If I Ever Say I’m Pro-Life, Here’s Exactly What I Mean
mis·no·mer (/misˈnōmər/), noun. A wrong or inaccurate name or designation; a wrong or inaccurate use of a name or term.
Pro-life… what comes to mind when you hear this term? Do you envision abortion protesters? Does it remind you of your own convictions regarding the sanctity of life? Or maybe you feel more strongly about a woman’s right to bodily autonomy? Regardless of how we think or feel, ‘pro-life’ is a label that means something very specific in our culture. It’s a moral value mostly claimed by people who believe in “saving the unborn” at all costs.
But the term ‘pro-life’ is also somewhat of a misnomer.
If someone calls themself “pro-life,” but they’re also perfectly okay with the executions of death row inmates, then, are they really pro-life? Are they only pro-life sometimes? Like, when they deem the subject to be innocent? What are the conditions? Should there even be be conditions?
It seems far more accurate to label the self-identified pro-life movement as “anti-choice,” or “pro-forced-birth,” because they manage to conveniently disregard the mother’s life and bodily autonomy. Plus, they don’t seem to care about the child’s life once it’s outside the womb; they certainly don’t want society to help shoulder the burden of all the unintended pregnancies after birth occurs.
Of course, there are people who fall into more nuanced categories. The ethics of abortion occur at polar opposite ends of the spectrum, and all along a continuum. Swaths of women are not having abortions as simply another option for “birth control.” There are many, various real life complications — expected or unexpected — that lead to someone’s personal, private decision to have an abortion.
Given the modern connotations and cultural understanding of the term, “pro-life” is not a description I’d give myself. Rather, I’d probably say I’m “pro-choice.”
Over the span of two decades, I’ve had four pregnancies and three live births. I lost my first in a miscarriage that was both physically and emotionally painful. My kids (who are are the loves of my life) are now 19, 17, and 13. I’ve had a long time to ponder the various scenarios that might put me in the undesirable position of having to think about abortion, as well as the effects that could happen as a result.
I’ve always arrived at this conclusion: unless I was a victim of sexual assault, I don’t think I could ever have an abortion myself, but I’m also sure as hell not going to tell a fellow woman what to do with her own body.
When I start thinking about all my beliefs and values in general, there’s an obvious pattern. I realize that technically, I could call myself pro-life, and I think I’d actually be representing what the term should mean, on the basis of its literal definition. And I imagine many other people would fall into this same category as well.
So, for clarity, if I should ever say that I’m “pro-life,” here’s exactly what I’d mean:
- When it comes to deeply personal matters like abortion, I’m pro-choice. As I see it, to be anti-abortion is to be anti-woman. Women — who are fully living human beings — deserve the right to decide what happens to their bodies. Why? Because, first and foremost, we already exist as fully living human beings, not baby-making machines. If we didn’t have any say over our own bodies and medical care, then we’d be less than fully living; we’d be subhuman.
- I’m anti-death penalty. Regardless of crime. It’s one thing for a woman to know what’s best for her own body and life, not to mention, her potential child — who might end up suffering the effects of neglect, poverty, or abuse — but it’s altogether different (if not worse) when state government decides which humans deserve to be executed for their alleged crimes, especially when history has shown us that innocent people have been wrongly convicted and executed.
- I’m cisgender, but I will actively fight to protect and save the lives of trans people. Most especially, trans youth, because they are the most likely youth demographic to have attempted or completed suicide by the age of 20. This is not because of gender dysphoria, but because of the way society rejects, stigmatizes, and perpetuates transphobia against trans people. Even worse is when they’re rejected by their own family. There are many examples; one notorious tale is of Leelah Alcorn, a trans teen who was forced by her “Christian” family to undergo the very harmful, discredited practice of “conversion therapy.” She committed suicide by walking into incoming traffic on a busy interstate highway. (See Leelah’s suicide note for perspective on this issue).
- I stand for #BlackLivesMatter. And I don’t feel the need to counter this with an “all lives matter” statement because, well, of course all lives matter. But, the fact is, there are huge racial disparities across America, and perhaps nowhere is this more plainly evident than society’s overall disregard for (and discarding of) black lives in general. Unarmed black and brown people are unjustly killed at much higher rates than white people are. Additionally, in America, black women are not allowed to be angry, they’re tone-policed, silenced, and largely invisible. (Oprah Winfrey, plus the fact that we’ve had a black president does not make up for this.) Also, when black and brown kids go missing, they aren’t represented in media like white kids who go missing. The bottom line is, if our culture valued black & brown lives as much as white lives, then we wouldn’t need a #BlackLivesMatter (too) movement in the first place.
- I’m heterosexual, but I will fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community to live (and enjoy living) their lives openly and authentically, as much as us cisgender/heterosexual (cishet) people get to live (and enjoy living) ours. I touched on the trans aspect of this already, but the LGBQ community also deserves to live openly with their loved ones, without fear or constant threat of persecution, microaggressions, discrimination, violence, and hate crimes — including murder — just for being themselves. It seems we should be way beyond this by now, but we still have anti-gay hate crimes and anti-gay murders on the rise, whether in Detroit or Orlando.
