In my hometown when the Clinic Defense organizes to escort people seeking abortions into the clinic and The Crisis Pregnancy Center van parks outside and pleads with the pregnant person all the way to the door, I know both teams at play. I know the people who funded the van and drove it up that day and I know the people who are willing to risk their lives to make sure others have access to abortion. I guess you can say I’ve always been a bit of a zealot, but going from celebrating Sanctity of Life Sunday to chanting “free abortion on demand” is not the clearest path. I hope that reading this will provide clarity in this conversation no matter where you stand.
When I was pro-life it wasn’t just because I was a brainwashed Evangelical rube. Much of what I believed would be identified from the outside as propaganda such as Margaret Sanger’s eugenics intentions and design for Planned Parenthood, but positions like this cannot be easily dismissed as they are wildly popular among conservative black folk. To dismiss it off hand would be to dismiss a real history of eugenics in our country that continued in formalize programs up into the 70s in my state and its continuing legacy in the crisis of black maternal mortality. In 20th, century many white progressives and liberals championed eugenics and forced sterilization of people deemed poor and feeble-minded (disproportionately black) it was an accepted and codified practice. But this isn’t my main point, I’m just saying this isn’t a situation where you can act as though conservatives are just stupid and you’re doing yourselves no favors by pretending that’s the case. There is a reason that abortion is a single-issue voter motivation for many people in the South. I know two black women who voted for Trump and 2016 because Mike Pence was anti-abortion, one who wrote in Mike Pence, and another who did not vote because if they did it would be for Trump on the issue of abortion. It’s the reason why my parents voted for Reagan back in the day (they always include that they only voted for him the first time).
I’m writing this to highlight how the pro-life movement is using a completely different set of language and logic than the left (by left I don’t just mean liberal I mean left of Bernie Sanders). When you are pro-life there are two questions: are fetuses alive and are they human? If they’re both alive and human, then abortion is murder. The slaughter of the innocents has been a highly motivating factor for the conservative Church. Even more so when we add in the racial demographics that black women are disproportionately recipients of abortions. For some, the response is clear: genocide. That, if a million abortions occur a year then there is a silent Holocaust happening all day all week all year, and someone must do something about it. When I was in the 10th grade I wrote a competitive persuasive essay citing essentially as much.
When I went to college and discussed abortion in my philosophy class it was no issue to me: the fetus is alive, if they are alive and human (no necessity for a threshold of personhood, alive and human are enough without moving the goalpost to intangible minds or souls or even the ability to feel pain) then to end that life is homicide, murder, manslaughter or some other grave crime intensified by the helplessness of the soon to be departed. From this perspective, a woman’s body or her choice is simply irrelevant. There is another body inside of her body. You can’t do whatever you want with other humans’ bodies especially if it leads to their death. Maybe, if they’re threatening your life and even then you can’t kill someone for threatening your life if you willingly caused the conflict that became life-threatening. You can’t end someone else’s life because they will grow up poor or unloved by their mother, you don’t have the right to end someone’s life because they’ll have disabilities when they grow up. You can’t end someone’s life because their parents were abusive or related. To the pro-lifer, abortion is a moral issue first and a criminal issue second.
Imagine my surprise when I heard the idea that abortion is healthcare. I was so confused when I heard my leftist friends saying this. How is it healthcare? Isn’t someone in this equation being un-healthed as quickly as possible? If we had a fighting game-style health bar one is being rapidly depleted. I personally investigated this point of view because I was so bewildered that I was sure my leftist friends would not be able to answer. There is an amount of self-righteousness on both sides of this equation. Only then did I realize that people always had abortions, they just haven’t always been legal and safe. That’s what Roe V. Wade is about women should not be barred from having abortions and setting out parameters by which the state is able to regulate the process. That the procedure is legal and safe when done by doctors and that women deserve the option for it to not be removed from possibility by legislation. I thought abortions were made available by the fact that they were legal, I hadn’t realized it was a long-standing practice. Before Roe V Wade around a million abortions were performed a year, it’s just the majority of them were illegal. I didn’t realize it was a state of fact, that whether you were drinking a tea that your grandmother concocted or using that dreaded coat hanger women in desperate situations will do desperate things to not bring a child to that situation.
Even the question of being pro-choice is somewhat antiquated by this notion of healthcare. Whether it is a woman’s right to choose or not is an abstraction from the practical point that the woman who chooses to have one has the right to choose safe and healthy places to do it. Compare this not to the broad legalization of drugs but to harm reduction facilities such as where methadone is supplied. The question of morality body and autonomy is less central to the fact that people will always do drugs and fewer people will die if they have access to healthcare while they’re doing it. The morality of the act itself (whether it is good to do drugs or have an abortion) is secondary to the fact that millions of people are already past the point of contemplation and have life-threatening time-sensitive situations that will be resolved one way or another.
