Planned Parenthood: Recognize inherent flaws in pro-life movement’s name
On Nov. 27, Robert Lewis Dear targeted a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., shooting twelve people.
Since the shooting, the political right has attempted to distance Dear’s actions from the “pro-life” movement, but Dear’s mutterings about “no more baby parts” upon arrest and comments by Barbara Micheau, a former wife of his, establish a clear connection. According to Micheau, Dear had targeted Planned Parenthood in the past by jamming the locks of clinic doors with glue to prevent personnel from entering the building. While Dear’s prior attack exhibited far less violence than the recent shooting, Micheau’s comments, as well as Dear’s statement upon arrest — a reference to the controversial and largely discredited videos released by the Center for Medical Progress —― all but prove that a disdain for abortion and a “pro-life” leaning factored into his motivations to kill three and wound nine.
Even with this, however, the right could still assert that Dear’s actions reflect nothing about the “pro-life” movement — if not for the tragic and disgusting frequency of violence perpetrated by supposed “pro-life” advocates against reproductive health clinics. According to the National Abortion Federation, the following violence against clinics has occurred: 11 murders and 26 attempted murders since 1993, 191 arsons since 1976, 38 bombings since 1978 and 654 anthrax threats between 1998 and 2002. Factoring in additional acts of violence, a Jan. 1 2015 report from the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws notes that, overall, abortion providers have reported more than 6,800 acts of violence since 1977.
With the Nov. 27 shooting in Colorado, that number just went up.
These troubling instances of violence by people who claim the term “pro-life” illustrate the hypocrisy of the term itself. But still, conservatives protest, those are the actions of rogues; true “pro-life” advocates would never do such harm.
For argument’s sake, let’s grant that — disregard all anti-abortion terrorism and look only at the sweet-smiling, nonviolent pro-lifers — but even then their claim to the term “pro-life” is shaky at best, and it crumbles on two counts: a disregard for the life of a pregnant woman and a disregard for the quality of life of the mother and child.
Pregnancy can be difficult, painful and even life threatening. According to a 2004 Guttmacher Institute report, 12 percent of women who opt to have an abortion do so as a result of health problems. By virtue of opposing abortions, “pro-life” advocates would therefore support endangering the lives of 12 percent of women who seek abortions. To prioritize a fetus that cannot survive on its own over the woman needed to give it life in the first place defies logic and tragically devalues the already living, breathing woman.
Beyond actual life-or-death situations, opponents of reproductive choice fail to acknowledge the consequences to quality of life of both mother and child that bringing an unwanted pregnancy to term entails.
For approximately one percent of women who choose to abort, the unwanted pregnancy results from sexual assault, according to a Feb. 26 article in Health Research Funding. While that number may seem inconsequential taken at face value, the article goes on to report that 85 percent of women who become pregnant from sexual assault choose not to abort, meaning that at least 15 percent would still opt for abortion. If supposed “pro-life” advocates had their way, pregnancy would prolong these women’s psychological trauma for nine months or more. For women who already had their autonomy violated in the most reprehensible way, this continued deprivation of bodily autonomy would be devastating.
In any instance of sacrificing the fetus to save the mother, “pro-life” advocates argue that the worth of the fetus’s life equals that of the mother and that therefore, the mother has no right to terminate the pregnancy. With this ideology, “pro-life” advocates attempt to seize the moral high ground, but they underestimate the complexity of the situation. If the two lives are equal, that does not mean that forcing the mother to carry to term preserves life more. It simply means that, either way, one life is sacrificed for the other.
Furthermore, pregnancy significantly reduces the mobility, freedom and financial resources of the mother. For lower income women, retaining a job while pregnant may not be possible, and even for those women who do remain employed, carrying a fetus to term, let alone caring for a child after birth, may pose an unbearable financial hardship. According to the 2004 Guttmacher report, 73 percent of women abort because they can afford neither a pregnancy nor a child, and 22 percent don’t feel mature enough to raise the child.
Without abortion, many of these mothers would either willingly give up their children or lose them to the state due to maltreatment. In either case, many unwanted babies would end up in the foster care system and subsequently suffer poor quality of life during and after childhood. According to statistics reported by Foster Club, the foster care system increases substance abuse and psychological problems while decreasing chances of success in adulthood: children who lived in foster care experience seven times the rate of drug dependence, five times the rate of PTSD and twice the rate of alcohol dependence; further, only half will be employed, less than three percent will earn a college degree and 71 percent of young women will become pregnant by age 21. Worst of all, according to an April 2005 study by Casey Family Programs and Harvard Medical School, about one-third of foster children reported maltreatment during their time in foster care.
Now, none of this is to say that foster care always fails or even that it’s better to abort than to put an unwanted baby up for adoption, but “pro-life” advocates need to acknowledge that supporting life doesn’t only mean supporting life entering this world; it also means supporting life while it physically exists in this world. As anti-abortion activism and hesitance to support welfare programs tend to overlap, “pro-life” advocates need to examine their advocacy for hypocrisy.
Two other common reasons for aborting include health problems of the fetus and having an abusive partner, which represent 13 percent and two percent of abortions respectively, according to Guttmacher. In these situations especially, the fetus — if carried to term — would suffer considerably. As such, while examining the morality of terminating a pregnancy, opponents of abortion need to also examine the morality of continuing a pregnancy only to bring a child into poor health or abuse.
Altogether, these facts reflect that many who purport to be “pro-life” actually harbor a hypocritical disregard for lives outside the womb, and that makes their use of the term “pro-life” difficult to swallow, especially since the term exists as a guilt tactic to manipulate the opposite side. The term “pro-life” implies that if a person isn’t on the side of “pro-life” advocates, then that person must be “pro-death,” which simply isn’t true. Before firmly claiming the moral high ground, anti-abortion activists must carefully examine all factors surrounding abortion. The issue isn’t as clearcut as many of them allege.
Terms for movements or ideologies should reflect what they actually mean. That’s why people in favor of women controlling their own reproductive rights call themselves “pro-choice” rather than “pro-abortion” because, despite what many anti-abortion activists believe, pro-choicers don’t run around cackling about heinous infanticide and encouraging all women to get abortions. “Pro-choice” describes a person who supports a woman’s autonomy over her own body. “Pro-life,” on the other hand, does not accurately describe its own movement, as that movement fails to support all life.