- I will never support the 45th administration’s efforts to forcibly separate immigrant children from their parents. These are children. And these children are neither political pawns nor props to put on the table for negotiation. Most of them have already endured lives of trauma and unimaginable horror — which is usually the reason they’re coming here in the first place. They come to America, the “Mother of Exiles,” with Lady Liberty standing in New York Harbor, lifting her lamp, welcoming the tired, poor, homeless, tempest-tost, and huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. And then our current administration, many of whom claim to be “pro-life,” forcibly separates babies from parents. There is nothing “pro-life” about this.
In all, I tend to err on the side of protecting the marginalized and society’s most vulnerable. In the eyes of some folks, this would include unborn babies, (or fetuses, embryos, fertilized eggs, and so on). But as I see it, there’s a difference between a potential life, and an actual life of lived experiences. There’s just no equating a cluster of cells that are non-viable outside of the womb with an adult human female carrying the child of her sexual assaulter. Or a woman whose very life is in danger with an unintended pregnancy. Or even the woman who, in no way, shape, or form wants to be pregnant or have children, ever, but unfortunately, her birth control failed that one time.
There will always be those who argue, “unborn children shouldn’t be sentenced to death because the parent isn’t ready or doesn’t want to have a child! Someone else will desperately want that child!”
But sadly, unintended pregnancies don’t typically end in happy, thriving families, or perfect adoption scenarios. More often, unintended pregnancies only continue feeding the cycle of multi-generational poverty, violence, and abuse, on top of a life already built on resentment and despair. It also seems people forget that women can get (and have gotten) pregnant while on birth control.
I’ve heard it argued, “it takes two to tango,” or how abortion should never be considered, because “she’ll have to just live with her mistake!” But what about the fathers of these unplanned/unwanted/unintended children? They certainly aren’t forced to “live with their mistake(s),” physically, emotionally, financially, or otherwise.
And if the argument is over when life actually begins, then what do we do about all the frozen embryos in IVF labs? If unused embryos end up getting discarded, does that mean they’ve been murdered? And what about all the perfectly good, wasted sperm — you know, from non-penetrative sex, or from masturbation? Are we going to ban all males from masturbation, because technically, they’re destroying potential lives? (Rhetorical questions.)
Likewise, there will always be those who claim religion as the sole reason for their anti-abortion stance. They should be reminded: we don’t live in a theocracy. Here in America, religious views aren’t meant to be made into law. We simply cannot legislate someone else’s medical decisions based on our own personal belief system.
The impact of unintended pregnancies resulting in unwanted children is enormously dangerous — not only for women, their families, and babies, but also for society at large:
Unplanned babies may receive delayed prenatal care, are more likely to be born prematurely and face greater likelihood of health challenges throughout life. Beyond the obvious stress of an unplanned major life event, women facing an unplanned pregnancy are less likely to complete college and also face decreased economic opportunities, which can in turn affect the health and economic opportunities of their children. The costs to society, in health-care dollars, economic supports and lost wages, are significant.
Our legal system doesn’t even work this way; it doesn’t support the idea that a human is a human before it’s born. Therefore, an unborn child isn’t guaranteed legal rights. This is why you can’t leave property in a will, for example, to a person who hasn’t been born yet.
Anyone who respects bodily autonomy wouldn’t think of forcing a woman to carry and give birth to a child that was conceived in sexual abuse, rape, or incest. They wouldn’t force a woman to carry out a full-term pregnancy while undergoing cancer (or other life-saving) treatments — being put in the impossible ethical dilemma of having to choose her own life or the life of her unborn child — or to sustain a pregnancy where the fetus is terminally ill or has no chance of viability outside the womb, especially when the baby’s life will inevitably be cut short in a physically painful ending.
I know the statistics; I’m aware there are plenty of women having abortions for the simple reason of bad timing, but still, it’s personal for every woman (meaning, no one else’s business). You either respect bodily autonomy, or you do not. If you respect it, you’d never place such a heavy burden or infeasible expectation on the bodies and lives of women.
If we really want to be pro-life, and actively pro-life, then we seek to protect the rights and lives of marginalized groups that are already threatened daily by the 45th administration. If we really want to be pro-life, as it refers to being anti-abortion, then we work on funding specific initiatives that seek to reduce unintended pregnancies in the first place, and we take measures to protect women’s health overall — things that, sadly, the 45th administration has been busy dismantling, which will end up hurting us all.
Martie Sirois (pronounced “sir-ROY”) is a top writer in Culture, Politics, and LGBTQ for Medium, editor-in-chief of Gender From the Trenches, and has been a featured contributor for HuffPost, Scary Mommy, NPR affiliates, and SiriusXM Insight, among others. Martie is the founder of S.E.A.R.CH., a program of her local LGBT Center, for trans youth and their parents. Connect with Martie on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.