I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be Pro-Life. Like a lot of conservative rhetoric, the position means something other than the words used to describe it. Pro-Life, in practice, is decidedly Anti-Choice. But it’s not enough to say that. We need to understand why—beyond taking away a woman’s right to choose whether or not she’ll carry a pregnancy to term—Pro-Life is such an issue right now.
The issue is certainly in the news, for two major reasons. The first involves a Bush administration proposal intended to protect health-care workers from treating patients or dispensing drugs that do not support their religious beliefs. This is a relatively small group of individuals who fear legal action. One component of the proposal changes the definition of abortion to include any kind of birth control (condoms, however, are not included). The basic birth control pill, thus, would come under the umbrella term “abortion,” and doctors could refuse to prescribe it, or pharmacists could refuse to fill the prescription.
The second reason that the Pro-Life position is in the news is the election, and the way the conservative religious right has a stranglehold on the Republican Party. To be Republican is to be Pro-Life. Instead of focusing on domestic issues like the management of the economy and national security, many people choose party allegiance based on the moral issue of abortion. I have, in the past, ridiculed individuals who vote based on a single-issue position like abortion. However, I’ve recently discovered that I cannot ridicule such people, because I could never, ever, vote for an Anti-Choice politician.
I fully support an individual’s choice to never have an abortion. If a person believes that there is no situation in which an abortion would be the best choice, not if a woman was raped, if a woman was a victim of incest, or if carrying a child to term would risk a woman’s life, then fine. That is an individual’s personal belief. If someone refused to support a family member or friend who chose to have an abortion, that is the individual’s right to personal belief. I don’t agree with this position, but I believe in the right to subscribe to these beliefs.
However, this is not the Pro-Life position. The Pro-Life position isn’t about personal opposition to abortion. Pro-Lifers seek to end abortions. But not through better sex education, better access to contraception, or changing cultural values about sexuality and pregnancy. They want to make abortion illegal. They want to take away rights and choices.
Personally, I would be happy if the number of abortions went down. An abortion is a difficult experience—physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s not something I want to see a lot of women have to go through. But there will never be an end to abortions—they happen every day, all over the world. Before abortion was a safe and legal procedure, women were permanently disfigured and even killed by unsafe, illegal abortions. If made illegal, we would see a return of these dangerous procedures.
Pro-Choice is about protecting women. It’s about keeping the procedure safe and regulated. It’s about protecting a woman’s domain over her own body. It’s about keeping the State out of our uteruses.
But the Pro-Life position is even more complicated when you consider the class dynamics of our society. Imagine if a woman who lives a middle-class or better lifestyle were sexually assaulted and became pregnant as a result. She can’t go to a clinic and have an abortion, but there’s a good chance she might personally know a doctor. Maybe she has a family member who is a doctor, or even the friend of a friend. If even a semi-wealthy and well-connected woman wanted to terminate her pregnancy in a society where the procedure is illegal, she might have the resources to still obtain a safe abortion. She might even have to leave the country to have a medical abortion, but she’d be able to afford this expense. She might put the plane ticket on a credit card, but she has a credit card. And if the situation were even more dire, if her health was at risk, then her personal wealth just saved her life.
Imagine if a woman without financial means is in the same situation. It’s doubtful that anyone in her peer group is a licensed medical professional. She couldn’t afford to leave the country for a safe abortion, and even if she could, she might work a job in which she doesn’t have vacation time, or can’t take the time off, or doesn’t have anyone to watch her children. What if this woman knew her own life was at risk if she carried a pregnancy to term? What then?
Pro-Life isn’t just about state control over a woman’s body, or about legislating moral beliefs. It’s also about oppressing women without wealth and means. It is class warfare, disguised as a belief in the sanctity of life.
The sanctity of life is an interesting concept, and a term that’s bandied about quite a bit in the abortion debate. It means that “life” is something that is worthy of religious veneration. “Sanctity” isn’t hard to understand, but “Life” is a bit more difficult to define. Whose life? What kind of life? When does it begin? When does it end? There are no simple answers to these questions, but in the spirit of “sanctity,” I’d like to offer what Pro-Life should mean.
A person who calls herself Pro-Life believes that all life is worthy of respect and protection. She is a fierce opponent of the death penalty, as she believes it is not the duty of humankind to decide what persons—no matter how heinous their crimes—deserve to live or die. She is a strong supporter of universal health care, as she believes all children and adults have the right to live up to their potential, and that medical problems shouldn’t be an obstacle to that. She believes that there is no “life” without “quality of life,” so she is also a strong supporter of workers’ rights, especially the right to unionize. Unions are a necessary protection against rogue individuals and corporations who put profits ahead of their employees’ health and safety. She also strongly opposes industrial agriculture, notorious for gross, inhumane treatment of animals and mistreatment of employees—often illegal immigrants without the protection of law—in the name of large profits. She supports the government’s full funding of public education, including sex education programs and a wide availability of contraception, as she knows that an unwanted life will not have quality of life. She opposes abortion, and hopes that no woman will have to have the procedure, yet she knows that there will always be abortions. She seeks to keep them safe, legal, and rare.
If this were really the Pro-Life position, I could consider voting for a candidate with these personal beliefs. As long as the position means Anti-Choice, Anti-Woman, stronger government control over my personal health and safety, and the privilege of the wealthy and well-connected over the rest of society, I can never support any candidate who declares himself or herself to be Pro-Life. This candidate does not share my definition of life, or my values, or my belief about the role of government.