If you believe your right to buy an AK-47 this afternoon is more important than reasonable gun control legislation that simply supports background checks and magazine limits, then you should rethink your “pro-life” identity.
Early last Thursday morning, the Senate approved by a vote of 51-48 a “budget blueprint” in Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act as the first order of business of the incoming Trump administration. Without a new health care law to replace the ACA, repeal could leave over 20 million Americans without health insurance. Citing the election’s “mandate” (and ignoring the Democratic win of the popular vote), Senate Republicans are already congratulating themselves on their victory to return the country’s health care to insurance companies that would be no longer hampered by some of the most important protections of the ACA.
Americans who currently receive coverage in spite of preexisting conditions, or are under 26 years old, or were previously turned down for coverage after meeting a mysterious “cap” set by insurance companies are all desperately wondering what will happen to them if the ACA is dismantled. But they are not the only ones with deep worries about the health repercussions of Republican control. House Speaker Paul Ryan has promised that the repeal of Obamacare will include the federal defunding of Planned Parenthood, a goal of Ryan’s for many years. The Wisconsin senator’s axe to grind is over the organization’s performance of abortions, despite the Hyde Amendment that prevents Planned Parenthood from using federal funding for abortions outside of cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life.
Here is where I sigh an exhausted sigh. How many times must women and men go on record about receiving cancer and STD screenings, vasectomies, contraceptives, and pregnancy tests from Planned Parenthood, especially in rural or underserved communities? Will there ever be enough evidence to convince pro-life politicians of the organization’s essentiality as a health care provider?
I’m resigning myself to terrible callbacks ahead: new forms of the old back alley abortion, a sharp rise in cancer-related mortality, and another sharp rise in propaganda-fueled ignorance. But I am also calling on the constituents of pro-life representatives to consider the deeper implications of the phrase “pro-life,” and to distribute their efforts across a wider range of urgent threats against human life.
Rhetoricians, journalists, and activists have repeatedly noted the problematic nature of one of our country’s most contentious binaries. Binary thinking is almost always unproductive when applied to the nuances of ethical debate, but in the case of abortion rights, our terms are substantially lopsided. “Pro-choice,” while still vague, is significantly more specific in its reference to particular agency regarding reproductive choice. “Pro-life,” on the other hand, is far more unwieldy and morally charged. Many news outlets have revised their language to “abortion rights advocates” and “abortion opponents,” but in colloquial speech, the old binary generally prevails.
I identify as pro-choice on the subject of abortion rights. But I also understand that my position is based on an acceptance of where life begins that differs from others’, and I recognize, too, that a static position sets itself up for challenge: for instance, by where pro-choice advocacy meets disability advocacy. So, this is not a plea to unify under a single stance on reproductive rights, but to unpack the indivisible relationship between reproductive rights and human rights.
If we are to enter a new age of restricted access to abortion, then we must take up other mantles that will offset the effects of forced birth. I’d add anti-death penalty and anti-prison industrial complex stances to this list, but for the purposes of unpacking how the birth of a child demands basic needs, here are a few causes to consider:
- Parental leave: I don’t have nearly enough space to outline every reason why the United States is screwing over parents by not providing guaranteed paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers. America is far behind its industrialized peers in aiding the transition to parenthood by making it financially and medically possible. Furthermore, with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatricians becoming ever more stringent (for instance, favoring exclusive breastfeeding for six months), it is only humane that the U.S. government provide paid leave for an absolute minimum of 12 weeks.
- Single-payer health insurance: A mandate for birth is a mandate for universal health insurance so that all children and their parents have affordable, accessible, and guaranteed medical care. The personhood movement must envelope the movement for single-payer insurance. Otherwise, it is fraudulent.
- Government-subsidized childcare: The cost of childcare in the U.S. is nearly $200 per child/week. As a parent in Boston, I assure you that it can be even higher. Tax benefits help to some degree, but only if you make less than $75K/year. This is unsustainable and enormously restrictive for most families with two working parents (increasingly the only way to survive financially in America).
- The Americans With Disabilities Act: A mandate for birth is also a mandate for inclusivity and accessibility. Public schools need trained special education teachers, funding for accessibility services, and attitudes that welcome physically diverse and neuro-diverse students. Businesses and infrastructure must comply with ADA standards. Just think of how many jobs we’d create if we prioritized these necessary, long overdue changes.
- Gun control legislation: Toddlers kill and injure more people (including themselves) than terrorists do in America. If you believe your right to buy an AK-47 this afternoon is more important than reasonable gun control legislation that simply supports background checks and magazine limits, then you should rethink your “pro-life” identity.
- Environmental conservation: Ignore the scientific consensus on climate change at the peril of the next generations. We have no stable footing on which to enforce birth while simultaneously destroying the planet. Watch this TED Talk by Jeremy Rifkin for a riveting view of empathy’s role in conservation.
- Eldercare: The care of senior citizens in America is frankly appalling, only to get more so with Ryan’s proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. Abuse and manipulation of the elderly are rampant and disgusting; senior citizens are in equal or greater need of advocacy as newborn babies. The only lesson to learn until we change is: Don’t grow old in America.
- Support public schools: The right to a free education is guaranteed in America, but we are moving disturbingly away from that creed with the appointment of pro-private school cabinet members like Betsy DeVos. Americans are largely in agreement about education’s impact on social and economic mobility. We must all fight for better-funded public schools and a cabinet that champions their life-changing purpose.
The cynicism that partisanship has wrought can be combatted only if we can fight for shared values, which means taking both a broader and more nuanced view of the phrase “pro-life.” I’d like to see America work toward a place where such an idea extends beyond the ultrasound, to one’s whole lifespan, to the health and sanctity and legacy of the planet that will or will no longer sustain life, regardless of abortion laws. To those who claim we, as mere mortals, must eschew arrogance about such mysteries as when life begins, I say we must equally eschew arrogance about how lives are circumscribed by other choices, including how lives may end.
Amy Monticello is an assistant professor at Suffolk University. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, and at Salon, The Rumpus, and The Nervous Breakdown. She currently lives in Boston with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.