One of the most divisive issues in our country is over abortion and a woman’s right to choose. There is a large portion of the United States that call themselves “pro-life.” For those in the “personhood” movement in the United States, there is no doubt about when life happens—it is at conception, when the sperm meets the egg. The personhood movement has gained a foothold among anti-abortion activists who are looking to pass laws that define embryos as people with full rights. Personhood advocates aim to outlaw all abortions, along with in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem-cell research, and emergency contraception. Granting embryos personhood would also mean that someone who killed a pregnant woman at any stage in her pregnancy would be at risk of prosecution for a double homicide. And in those states that restrict a woman’s right to utilize a living will if she is pregnant, no living will could apply from the moment of conception. An accidental car accident could put you at risk for vehicular homicide if you caused a miscarriage.
The biggest empirical problem with the view that personhood begins at conception is the scientific fact that a large percentage of embryos lack the capacity, under any circumstances, to become human beings. During the period of embryonic development that begins with fertilization and ends a few days later with successful implantation of the blastocyst into the uterine wall—the period known as “preimplantation development”—up to 50 percent of human conceptions fail to survive, most likely due to genetic errors in the embryo.
Miscarriage is the most common type of pregnancy loss, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Studies show that anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of all clinically recognized pregnancies (meaning that an embryo has implanted) end in miscarriage, depending in part on the age of the woman.
The biological facts don’t tell us where to draw the line as to when personhood begins. But they do show that many embryos that result from conception—indeed, the majority of them—lack the capacity to become living human beings. They do not produce disabled humans. They cannot produce any sort of human life. Science and medicine know this. They are simply too intimidated to say so.
In its moral zeal, the personhood movement makes a huge mistake when it tries to legislate a starting point for human life that is inconsistent with biology. And scientists are making an inexcusable blunder not to point out factual errors by those engaged in the argument about when life begins. Human life is very difficult to start. More often than not, it fails post conception. To argue that personhood begins at conception is to reach for a moral stance that the facts simply do not support.
Beyond the fact that the personhood stance makes absolutely no sense, the entire thought process of being “pro-life” within the GOP base is flawed by the very name they choose to be referred by. There is mounds of evidence that shows that the party itself is anything but pro-life or even pro-quality-of-life. People who call themselves “pro-life” oppose abortion. Since that’s the only argument the “pro-life’ moniker is applied to we should just call their position what it is: opposition to a woman’s right to get an abortion, or anti-abortion for brevity. I, personally, think the Anti-Choice is more appropriate. It works because the people who proclaim that they are “pro-life” are using that term to describe their position in regards to whether or not a woman can choose to have an abortion and absolutely nothing else. There is no aspect of life they are promoting the refusal to allow a woman to make a choice regarding her own body. Pro-Fetus works because a large swathe of the “pro-life” movement are the same people who support cutting funding to programs like WIC, food stamps, and other programs which generally help mothers and children. If they were really concerned with “life,” and not just the fetus, then they would aggressively commit themselves to make sure children have enough food to eat, a proper education, and a place to live. Since their concern for the fetus ends as soon as it is born, they are clearly pro-fetus. It’s irrefutable that the people who would deny women the right to have an abortion are trying to control women. If someone thinks they’re more qualified than a pregnant woman to decide what she does with her body, without her input, that’s control, pure and simple.
Attempting to dominate or control another person in a relationship is considered domestic abuse, so how is attempting to control women whom you’ve never met not considered abuse? A woman in Ireland died last year because she was denied a lifesaving abortion for a pregnancy that was already ending in an unavoidable miscarriage. How are the doctors who denied her that life saving procedure any better than a man who tells a woman how to dress, or what to do? If controlling what a woman does with her time is considered abuse then denying that same woman a medical procedure should be considered equally abhorrent.
A lot of the arguments that fuel the anti-abortion debate are religious in nature. Since not everyone follows the same religion, trying to assert your religious beliefs over other people can be considered nothing less than pro-religious control. Not all of the “pro-life” movement is opposed to abortion, necessarily, but they are in favor of controlling people on the basis of religion. Rick Santorum, for example, who strongly opposes abortion for religious reasons, had no problem with his own wife having a life saving abortion. Despite the fact that his own wife needed one, because of his religion, he continues to insist that it should be denied to other women. What’s more controlling than that?
