Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
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You might assume from the title that I’m writing to change your mind. I’m not.
But it might surprise you to learn that we’re aligned in many ways. Most pro-lifers would accept the characterization that they are good, kind, intelligent people with strong convictions, a value for human life, and a deep sense of responsibility to protect the most vulnerable.
I like to believe that I, too, demonstrate those attributes. I’ve spent most of my adult life working with kids – the last decade or so specifically advocating for children who have been placed in foster care due to abuse or neglect. Perhaps the most heartbreaking yet rewarding experiences of my life have been helping these kids reclaim control of their lives and find value in themselves.
I think about the hurt, confusion, and tears… how these kids have lived through more trauma before they are old enough to vote than most of us endure our whole lives. Trauma at the hands of the very people they should be able to trust suddenly turns their world upside down as they learn how to navigate a different kind of trauma: leaving their homes to live in foster care and group homes, reliving the worst events of their lives to strangers, and being called liars by the people they love for reporting the abuse.
I think about the 11-year-old who was raped repeatedly by her 14-year-old brother.
I think about the 16-year-old who was raped by her father and repudiated by her mother for “ruining their lives.”
And the 21-year-old who aged out of the system before she was raped by her “boyfriend” and then abandoned by him because she got pregnant.
I think of these kids and so many like them across our country who will be impacted by the likely Supreme Court “victory.” I wonder how to explain to these girls that in the post-Roe world they’ll have no choice when the crime results in pregnancy or that terminating a pregnancy they didn’t choose will be tantamount to homicide in some states. I don’t know how to tell them that, historically, recognizing “fetal personhood” has criminalized the behavior of pregnant women, even when those women – and girls – are victims of crimes themselves.
Despite the pro-life movement being about the value and equality of all human beings, these kids will soon realize that anti-abortion advocates don’t actually care how a woman or girl gets pregnant. Every life is a life – no matter the circumstances. And, “real rape” almost never results in pregnancy – and, anyway, women will just lie to take advantage of the “loophole.”
It’s unlikely that a child facing that reality would even begin to understand the anti-abortion paradox: protecting the rights of the unborn at the peril of the born. The same people fighting like hell for the fetus in the womb seem to have little interest in them once they are born.
Don’t believe me?
Almost all of the states poised to ban or severely restrict access to abortion if the Supreme Court overturns the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision fall into the bottom half of state rankings on a wide array of children’s measures calculated each year by the non-partisan Annie E. Casey Foundation. In fact, 15 of those 21 states rank near the very bottom of states on everything from childhood poverty, premature births, health insurance, prenatal care, and education.
No one underscores this shameless hypocrisy more than Gov. Tate Reeves. While embryos are cherished in Mississippi, that “protection” ends at birth. Gov. Reeves’ state has the highest rates of poverty, child poverty, maternal mortality, infant mortality, and the lowest life expectancy in the nation.
Georgia, ranking 46th in the nation for maternal mortality, affirms “protecting the life and rights of the vulnerable” with their recent “Heartbeat Bill” criminalizing abortion after 6 weeks. In fairness, they do make an exception for rape and incest, allowing abortion up to twenty weeks. But it requires women to file “an official police report … alleging the offense of rape or incest” in order to qualify for the later-term abortion – never mind that sexual assault and incest are massively underreported, and many of those who do come forward are often not believed.
Alabama ranks sixth-worst in the nation for poverty, offers among the worst education in the country and they rank 48th in the nation for overall life expectancy. Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas… the list goes on. The states most committed to forced-birth legislation invest the least in the health and economic security of expectant mothers and children.
So, when you say “every life is a sacred gift from God,” are you talking about actual children and women? That would mean investing in education, healthcare, and economic stability to ensure that every mother and child survives and thrives.
Texas ranks 5th from the bottom – in the Overall Child Wellness Index (ranking 49th in health, 47th in family/community, 38th in economic well-being, and 33rd in education). That means there are 45 states that do a better job of taking care of children outside the womb than Texas. Last year, there were 57,000 legal abortions in Texas. In a post-Roe world, what’s another 57,000 poorly educated “sacred gifts” with limited health care and economic opportunities?
Around 64 million women and girls of reproductive age live in the United States, and more than half of them live in states that will restrict or ban abortion if Roe is overturned. The extent of the impact is impossible to predict. But we can expect a significant increase in the number of women with an unwanted pregnancy who will be forced to give birth. We can also expect that the overall well-being of those women, children, and families will be significantly worse.
The Turnaway Study, a large-scale project that tracked the long-term effects of receiving or being denied an abortion, found that receiving an abortion does not harm the health and wellbeing of women, but being denied an abortion results in worse mental health, physical health, and socioeconomic outcomes for families and, by extension, communities. The odds of living below the Federal Poverty Level are 4 times greater for women forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
Let’s look at revoking reproductive rights from a different perspective. Imagine our population grows to exceed our resources. Since states will have control over reproductive decisions, they could resolve the issue by reversing forced-birth legislation to forced-sterilization legislation. Maybe some states decide to require teen boys to get a vasectomy. When they can prove they are financially and emotionally responsible enough to support a child, they could pay to have it reversed and make that baby. Let me know how you’d feel explaining that to your sons.
Today, the past is prologue. In a post-Roe America, women, and girls – only one-half of the pregnancy equation but the only half with consequences – will have no control over their reproductive rights. The very people claiming to fight for human rights are the same people trying to deny human rights.
To my Christian pro-life friends, you likely believe free will – choice – is a gift from God. Perhaps it’s your choice to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Choice is sacred, indeed.
We make choices every single day. Choice is central to human consciousness and fundamental to our sense of agency. To deny women choice and control over their own bodies is not valuing human life; it is denying their personhood, delegitimizing their life experiences, and devaluing their humanity.
This debate is not pro-life or pro-choice. It is pro-choice or NO-choice.
I told you I wasn’t writing to try to change your mind, and I’m not. I respect your convictions and the choices you make because of them. But, there is a word I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s a word you use often to describe your spiritual journey.
The word is “grace.”
I am asking you to think about how much different the world would be if we actually lived the care, compassion, and humility this word embodies. Reproductive decisions are not black or white, right or wrong. They are sometimes complicated, often difficult, but always personal.
It seems to me that the women and girls who face those very personal decisions could use a little more grace.