Dear Pro-Life Friends, Can We Talk?

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.

–Steve Jobs

Editor’s Note: The above quote is prominently displayed within our exclusive ViewPoints 360° channel —a channel intentionally created to welcome respectful, independent thinking and commentary across any and all subject matter, such as this article carefully crafted by Melissa Hughes,  one of our many esteemed Columnists. Please take the time to read it carefully, considering her perspectives in the entirety before responding with your thoughts. We encourage all viewpoints and constructive debate while embracing the notion that differences of opinion are not a failure of humanity, but rather a test of our humanity. Hence; all respectful opinions are both encouraged and welcome.

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 povertychild 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.


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. “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.” BOOM.

    There comes to be a level of self-respect and humility at the core of this debate for me. I respect my own privilege and my own thoughts and lived experiences to have an opinion. I’m humble enough to know that EVERY woman deserves a choice, and that at the Federal level, that choice is non-negotiable. Putting the choice in the hands of the states and all of their difficult policies and inner resources makes it so that women have LESS of a choice. That choice then translates into a diminished quality of life, as your oodles of research and statistics show.

    If we can’t take care of our own, why are we forced to bring new life into this world?

  2. When I was 19, I got pregnant by my 23-year-old boyfriend. He was emotionally abusive and a drug dealer. At the time, I wasn’t using birth control and simply “didn’t think I would get pregnant.” (The more educated 37-year-old JoAnna knows how foolish that logic was. And she also knows how foolish her behavior was. But 19-year-old JoAnna was still learning her way.)

    I was petrified. I was attending college, so I knew I had healthcare. But I also knew that having a baby at that point in my life was not going to help me get where I needed to go. I told the boyfriend and he agreed it wasn’t the right time. So, we made an appointment at an abortion clinic, he picked me up from my dorm and we had our first appointment. It was confirmed by ultrasound. I was pregnant. We scheduled the abortion for the following week.

    I was devastated. My whole life I dreamed of being a mother. Should I just go through with it? Should I keep the child? Knowing who the father was, would that be setting me up for more trauma? Two days before my appointment, I started bleeding heavily. I passed a large clot and made an appointment at the heath center for the next day. They didn’t believe I was pregnant as my tests came back negative. They said it must’ve been a heavy period.

    I canceled my appointment and knew deep in my soul, the miscarriage was the universe’s way of telling me I didn’t have to make that choice. But I also knew, I already had. I was going to do it.

    From that day forth, I was a faithful birth control taker. I was never going to put myself in that situation again. I may not have learned to stay away from abusive drug dealers for a while, but I did eventually learn that lesson as well. At the age of 30, I brought my first child into this world. And at 33, I brought my second child into this world.

    I learned a lesson. I learned it the hard way, like I usually do, but I learned. If I was forced into being a mother at the age of 19, I wouldn’t be were I am today. I wouldn’t have learned all I have learned. And the two people I brought into the world wouldn’t be here. My life would’ve taken a different track.

    I don’t think my story is uncommon. I don’t think people get an abortion (or plan to get an abortion) and don’t learn important lessons from the choice. It changes you. But not having the choice, would have also changed me. In a way I don’t even want to think about. In the 19 years since I was able to make that choice, I have grown. I have become a person the 19-year-old JoAnna would be proud of.

    I’m pro-choice. I’m pro-learning-life-lessons-the-hard-way. I’m pro-don’t-get-stuck-in-traumatic-cycles. And I’m pro-woman. We all have our own paths to forge. Let’s allow them to be forged.

  3. The title of your article caught my eye and I took the time to carefully read not only the article itself, but the comments. Like you Melissa, speaking or even mentioning this topic is so sensitive and emotional in many ways. As I was reading through its entirety, a few things kept pushing my own freaky button. So my reply will is not to change minds, but to add another side. You are correct that reproductive decisions are personal to each woman. I’d like to say first of all that I grew up for a few years in an orphanage, where eventually I ended up in foster care. Your writings of how children should be protected by those they love and trust, yet end up with abuse, lack of love, not enough education to even learn what trust, love, or caring is all about. I speak from personal experience. The 20 years I spent as a cop, responding to calls of children being neglected, abused, raped, or murdered by the same people they thought loved them, has never left me. It would not be fair if I did not mention that life is a gift from God. A gift such as your life was, to be able to become the woman you are, to inform others, and to be educated with degrees, but had your life been snuffed out because the mother decided she didn’t want to bother with you is a loss to society form what I read on your bio. An amazing woman!

    The whole thing about Roe vs.Wade from the Supreme Court is basically putting it into the states decision on what they decide on the subject. You wrote: “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.”

    I’d love to have more clarity on this statement. I believe that life is sacred. I believe that to abort a child because it is not wanted or will be a burden, or will not allow the mother to continue in her lifestyle is sad. Life does begin at conception. I would ask that if I don’t want to get pregnant let me make sure that I don’t, or, if it is in the case of rape, find a way to make the decision to perhaps give he baby up should you not want it, as there are many couples who want to adopt but are restricted, so maybe that too has to change.

