Why The “Pro-Life” Movement is Not Pro-Life
Reproductive rights have been in the news a lot lately–between Representative Todd Akin trying to redefine biology and Mitt Romney choosing one of the most anti-choice members of the GOP as his running mate, it seems like every news cycle has something else about abortion, birth control, and contraception. It’s a polarizing issue in the United States–the longest and most enduring of the culture wars. We frame this debate as pro-life versus pro-choice, but that’s not what this is about. The term pro-life is being used by people who are not pro-life.
Can we please call the movement that’s trying to take away our reproductive rights what it really is–anti-choice? I’m so sick of the term pro-life. The term pro-life is happy and good and is a complete misnomer. And guess what? The fact that we’ve allowed this movement to label themselves something that is a complete lie is a victory for them. If you’re an activist for reproductive freedom, every time you use “pro-life” you’re hurting your cause. (This is not meant to sound like harsh judgment! It’s hard to remember, but we should all do our best to get in the habit.)
Maybe you really, really believe that abortion is murder. I disagree, but fine. I am not going to tell you that it’s invalid, actually. You can make your own moral decisions for yourself. If you really truly believe this, criminalizing abortion is not going to do anything. If DIY abortions were popular in the days before the Internet, imagine how much more popular they will be when all you have to do is Google? In fact, there is evidence that whether or not abortion is legal has no bearing on abortion rates–they’re similar in countries where the procedure is legal and where it is illegal. What differs is the safety of the procedure. Globally (i.e. taking into account places where abortion is not legal and not performed safely), 13% of women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth are due to abortion.
The study, sponsored by the WHO, showed that there are about 20 million unsafe abortions a year. 67,000 women die as a result of these unsafe abortions, mostly in countries that do not have legal abortion.
Sounds like making abortion illegal is the best way to protect life, right?
Make your own moral decisions, but remember that you might change your mind when you’re confronted with the reality of an unwanted pregnancy. Twelve years ago, in the year 2000, Joyce Arthur collected a series of anecdotes about anti-choice activists who choose abortion. Many of them go right back to fighting against the very choice they just made.
If you want to call yourself pro-life and have me not call you a liar, here’s what you have to do. First of all, get rid of your ideas on making abortion against the law. That’s proven to lead to death. Instead, work towards making abortion more rare. Start campaigning to have birth control widely available to anyone who wants it. Start investing in making birth control foolproof. The Mirena has a failure rate of 0.2%. Less than half of one percent! It’s also one of the only forms of birth control that has identical typical use failure rates and perfect use failure rates. Obviously, IUDs are not practical for all women, but we’re dreaming big here! We’re being pro-life! Life finds a way! Let’s make it so every pregnancy is an intentional pregnancy. Let’s be idealists who believe that science can come up with better forms of birth control!
While we’re waiting for science to come up with a perfect form of birth control that works for every woman, lets make what we have widely available. Let’s teach every kid how to use it. Abstinence-only sex education clearly does not work. If you’re truly pro-life, you should be crusading for accurate sex education that includes how to use contraceptives. However, a study–done in 2012–shows that a vast majority of young people are misinformed about birth control–even though there’s a direct correlation between contraception-based sex ed and decrease in risky sexual behavior. States that actively promote abstinence-only education have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Here’s something I find sad; so many abortions performed today are unnecessary. They were easily avoidable. They’re unnecessary because there were simple ways to prevent the entire situation from happening. Unfortunately, the people who are campaigning so hard to make abortion illegal are the same ones pushing abstinence-only education and trying to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
Photo courtesy of Women’s eNews
The pro-choice movement is not against policies that decrease abortion. In fact, we consider choice to be more than the right to have an abortion. The so-called “pro-life” movement is against policies that decrease abortion, and reacts harshly to anyone who wants to shift the focus to decreasing abortion rates. These people do exist. However, they’re viewed as traitors to their cause.
“It’s a sellout, as far as we are concerned,” said Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League. “We don’t think it’s really genuine. You don’t have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions.”
Except that social programs decrease abortion rates. A 2004 study on why women have abortions showed that overwhelmingly, the reasons were financial (73%) and because a child would interfere with a women’s ability to work, study, or care for dependents (74%). So, why are the so-called pro-lifers not supporting social programs that would ease the financial burden of a child? Why do we not hear them valiantly defending the Women, Infants and Children program? The WIC mission:
WIC provides Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
We don’t hear them defending WIC because they want to cut WIC. The program is in crisis. What about health care? Pregnancy requires medical care. We can have the argument that pregnancy has become over-medicalized in the United States, but that’s a separate issue. When a woman chooses to carry a pregnancy to term, she accepts the risk of serious health complications. Maternal mortality is rare in developed countries, but that’s largely due to our health care system–which, in the United States, is extremely expensive. It costs money just to have a healthy pregnancy and give birth! Maybe you wish to have a doula and a homebirth. Great! But something might go wrong and you may end up in the hospital, and if you don’t have insurance, that’s a huge financial burden. It’s a good thing the pro-life movement is for universal health care, right? Oh, wait. (Again, there are some anti-abortion activists who understand that pro-life is not just about being anti-abortion.)
Adoption, unfortunately, is a false flag. The numbers for adoption are scarce and hard to come by, but they paint a scary picture if we are going to rely on adoption to replace abortion. As of 2001, there were about 1.5 million adopted children in the U.S.–total, aged 0-18. There are about 1.3 million abortions per year in the United States alone. As of 2011, there were 400,000 kids in foster care. Only 2% of foster children go on to earn a college degree. Adoption would have to be 100 times more common to be a viable, wide-spread alternative to abortion.
The anti-choicers have their own linguistic argument–they call us pro-abortion or abortionists. But that’s not what we’re fighting for, we’re fighting for choice. I don’t want to have an abortion. It’s not particularly physically pleasant. I just want the option. I will be thrilled if I make it through life without ever having one, but I’m glad the choice is there. No pro-choice advocate is going to say; “Excuse me, but your choice to carry your pregnancy to term is evil, so let me use emotional manipulation against you!” All we want is the choice! Calling ourselves pro-choice is one hundred percent honest.
When anti-abortion/anti-choice activists call themselves pro-life, they are lying. They claim they care about the unborn, but do nothing to actually decrease abortion rates. All of the steps that I laid out above in being truly pro-life are progressive causes. Maybe they are doing it unintentionally. Maybe you truly believed that in seeking to make abortion illegal, you are saving lives. Unfortunately, it’s just not true, and your passion and ardor are being co-opted into a movement that does not support what you believe. It’s time to take back the term and reserve it for those who are truly committed to eradicating abortion, not spouting ideology. Those people can be allies to the reproductive rights movement.
This is a real problem in American politics. We cannot have a true democracy if our candidates do not truly represent themselves. We don’t have a true choice if we don’t demand honesty in politics. One of the most dangerous groups in America, Personhood USA, and its supporters often have the audacity to claim they’re not trying to outlaw abortion, they’re just trying to reform property law. If there’s a word for that besides ‘lying’, please, lay it on me.
If you are actually pro-life, please, take back the label. I’ll support you. But if you’re not actually pro-life, call yourself what you are. You’re anti-choice.
Written by Jess Mary Aloe
Follow her on Twitter!
All opinions expressed in editorials belong solely to that of the author and do not reflect the views of Feminspire and its staff as a whole.
May 21, 2013
May 20, 2013
May 19, 2013