want to seek custody and visitation rights of their offspring. They may use violent means to get their message across.
My first problem with radical pro-lifers is their definition of being pro-life is too narrow; several act as if abortion is unrelated to other issues regarding life and death. For example, being pro-life and against any reasonable gun law (e.g. universal background checks) does not make any sense. Assuming human life begins at conception (which one can challenge), both guns and abortions are weapons that kill.
To address this disconnect, I think it’s important to make a distinction between being pro-life in position and being pro-life in practice. An individual can be one, neither, or both. To be pro-life in position is to believe abortion is wrong with few or no exceptions. To be pro-life in practice is to actually make decisions that involve supporting, raising, teaching, and funding the lives of unwanted children. It also means supporting life through out all stages of human existence.
The pro-life politician who wanted his mistress to get an abortion is a clear-cut example of being pro-life in position but not in practice. Another example is the politician who on one hand doesn’t want abortion to be an option and on the other hand proposes legislation to cut funding to medicaid, healthcare, food stamps, veterans’ benefits, family support programs, and student loans. The Governor who holds a special session to pass an aggressive anti-abortion bill while overseeing more executions than any other Governor is not pro-life in practice.
In contrast, there are people who are pro-choice in position but pro-life in practice. They are the occupational therapists, special education teachers, complex care doctors, and parents who tirelessly care for children with complex medical problems like Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Klinefelter’s Syndrome, Autism, etc. These are the children who, by and large, will not be completely self-sufficient. Some may not live to see adulthood, which means they are likely to “take” more money than they can “make.”
In spite of this, there are people out there who strive to help them reach their best potential, regardless of how much it falls short of the American standard of success. The people who don’t give up on children who are going to die young anyways are genuinely pro-life in practice, and that is different from whether or not they believe women should be allowed to have abortions or not. Some may be pro-life in position, and others may be pro-choice in position. Their actions are pro-life in practice.
Radical conservatives forget a simple but crucial fact: to be alive is to cost money. To be alive, healthy, relatively happy, and somewhat successful requires several resources, especially if a child has special needs. Funeral costs aside, death is the most fiscally conservative state one can be in. So pushing for financial austerity is really a pro-death choice.
It seems like radical pro-lifers want to defend the unborn, no matter what the cost. They ignore the trauma of women who were victims of sexual assault. Some even want to fight for rapists’ rights and allow them to prevent their victims from getting abortions. And the majority of states in America allow rapists to custody and/or visitation rights.
Forcing a child into this world in which the mother is of low means and/or fragile mental health and the father is a sexual predator is a disservice to the child. There is the possibility that the child could thrive in spite of their environment, but it is a reasonable decision for a mother to not want to raise a child in such circumstances.
To continue off this point, simply being alive isn’t enough. As stated before, supporting life requires financial and emotional resources. If one cannot provide those resources, then it’s not really being pro-life. It’s like buying a plant during a drought. To argue for life should include arguing for quality of life as well.
Many have noticed how most radical pro-lifers are right-wing males who ironically advocate personal freedom and small government. They worship deregulation and despise gun laws, even if it hurts people and costs lives. When a woman wants to take charge of her reproductive rights, however, it is immoral. Perhaps their underlying motive is keeping women in the traditional child-rearing role. This could explain why abortion has become so heated in the past century: women have gained more rights and freedoms. Women were already limited to being mothers when the Bible was written, so forbidding abortion was unnecessary.
This could also explain why radical pro-lifers are against contraception. They may argue it is for religion and the (unrealistic) ideal of saving sex for marriage. But birth control prevents unplanned pregnancies. Unplanned pregnancies are the reason why abortion even exists. Radical pro-lifers should be for contraception, but in truth, they are for whatever keeps women doing nothing but raising children.
To be able to defend being pro-life requires an honest look: a certain standard of living is made possible through the death and/or suffering of others. We annihilate other populations of humans for land, religious/ideological dominance, and other resources. We force our fellow humans to work in unsafe working conditions to make the clothes we wear and the technology we enjoy. Corporations avoid paying taxes and pollute our environment for financial gain. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies have mastered the art of assigning a profitable dollar number to human health and life.
Again, to the radical pro-lifer, however, none of these things seem to be as offensive as a woman deciding to have an abortion.
Furthermore, if there was no death, there would be no room for new life. Earth is relatively small, and we share it with many other species. It does not have infinite room for our dramatic increase in population and life expectancy. This fact is clear when the issue of social security comes up. Humans are living longer, and the political party that wants to ban abortion also wants to cut funds to the elderly and/or raise the eligibility age. This too is not being pro-life in practice.
More importantly, our current way of life entails an excessive release of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This has led in an increase in the Earth’s temperature. Global warming has several life threatening consequences: it will increase droughts, wildfires, and the intensity of storms. It will reduce our agricultural output. It will bring many species closer to extinction. This excess of “being pro-life” is making the only home we have less hospitable for future generations and for other magnificent species. This is not being pro-life in practice. It is arrogant to act like the Earth was made only for us.
To take this point further, life and death need to be examined more broadly: they are part of a cycle. It’s a consistent theme in nature and our universe. Carcasses nourish the soil. Fossil fuels provide us with energy. Some pine cones need fire to grow. Stars need to die to provide the building blocks for life. It is an interconnected pattern.
A similar idea could apply to abortion. It is a difficult decision that can leave a woman with many complicated emotions. There are risks and consequences, but it is a choice she should be allowed to make for herself. When denied this choice, one study showed that most women keep their babies, fall into poverty, and are more likely to stay in relationships with abusive partners. The right to choose can give a woman a second chance at living a fulfilling life for herself.
This rationale shouldn’t be used as justification for reckless abortions, murder, or war. But if radical pro-lifers equate abortion with murder, then they need to work to prevent unplanned pregnancies the way we need to prevent oppression, violence, and war, etc. Education, birth control, and affordable health care for women can reduce the abortion demand. Banning abortions is likely to be about as successful and as counterproductive as banning alcohol was.
It is understandable to prioritize potential babies; they are the most vulnerable, and they are part of humanity’s future. But the fact that the same radical pro-lifers are the people who want to gut financial support to America’s safety net shows that their actions don’t match their words. It really does take a village to raise a child, and raising children is one of the most difficult jobs, even under ideal circumstances.
Furthermore, the abortion issue goes beyond just the question of whether or not pregnancies should be terminated. It’s about how we treat the defenseless–including defenseless people who have already been born. Our track record has not been impressive; we cannot hide behind a self-righteousness we haven’t earned. Nor can we pretend that we don’t make subjective, selfish decisions when it comes to sacrificing one life over another.
This does not warrant anarchy; it warrants making educated choices about complex issues for women in challenging situations. Extreme anti-abortion politicians may think that minimizing the horror of rape gives them an extra badge of purity in the “Pro Life Scouts Club,” but it contradicts what it means to advocate for life. And they are taking it in a direction that perpetuates bigotry against women
Lastly, our lifestyles have been increasingly self-destructive, and we need education about our impact on the environment and population growth. Life on Earth is increasingly precarious, and given our dependence on fossil fuels, forcing more mouths to feed into this world contributes to this problem. The ecosystems on our rich planet exist in a delicate balance, and our continual disruption of this may very well lead to our deaths.