    To take a child from the womb as I wrote in my last article that has a heartbeat, and viable to live outside the womb, or to kill the baby at full term, to me, its just like all those you mentioned who have a child, but then abuse it; then decide not to get pregnant. With all the things that are available to prevent pregnancy, to ignore, is reckless. Your article obviously has generated several comments, each giving their own thoughts, but like one of your readers said, and you agreed, let’s make healthcare available for those who are not able to afford it and educate in a way to prevent pregnancy as opposed to creating life and then destroying it.

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences and your insights that inform your position, Lynn. I think that is so important to acknowledge first. We each have lived our own lives – a collection of experiences and teaching and learning and values that make us who we are. My experiences have certainly informed my world views. I was very fortunate to be raised in a loving family by parents who cared for me and nurtured me. Sadly, that is not the case for many of the kids I work with. You state: “With all the things that are available to prevent pregnancy, to ignore, is reckless.” I would agree with that — with one caveat: (rape and incest aside) not everyone has the education or the access that you and I have. In fact, that was the essence of my article. Until we treat every single child as a gift from God (that would mean economic security, healthcare, education, overall child well-being), those are just words. Just ask the millions of kids who live in poverty or foster care how cherished they feel.

      Finally, and I think this is an important point, I respect your opinion and the choice you’ve made for yourself and perhaps your family. I do not respect those who believe it’s okay to force those beliefs on me or that I’m wrong if I believe a woman has a right to choose what is best for her.

      As I said in the piece, this is a messy, complicated, personal issue. There are many reasons why a women may want or need to terminate a pregnancy. I’ve never had an abortion. I do not know what I would do in that situation. I do know that it is not my right to dictate that decision for another person based upon my own religious beliefs and values, and yet, there are many who do just that.

      I, too, believe life is sacred. But, the facts simply don’t support that every life is treated that way. I would urge you to read the comment below from Jeff Ikler. He touches on something that I think is fundamental to the conversation. What is the “quality of” life that women will be forced to bring into the world?

    • Thank you Melissa for this reply and this being my thoughts, P.S. I love the dialogue, because its healthy and give thoughts on all ends of the spectrum. My only comment to your reply is that religion is not the issue but to respect life in general. In the case of incest or rape, a life is still being created. I can speak of that on a personal level, yet all of these comments and replies come down to:
      1. Do you discard life because life itself is not worth being created?
      2. Do you live the pleasures of life to the flesh without protecting one from having to make a decision that could have been avoided?

      Or does society work on giving education on personal choice that will not put you into a situation of needing to abort the life within.

      Here is my thoughts on religion, regardless of what one may believe, it may be that one believes, a woman can make the choice that if you choose to be in a relationship that can produce life, take necessary precautions. and if it is by rape or incest, support the decision of the woman, while hopefully allowing a new life to begin. We should be able in our society to provide the healthcare needed to help in these situations.
      When you said that the facts simply don’t support that every life is treated that way: does that mean that a child with downs syndrome or mental retardation should be treated differently because they are disabled?

      “The quality of life that a woman would be forced to bring into the world” is making the decision that birth is selective is seems. In God’s eyes, all Life is precious.

      As you can see your article generated much dialogue.

    • First, I’d like to thank you for this respectful exchange, Lynn. It gives me hope that two people as passionate as you and I are can have a meaningful, civil dialogue about such a tough topic. I want to address some of the questions you’ve raised here. But honestly, my heart hurts for yet another senseless mass shooting. Given your position on valuing every life, I have no doubt that your heart hurts, too. Another thing we share. What I cannot wrap my head around is how vehemently folks are opposed to allowing women to choose based on their values, beliefs, personal circumstances, etc. while not expressing the same outrage when a school or church or movie theater becomes a bloody crime scene because someone exercised his or her “right” to purchase and use a weapon of war.

      I did a fair amount of research on the pro-life position writing this article and I came across a quote written by a women who was responding to the “no exceptions” point. It has stuck with me and really resonated after the events of this week:

      “You ask why no exceptions for rape or incest? It is an unfortunate sacrifice, but every life is sacred and if revoking the choice for all women saves even one unborn child, it is a sacrifice we must all make.”

      I’m left wondering what sacrifices have been made for the kids who will be buried this weekend. What has the pro-life movement done to save even one child from being murdered while learning his ABCs? I share these questions not for answers, just to share what I’m struggling with. Again, thank you for your civil exchange.

    • I believe in civil exchange, it is healthy Melissa and needless to say your articles are heartfelt and provoking. I am just thankful (as you stated) that we live in a country that we can speak our mind, at least for now, as who knows what will happen in the future. I respect your positions and thoughts and I always hope people respect mine. Blessings

  4. Melissa — As I was reading your well-reasoned, thoughtful, and measured essay, I was curious how adding an important word — it’s actually two words — to Pro-life or Pro-choice might change the discussion.

