When I first identified as politically pro-choice, I’m fairly certain I became fodder for much gossip and judgment in the conservative, religious community I call home. Here, many consider abortion murder and supporting a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices as evil. I suppose I could still call myself personally pro-life, as I do believe in the sanctity of all life, not just life in the womb. However, the definition and real-world implications of that label are problematic at best, and in many ways, the total antithesis of my personal values.
There is nothing about pro-life rhetoric that makes me more furious than half-truths, misleading articles, and outright lies spewed about women who choose abortion. Since the passage of New York’s Reproductive Health Act, my social media feeds have exploded with pictures of pink, chubby newborns paired with text about “murdering babies.” These memes, created to illicit an emotional response of outrage, are lying. No one is aborting their full-term, healthy fetus weeks or days before birth. This simply does not happen.
What does happen, however, are situations where women find themselves in devastating circumstances; for example, an ultrasound revealing a fetal abnormality that would make the fetus incompatible with life or lead to much suffering. We can speculate what we would do in this particular situation, but speculation is not reality. Most of us know someone with a child who “beat the odds” and is now thriving, but a happy ending for one family does not apply to all. Sometimes the “pro-life” choice is abortion, preventing needless suffering of a dying infant and the emotional turmoil of a family prolonging the inevitable.
Whether we agree with a choice or not, our response should be compassion, not shame and judgment on a family already facing the unimaginable. As a society, we need to put more trust in women. The decision to abort a nonviable pregnancy is a choice between a woman, her partner, and her doctor. She doesn’t need keyboard warriors on Facebook telling her she is evil because of that decision.
I am the mother of three children. My two youngest are typical and healthy, while my oldest has profound disabilities and multiple special needs. Parenting a child with complex medical needs has fundamentally changed me in many ways, one being a keen awareness of my own privilege in having the ability and resources to care for him well.
I have a solid, far-reaching support system, including emotional and financial support. I have a flexible schedule that allows me to take my son to frequent doctors appointments, and be at his side for hospital stays after surgeries. I have childcare options for my other children, and the time and education to research and manage complex insurance claims, therapies, and possible medical treatments. And yet, even in the best possible circumstances, parenting a medically complex child is extremely difficult, stressful, expensive, and is almost always unexpected.
While I do see abortion as a tragic choice made by women facing raising a child with profound medical challenges, in many cases, I understand it. How is a woman living in poverty with other children to support able to adequately parent a child whose care requires special skills, frequent hospital admissions and loads of time spent managing healthcare coverage? The answer: programs that support that woman and shoulder some of the burden in caring for the child.
Both the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) and Medicaid have enabled our family to give our son the best possible life, even with his diagnosis. By law, our insurance company cannot deny him coverage due to his many pre-existing conditions. Despite the need for lifelong care, he cannot “max out” on coverage and be dropped from our plan. He receives a Medicaid Waiver that covers the gaps in insurance coverage, paying for outrageously expensive medical equipment and supplies (his new wheelchair was $13,000 and his feeding supplies run more than $1000 a month), private duty nursing, medication, and therapies. Without this entitlement program, our family would be bankrupt and unable to afford the medical care our son needs to survive.
Ironically, the “pro-life” party consistently tries to make it more difficult for families who legitimately need entitlement programs to receive the benefits of these programs. They try and repeal the ACA and cut Medicaid funding for the poor and disabled, denying children like my son crucial therapies, treatments and medications. They demonize welfare recipients, cutting budgets for SNAP and TANF . This rhetoric paints poverty as a character flaw and the result of laziness, instead of systematic flaws that make it all but impossible to climb out of poverty.
The pro-life party tries to defund Planned Parenthood, the organization from which many women from low income households receive birth control, ultrasounds and prenatal care. Planned Parenthood empowers women to prevent unwanted pregnancy and promote the best healthcare outcomes when they are pregnant. In turn, these services contribute to the decline in abortion instead of the demand for it. Yes, Planned Parenthood performs abortions, but the Hyde Amendment outlaws the use of federal dollars to fund them. Defunding Planned Parenthood equates defunding basic healthcare, not abortion.
The End Game
A question I often ask my pro-life friends who want Roe v. Wade overturned (which would not make abortion illegal, it would just turn that decision back to individual states), is: If abortion were illegal, then what? Would they want women who choose to end a pregnancy to be sentenced to prison? Some actually say yes, because prison is the consequence for murder. And if women are forced to carry a pregnancy to term, how are we, as a society, going to ensure that child has not only the right to be born, but necessities like food, diapers, adequate housing, childcare, and access to needed healthcare? All of these things should be part of a pro-life ethic, and yet in reality, they are not.
The pro-life outrage machine has a singular focus: vilifying the right of women to make their own reproductive healthcare choices specific to their particular situations. The conversation surrounding abortion should be fact-based, nuanced and grace-filled. We as a society should prioritize programs protecting life after birth, not just in the womb.