The constitutional right to an abortion means that your legislators were not to remove the options. But it is possible to terminate a pregnancy safely and affordably through health insurance and not cash transfer to a shady lady you hope you’ll never meet again. It means a doctor it means aftercare. It does not rely on whether or not a fetus is alive or human. From the healthcare perspective, this is simply irrelevant. It’s not patronizing the expected mother and convincing her she is evil, it is giving a safe option for what’s going to happen anyway in a certain percentage of situations. The only other option is to criminalize abortion and treat it as murder. To treat women who are in most need of help as though they are the greatest purveyor of violence in the world
In my perspective shift, there is also an element of radical empathy. In the same way that whenever somebody asked me for money on the sidewalk I always give it to them, it’s because I’ve never been so stressed for cash that I had to ask a stranger on the sidewalk. Honestly, I probably never will be. But if I ever was in a situation where all my safety nets fail, the sky fell on my head and I ended up asking for change, I would like someone not to put me in jail for it.
I have, however, had a rapist make me promise that I would have his child if I got pregnant. I begged him not to do so because I was maintaining my virginity for marriage and I didn’t want to get pregnant.I don’t say this for your pity but to point to a darker of the pro-life side and to work through this empathy. Implicitly within the Evangelical religious structure is the notion of abstinence and that pregnancy for those who choose not to abstain is punishment for their sexual immorality. It’s a notion as antiquated as a Scarlet Letter but much more persistent in practice. It was a fear motivating me to remain a virgin but also that deeply increased the shame of assault and complicated the whole situation at least on an internal level.
But I was able to leave there and go get plan B immediately. Plan B is not an abortion but an emergency contraceptive pill. I got it from Walmart I believe, had to ask for it it was around 50 bucks but I got it when I needed it. Never in my life have I been in a situation where I might get pregnant and have no access to birth control or plan B. I’ve never had less than $200 or been unable to leave the state if I needed to, all things that could easily prevent people from getting abortions. But if I ever was in the situation where I needed to (and I very nearly could have been I would like to have the safety of a doctor.) I wouldn’t want to be forced to find a black market resource for it. I wouldn’t want to make pills out of horse medicine. To this day I haven’t told my parents about the sexual assault, I wouldn’t have wanted that to be a prerequisite or asking a family member phoning a friend, or asking the audience (that’s you peanut gallery). I wouldn’t want to have to deal with the natural consequences of sin (is what my college Bible study leader called it when people slut-shamed me after being assaulted) I would want a free abortion, on demand. And if I didn’t have access to one, I would give one to myself.
Even if you are the courageous soul who wouldn’t make that decision in this situation, then you know a difficult decision and the road it would be and the amount of strength that it would take to raise a child under that circumstance. Then you can conceptualize the determination that could easily be directed into persistence to terminate a pregnancy. To look at a person who needs this and the critical nature of this decision as close to them as their own breath and say no, no safe option if you do this it should be dangerous for you and if it isn’t I will make it that way is the opposite of radical compassion its radical condemnation. This is not a power I think we should hold over each other. I don’t think one person moralizing over something so intimate to another should empower them to make the other person’s life dangerous or even harder
The Christian Conservative Reproductive
There is a bigger picture here about the power of religious persuasion in society when it is coupled with propaganda. It isn’t just abortion access. It’s all of sexual and reproductive education. Why didn’t I know people got abortions throughout human history when it is a kinda basic idea in women’s health? Its because my parents never signed my permission slips to go to sex ed. No seriously there were permission slips for sex ed (which is kinda crazy to begin with) and my parents wouldn’t sign because they didn’t want me to know about sex. I snuck in once because I felt guilty sitting with the ‘bad kids’ who just didn’t show their parents the permission slip. I hadn’t been a bad student; my parents had just said I could not go.
Even behind the veil, such conservative parents are impactful, you cannot teach what these parents don’t want their children to know, making the educators complicit in the restriction of reproductive rights. Imagine now, my parents have to sign the permission slip for everyone to learn about sex and reproductive health. My parents, who wouldn’t let me take birth control to clear up my skin because they didn’t want me to feel comfortable having sex as a teenager. That’s not parental rights it’s holding everyone hostage to the most radical elements among us. I have been that most radical element and I can only begin to tell you the ways I could have benefitted by having more expansive and not less expansive education.
I can tell you the restrictions of the religious right on education are as bad as you fear. It is the religious right playing strict parents to the country and they want to control you by restricting your knowledge and options. Ultimately, they don’t want people to have sex before they get married and want every natural deterrent to scare them all straight. This is the foundation of the Christian house and home, children as retribution for sexual sin and as the reward of marriage. They see much less issue with teenagers getting married because they got each other pregnant (as my grandparents did and as many people just consider “the right thing to do”) they have no problem with people getting married on the basis of having sex “it is better to marry than to burn” because the right is keenly aware of how their sexual ethic reproduces their world view of male headship in heterosexual married families (if I call this the heteropatriarchy it will go over conservatives heads as a liberal buzz word even though it is a shorthand for exactly what they believe).
Turning back the clock
I’m sure this sounds alarming, but my past may be your future. We may have the conservative parents of our restrictive states signing permission slips on what everyone gets to learn in sex ed and it better not be gay. We have parents that say teaching children about sex is grooming them for abuse. We have our most faint of pearl-clutchers enshrining fertilization as the point of life starting and the end of bodily autonomy for women, it could be your Plan B’s or your birth control. It is an enormous jump backward in our rights as women, it’s pretty much making us leave prom and go to a purity ball. They want restricted religious girls or married childbearing women and nothing else. That’s what birth control, gender-inclusive education and abortion have given us as women, the opportunity to be more than what our grandparents could choose from and we can go back in the box.
This post was previously published on MEDIUM.COM.
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