No one issue in politics today causes greater polarization than the issue of abortion. I remember sitting down with my mother in high school, nerves fluttering in my stomach as I asked her, “What do you think about abortion?” I was thinking about the fact that we went to Catholic church every Sunday, the fact that she and my father had voted against Obama, and at the time against Elizabeth Warren in every election they could. But I breathed a huge sigh of relief when she looked me in the eyes and said, “J Elizabeth, I’m a doctor. I’m pro-choice.”
For years now I’ve considered myself pro-choice too. But I don’t believe that the pro-choice/pro-life dichotomy is accurate, at least in nomenclature. I hate the fact that anti-abortion activists have co-opted the term “pro-life” in order to advocate simply for the issue of forcing people to stay pregnant against their wills. Is that really what life means? So when I heard that over 350 religious leaders endorsed Joe Biden for president in August, and more recently on October 3rd, a group of anti-abortion Evangelicals wrote and signed an official endorsement for the former Vice President as well, I was stunned, but elated. Reading through their document, I finally began to feel that maybe some other people had an idea of what pro-life should mean. The endorsement reads: “…[W]e believe a biblically shaped commitment to the sanctity of human life compels us to a consistent ethic of life that affirms the sanctity of human life from beginning to end. Knowing that the most common reason women give for abortion is the financial difficulty of another child, we appreciate a number of Democratic proposals that would significantly alleviate that financial burden: accessible health services for all citizens, affordable childcare, a minimum wage that lifts workers out of poverty. For these reasons, we believe that on balance, Joe Biden’s policies are more consistent with the biblically shaped ethic of life than those of Donald Trump. Therefore, even as we continue to urge different policies on abortion, we urge evangelicals to elect Joe Biden as president.” Essentially, Biden and the Democrats have, the official definition of “pro-life” aside, proven time and time again that they are more on the side of life than Republicans.
When it comes to the inherent value of life, I hope I can say without much controversy that life is precious. That being said, when it comes to politics in this nation, the value of life is very often held in contrast with the value of money, jobs, or the economy. This can be seen on full display in prominent pro-life polticians such as Ted Cruz, who will do anything to make sure that a baby is born, but when it comes to living breathing people he makes great efforts restrict their access to quality healthcare. All in all, I don’t believe that we should be prioritizing the life of embryos over the life of people who are pregnant. I also don’t believe that we should force pregnant people to be pregnant when they don’t want to be, for various reasons (including the fact that multiple human rights organizations, such as Equality Now and the UN Human Rights Commission, say that forced pregnancy is a form of sexual violence and that the denial of abortion access especially in cases of rape is akin to torture). I understand that the pro-life movement specifically advocates against abortion rights, but I also believe that if these people really were pro-life, they would advocate for rules and regulations that reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and, by obvious correlation, therefore reduce the number of abortions. Instead, anti-abortion polticians and advocates have decided that the only way to prove their moral superiority to the world is to outright condemn the things that they consider to be “bad,” because they want to make sure that everyone knows that they think these things are “bad.” Despite the fact that criminalizing abortion does not affect the rates of abortion at all but rather affects the maternal mortality rate, making it shoot up, anti-choice activists have in the past largely set their sights on simply pushing to ban reproductive health access to women and pregnant people across the country and around the world, rather than advocate for things that actually reduce unwanted pregnancies, like comprehensive sex ed and free or cheap birth control. Furthermore, as the Evangelical group states, Trump’s record on abortion does not necessarily make him pro-life. Abortion is one of the most common topics I’ve seen single-issue voters cite as their biggest concern in politics, which is one of the reasons why Evangelicals are often reported as consistently voting Republican despite many other Republican-party viewpoints that could conflict with their values as Christians. However, it is worth noting that when we vote for president, we are not voting for a moral or religious leader. Of course, the president should have morals. But when it comes to issues where certain perspectives stem directly from the Bible or other religious texts (despite the fact that there is no mention of abortion in the Bible even once), there is a danger inherent in the single-issue voter’s desire to slowly erode the separation of church and state.
For these reasons, I believe that the “pro-life” movement of America has co-opted and mangled what it means to truly be in favor of life, liberty, and happiness. If anti-abortion advocates really were “pro-life,” they would advocate for free standardized healthcare, a livable minimum wage, quality public and higher education, environmental protections for air, water, and land, affordable and public housing options, racial equality including reparations to Indigenous and Black Americans and police reform, LGBT rights and acceptance, and much, much else. Because these are issues that are actually affecting, and killing, living breathing people in the country today. Mike Pence can sit on a debate stage and say that he’s “pro-life,” but the fact remains is that the Trump administration has repeatedly tried to repeal healthcare initiatives while the country is still in the middle of a global pandemic that has already claimed over 215,000 lives. When leftist activists try to protect the right to life in living breathing humans, for example saying a few simple ideas that one would assume pro-life people would agree with, like “people deserve healthcare” and “people deserve clean drinking water,” we’re accused of being communist radicals that hate the American dream. If you ask conservatives what the American dream is, they’d imply that it’s a nation with a small enough government to absolve it of its responsibility to actually help people, but one that’s just large enough to justify their attempts to control the uteri of every woman in America.
Do I necessarily agree with the idea of Evangelicals and other religious groups using their personal theocratic beliefs as a measuring stick for all political decisions? No. America is not a theocracy. But I recognize that everyone has innate and inherent biases, religious or not, that affect every decision that they make, political or not. Faith is very important to some people, and this is not something that will, or should, change anytime soon. But voters, take some time to give a thought or two to the values that your holy books advocate. How should we best uphold these values and beliefs in our daily lives? To what extent should they influence our voting? And to what extent are other people’s medical and personal choices none of your business at all? The fact is, with hundreds of faith leaders backing the Biden/Harris ticket, perhaps some religious voters should take a step back and really examine what it means to be pro-life. You can’t advocate for the birth of every infant in this world and then abandon them to poverty, prejudice, the foster care system, disease, hunger, racism, or any other whim of oppression as soon as your pro-birth job is done. Even though I’m on the pro-choice side of the debate, which means I advocate for a woman’s right to choose abortion or birth, parenthood or adoption, I do believe that we’re really more pro-life than those who claim the title for themselves.