In his 1996 HBO special Back in Town, the late comic legend and social critic George Carlin nailed the hypocrisy of social conservatives who rail against abortion and birth control with “pro-life” rhetoric while simultaneously attacking social programs designed to support struggling families, supporting war and inciting violence against women. “They’re all in favor of the unborn,” Carlin says in the clip. “They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you!” Carlin paced the stage, hyping the audience with assertion that the same conservatives who use pro-family rhetoric object to programs like food aid, free school lunches and cash payments to the nation’s many deeply impoverished families. “No nothing! No neonatal care, no day care, no Head Start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing! If you’re pre-born, you’re fine. If you’re preschool, you’re fucked!”
And fucked they remain: Budget proposals adopted earlier this year by the Republican-controlled House and Senate budget committees call for $3 trillion in federal spending cuts from 2016 through 2025. The progressive Center for Budgetary and Policy Priorities estimated that the each plan gets “more than two-thirds of its non-defense budget cuts from programs for people with low or modest incomes even though these programs constitute less than one-quarter of federal program costs.” Meanwhile, child poverty rates in the U.S. are already some of the highest in the developed world, and have been increasing since the mid-2000s, the Washington Post has reported.
“Conservatives don’t give a shit about you until you reach military age,” Carlin said. “Then they think you are just fine. Just what they’ve been looking for. Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers.” A 2002 Gallup poll showed members of the religious right were far more likely to support strikes on Saddam Hussein’s regime than those with relaxed religious views. As of 2008, polls of evangelical Christian leaders demonstrated many supported continuing the war in Iraq. So at least as far as the U.S.’ most recent major war is concerned, Carlin’s contention that social conservatives are fairly aggressive on foreign policy stands up to scrutiny.
Carlin also hit anti-abortion activists for extremist violence and intimidation against providers that was common then and is increasingly common now. “These people aren’t pro-life, they’re killing doctors!” Carlin says in the special. “What kind of pro-life is that? What, they’ll do anything they can to save a fetus but if it grows up to be a doctor they might just have to kill it?” People who harass or attack women’s health care clinics or their staffers and patients aren’t representative of the entire anti-abortion movement. But the wing of a movement that feels comfortable using force and threats to achieve their ends is inseparable from it. As Mother Jones reports, the heated rhetoric among presidential candidates that grew out of July’s Center of Medical Progress video controversy coincided with a surge in violence, threats and arson directed at Planned Parenthood clinics, culminating in a Nov. 27 massacre at a Colorado Springs, Colorado, location, resulting in three deaths.
Carlin makes one final assertion in his 1996 set: “They’re not pro-life. You know what they are, they’re anti-woman. Simple as it gets. Anti-woman. They don’t like them. They don’t like women.” He’s painting with a broad brush. But even today, statistics back Carlin’s claims. A 2013 ABC News poll found just 23% of Republicans want more women elected to office, despite the U.S.’ already scant female representation in elected positions. More recently, a 2015 survey concluded participants who agreed with sexist statements about women were much more likely to hold anti-abortion views — including both people with paternalistic views toward women and outright misogynists. Misogyny is defined as the hatred of women, and what’s more hateful to women than treating them like they’re too stupid to decide what to do with their bodies, by denying them a procedure which could be life saving, medically necessary or, in many cases, the responsible choice to make? I can’t think of many things more hateful than letting women die, or forcing them to carry a rapist’s baby to term, because you think you’re more qualified to make their medical decisions than they are.
