American Culture

Pro-Life vs. Pro-Birth

I’ve gotten called some awful things when I tell people that I’m both a practicing Catholic and an advocate for women’s choice – from baby killer to hypocrite. But hear me out.

I was raised with a strong sense of faith in a “cafeteria Catholic” family – that is, a family that picked and chose from doctrine and tradition what we would actually practice. There was an overarching idea of being good to other people, whether you agreed with them or not, and trying to stand in someone else’s shoes when considering situations. I was raised to help the poor, to speak up for those who couldn’t, and to be as good of a person as I could be.

I was raised in a church where my LGBT friends weren’t accepted, but in a family where they were welcomed; in a church where stem cell research wasn’t embraced because it killed live embryos, but in a family with history of diabetes and dementia, diseases that could be potentially cured by such research; in a church where women aren’t allowed to be priests, but in a family that sees it as a practical and natural progression for an aging priest population.

This isn’t to say that I was raised in a family that espoused abortion. They didn’t. I formed that opinion on my own. But it comes back around to the idea of thinking of others first, and trying to see a situation from their perspective. I consider myself pro-choice, and pro-quality of life, rather than pro-life.

Let me explain.

In states like Texas, Virginia, Kansas, and Wisconsin, legislators are not necessarily banning abortion and pre-natal care, but making it harder and harder to obtain. By instituting waiting periods, enacting parental consent requirements, building specifications that are nearly impossible to meet, and other hurdles, they have created a de facto ban on abortion in their states, tearing away at the freedom and rights that Roe v. Wade guaranteed to American women over 40 years ago. But what these politicians fail to acknowledge is that women have been having abortions for years, and will continue to have them whether they’re legal or not. The difference is that by keeping them legal, regulated, and performed by doctors, we can save more lives than the abortions end and keep thousands of women from shoddily performed procedures that result in their sickness or death.

These legislators, and their supporters, consider themselves to be a righteous, “pro-life” movement, where every life is sacred (except for the mother in question), and where we as people have no right to end a life (unless it’s someone on death row). What I argue is that these people are not pro-life. They are pro-birth.

Legislators who are against women terminating their pregnancies are also the ones who want to cut funds to programs helping families. They aim to slash the budgets for SNAP, food assistance, child care credits, education, and health care. Parents who couldn’t afford to have a child to begin with, but couldn’t abort the pregnancy, are now faced with the challenge of raising a child without the means to do so, and with little to no assistance. Not only is this difficult for the parents, but for the child. Yes, the child is alive, and that’s wonderful. But what is the quality of his or her life like? Is it really best for a child to be born when their quality of life is subpar?

I mention this argument and tie it to my religious upbringing because many of the legislators making it difficult for women to have abortions and nearly impossible for them to receive government assistance once they deliver claim to be Christian men and women of high moral standing –they’re just trying to stop people from killing babies, they say.

I don’t agree with this misguided sense of morality.

As Christians, as Americans, as people, we cannot let this counter-intuitive, counter-productive set of principles guide our legislation and limit a woman’s ability to plan her family and access health care. We must help women do what is best for themselves, their partners, and their families, even if we don’t personally agree with their choices. It is not our place, and it goes against the sort of Christianity I was taught growing up – the “judge not, lest ye be judged” kind that Bible thumpers seem to forget about when they’re spewing t their hateful ideas and claiming them as Christian doctrine.

Am I comfortable with abortion? Not really, no. But as a woman, I could never deny or legislate against a sister or a friend or a mother or a stranger seeking one because it was her best option. As a woman, I can’t bear to watch states domino one-by-one into legislating against half of the population. And as a Catholic, I cannot bear to watch legislators who fail to listen to the voices of their constituents and who refuse to care for their brothers and sisters and children as they were elected to do.

I wanted to end with a quote by Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine Catholic nun who talks about human rights, war, poverty and women’s rights. I think she sums up my position more succinctly and eloquently than I ever could when she said:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

11 replies »

  1. One of my relatives died in the 30s of a bad illegal abortion-one of many preventable deaths of women in the past. It looks like this kind of thing could start happening again. Sadly the pro-birthers aren’t even anti-abortion. Since they have done nothing to actually reduce the numbers seeking abortions-like promoting free birth-control and real sex education-they are instead anti-legal abortion, and sure to cause more illegal ones.

  2. The basic problem with the abortion debate is the notion that at the moment of conception, a fertilized egg becomes an “unborn child”. It’s like debating your rights as an undead corpse. You’ll get there eventually, but discussions that assign you that status are going to be really screwy.

  3. In an ideal world, conservatives believe, no need for abortion exists. In an ideal world, no one needs social welfare programs either because they’ll lift themselves up by their bootstraps or their families will care for them. In other words, they’re oddly idealistic. Certainly not pragmatic.

  4. I struggle with this one. I am pro choice and always have been, but I’m very, very uneasy with my position.

    All I can say is that if I’d been the decision maker, I would have aborted my now-grown daughter. Luckily, I never had to say that because my wife never asked me for my opinion. It’s an irrevocable decision.

    As for quality of life, it’s a bit patronizing and to me illogical to protect people from a poor quality of life by denying them the right to be born. You don’t have to follow that road very far to end up with a horror show of euthanasia and forced sterilization. And I think the abortion nuts are right that the choice being made is to terminate a life, which is not a choice any sane society affords it’s citizens.

    I am a very opinionated person and this is the only issue I can think of where I look up helplessly and go, “I don’t know.”

  5. Pro-birth works much better than pro-life — which they are not for the reasons you cite as well as others. I argue that if you are truly pro-life then you must also support national 10 MPH speed limits.

    I don’t know anyone who is really pro-abortion in any positive sense. No one says abortion is really a groovy thing. The women I know who have had abortions have taken the decision very seriously, contrary to the conservative talking points, and, for the most part live with that decision for the rest of their lives. Obviously, if the decision for birth is made they live with that decision as well.

    It seems to me that the common starting point should be that no one wants abortions and that the first step should be to reduce the need to the absolute minimum. There should be universal consensus on this point. It totally baffles me that so many on the pro-birth side also oppose sex education and birth control and any other ideas that would reduce the need.

    Until that happens, though, I see no way to take the decision out of the hands of the woman. And it also occurs to me that if the State wants to override that decision then, perhaps, the State takes on the responsibility of raising the child.

  6. Well we elected Rick Perry four times for crying out loud; what were you expecting? At this point we have already humiliated ourselves far beyond the power to add or detract.

    What is slightly interesting, though, is that Senator Davis’ filibuster shows some signs of energizing the pro-choice contingency. We’ll have to see if it has any legs. A number of pundits are predicting that Texas will go Democratic in the next decade or two (eliminating the Republican shot at the White House for a generation if true) mostly because of the Hispanic vote. Not Republicans, for sure, but I have trouble believing that pro-choice is a winning issue in that contingency. Once the Democrats are back in power, maybe, but until then we will have to rely on the courts to support the constitution. Despite all the rhetoric, Texas Republicans only support bidness, preferably big bidness.