    “quality of”

    We could ask those who are “Pro-life” if they are “pro-quality of life”? I only ask because
    • Many of the states that are writing strict anti-abortion laws also have legislators in Congress that voted to first deny and then end, end, end the Affordable Care Act, which now provides health insurance for more than 23 MILLION Americans who didn’t have it before.
    • They have legislators in Congress who are considering or running for re-election on Rick Scott’s platform to assess the lower middle class with a NEW income tax, but who voted to provide tax reduction to the wealthiest percent of Americans.
    • They have legislators in Congress who have repeatedly made no attempt to reign in the proliferation of firearms — especially military-grade weapons such as the AR-15 that was used in Buffalo — despite the proliferation of mass killings. (We can’t change the 2nd Amendment, but we can overturn 50 years of established law with Roe.)

    If they are really “pro-quality of life,” how do they square that stance with their other positions?

    We could ask those who are “Pro-choice” if they are “pro-quality of life”? Maybe services need to be made available to them to help them make a quality decision of whether to choose abortion or its alternatives. Oh, wait, that’s Planned Parenthood, right?

    • Jeff, I absolutely love the idea of adding “quality of” to the debate. That’s everything… If the concern is only about protecting the life but not quality of life for either the child or the mother, what have we gained. Those against PP, in my opinion, surely have not been educated about all the health services they provide. I went to PP (at least a 100 years ago, but still… ) when I was working my way through school as a bartender/server. I had no health care and that was where I went for my annual exam. I never received an abortion… just everything that I would have received from a primary physician had I been able to afford one.
      Thank you for weighing in.

  5. This article so eloquently puts the issue into perspective. I appreciate the statistics and your real life stories. I’m sure this was a difficult article to write but grateful for your doing so. The children you’ve helped are lucky to have someone like you in their corner.

    • Thank you, BWerren for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. Giving voice to the voiceless is not confined to the womb. There are plenty of “voiceless” kids in our communities today.

  6. Thank you for your well written perspective and very informative information on this extremely polarizing issue. Pro choice also gives one the right to choose NOT to have an abortion. That seems to be lost on people who feel they have the right to legally force their personal choice on others. Where does that stop and who will that effect next?

    • It’s a slippery slope for sure. It’s difficult to understand how some are only able to see one black or white issue – ignoring the complex long-term consequences – not to mention forcing their personal choices on others.

  7. Melissa:
    As I stated at the recent BizCat event, as a man I’m not quite certain I’m entitled to an opinion about abortion. However, like you, I have very strong opinions about human rights, and particularly womens’ rights. I had a mother. I have a wife who is precious to me, five sisters, three daughters, two granddaughters, you get the picture. My sense is that the issue is not, and never was about aborted babies; it is and always has been about womens’ agency. It’s beyond astonishing to me that in 2022 women have still not attained full participation in this experiment that we (ruefully) call a democracy. Our so-called ‘pro-life’ friends have cleverly disguised that fact, but it is true, though they’ll never admit it. Beyond that, no amount of legal action and/or maneuvering will end abortions, as you well know. Women have been getting needed abortions for a thousand years, and that will continue. I trust women to make choices about their own bodies and health. Thanks for writing this.

    • I’m right there with you in the astonishment department, Byron. I cannot for the life of me understand how people can knowingly put others through such turmoil because of what they feel is right for them and their family. Every situation is different and until people start standing up and taking responsibility for the repercussions of these decisions, we will be in a dark place.

  8. Given so much noise and “shoot from the hip” polarizing opinions dominating the airwaves and social media focused on this important issue, it’s refreshing to finally come upon a considered, fact-based, commentary not seeking to inflame, but rather to inform. Appreciate your strength of conviction and quite frankly, your courage in opening the door to thoughtful discussion here, my friend.

    • Thank you, Dennis. I’m not going to lie… given the current climate, this one was extremely difficult to put into the light. It’s so easy to hide from highly-charged topics like these because the conversation is uncomfortable. And we’ve certainly had several years of that, so I understand the fatigue people are feeling. At the end of the day, I figured my discomfort and fatigue is nothing compared to the women and girls – born and yet to be born – who will most definitely suffer from this decision.

  9. With your brilliant article you bring up multiple pieces of evidence that a fetus is worthy of saving only until it is born in most pro-life states, dear Melissa. Thank you for your investigative work and for educating us on this very important subject that many seem to speak up without knowing all the facts you have mentioned. Everyone should read your article.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and share your thoughts, Ipek. Working with so many of these kids who are “discarded” through no faults of their own brings this issue into sharp focus for me. Maybe sharing my perspective will enable others to see a side of this issue they had not considered before.

  10. You are so freakin’ spot on, Melissa. I’ have always burned at the “pro-life” label – we could serve all people better by rejecting that marketing ploy. It’s about subjugation and punishment of women. If not, these same folks would be powerful proponents of sex education, birth control, affordable child care and a living wage for all.
    I also appreciate the passion without rancor (or not much, anyway) of your tone.
    Keep on fightin’ the good fight.
    Be well.

    • Thank you, Mac. I think this is one of those difficult conversations with no easy answer. But, I also think this is one of those times that will define who we are and which side of history we stood on.

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