I’m not necessarily an apologist for Obamacare, as I much prefer Medicare for All, but one cannot say they are legitimately pro-life while opposing equal access to healthcare– especially by the poor. To say “you are required to carry your baby to term” in one breath and then say “but want vaccines so that your baby doesn’t get sick and die? Sorry, you’re out of luck there” is the opposite of being pro-life. Arguments like this reduce the movement to simply being pro-birth, and nothing more. I recall an occasion during one of the many, many, many republican debates during the last primary season. Ron Paul was asked if someone who was ill, but didn’t purchase healthcare, should simply be allowed to die. Members of the crowd quickly shouted out “yeah!”, and Paul’s response, left me unconvinced that he fundamentally disagreed with the statement. Ensuring people have the medical care they need to live, is part of being in favor of life.
After adjustments for inflation, the minimum wage today is $2 less an hour than it was in 1968. However, a study by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United revealed that by simply raising the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $10.00 an hour, it would lift 58% of the working poor out of poverty. There are millions of Americans stuck in an inescapable life of poverty- not because of laziness, but because their hard work at lagging minimum wages are insufficient for basic needs, such as housing. According to the Low Income Housing Coalition, the best case scenario for minimum wage workers can be found in Arkansas and West Virginia where one would only need to work 63 hours a week at minimum wage in order to rent a two bedroom apartment at fair market value. Live in New York? You’re looking at working 136 hours a week in order to pay just for housing. My home state of Maine? That’s 81 hours a week. It’s impossible to say that we are legitimately in favor of “life” when millions among us are unable to afford basic housing regardless of how hard they work.
If you’re pro-life then you can’t support unrestricted gun rights. This one should be the most obvious, but it’s not. Individuals with a pro-life worldview need to take a more reasonable approach to this issue than those who typically control the narrative. If one holds a foundational belief that we need to radically side on the side of life, then we ought be willing to sacrifice some of our rights in order to be true to that guiding principle. The “Christian” life bids you to set aside your own personal rights and interest in the name of others, and we can start here on the issue of gun control. It’s an impossible argument to call oneself pro-life, but to also argue that any citizen ought have access to military grade assault weapons, which are objects designed to take life away. There is no other purpose for guns, beyond killing things. To resist reasonable, middle-ground measures such as background checks, registrations, and mandatory safety training does not indicate that one is holistically on the side of life. In society, we recognize that cars are great tools, but can also harm people. As such, we require a license to operate one, registration of all cars, insurance on cars in case someone is injured, and accountability measures for people who don’t play by the rules. To completely abandon that logic with guns, is beyond fathomable- especially if one claims to be in favor of life. People who are legitimately in favor of life, need to be far more reasonable with compromise on the whole gun discussion.
Being pro, or in favor of life, means that we are in favor of all life. That includes those who are on death row. If you are “Jesus centered” in your approach and development of worldview, you should see that Jesus himself in John chapter 8, stood in the way of an imminent execution. And, while perhaps the law had the right to demand death for certain criminals, as far as Jesus was concerned there isn’t anyone alive who is worthy of acting as the hangman. Culturally, we know that capital punishment is expensive, ineffective, and inconsistently practiced across racial lines– which alone make it an unjust practice even without solid theological reasons for opposing it. Worldwide, 93% of all executions are carried out by China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United States. Hardly the international pro-life community, no? Our culture in the US has become so captivated by retributive justice, we have completely lost sight of the task of restorative justice. If we value life, we must strive to see lives restored instead of lives destroyed.
History, and extensive studies, have shown that making abortion illegal doesn’t get rid of abortion; it only makes the procedure more dangerous and unregulated, which causes more women to die from complications. According to the World Health Organization, “illegal abortion is usually unsafe abortion.” Anyone who would call themselves “pro-life,” while simultaneously trying to outlaw abortions, making them more deadly, is a hypocrite.
I consider myself pro-life because I support programs and policies which help people to thrive, including abortion. There’s nothing “pro-life,” or noble, about forcing a woman to carry an unwanted fetus to term, especially when that fetus could put her life in danger, was conceived through rape or incest, or would be subjected to a life of difficulty and poverty because the mother is unable to provide for a child. We can’t continue to allow people to pretend that they support life, on the basis that they oppose abortion. We have to be willing to say, “No, that’s not what you are, and I’m not going to let you lie about your position in order to make it sound more appealing. You are not pro-life. If you were, you would be fundraising for orphanages instead of protesting at abortion clinics.”