When Wendy Davis – the pro-choice Texas state senator famous for having stood up for women’s reproductive rights in the face of overwhelming animosity from Governor Perry and Texas Republicans (mostly male) – called herself “pro-life,” she ignited a bit of a controversy.
While I joked that she should have credited me with the idea of being pro-choice and pro-life (for instance, this hot piece here at Forward Progressives or these pieces at my own LeftCheek blog), the truth is that this kind of critique of the anti-choice movement is nothing new, yet often ignored. So-called pro-life forces across political and denominational/religious divides do not like that term to be used for anything but specifically the topic of abortion. But not only that, the “life” referred to in the term “pro-life” refers to only non-termination of the fetus. Additionally, on my own private Facebook page, an anti-abortion FBF repeatedly referred to abortion as “murder” and “killing.”
Most every conservative reaction to Ms. Davis has been limited solely to her stand on reproductive rights (which they tend to label as “misleading” since apparently abortion is the only topic that matters when talking about rights or life to conservative politicians and their talking head correspondents in RWNJobia), rather than any of the substance she has brought up.
Over at Newsbusters, Tom Blumer complains that the virulent anti-woman bill that Texas passed is pro-woman because it drives women to back alley abortion clinics, restricts abortion suppliers based on no evidence and doesn’t at all show typical misogyny by alluding that Davis can’t think for herself and needs her staff to do it for her.
At the American Catholic, Donald McCleary compares progressive labels to Orwell’s Newspeak, questioning how a pro-choice politician can call herself “pro-life” while “being in favor of killing kids in utero.”
A collection of conservative tweets by Twitchy concerning Ms. Davis’ declaration includes discombobulation and much laughter, along with some head-scratchers. @Matthops82 offered his take:
“I support killing babies because I’m pro-life.” Smart take, Wendy Davis.
And there’s this one by @lancerawlsin:
so @WendyDavisTexas is now “Pro-Life” here’s the catch. You must be out of the uterus & at least 6 months old.
That last comment is furtively backwards. While, as we discussed in the earlier piece, the so-called pro-life movement is large and has a lot of wings – from the social justice heavy but anti-contraceptives Catholic pro-life movement to the conservative Evangelical pro-life movement that tends to be pro-contraceptive but also pro-war, pro-guns, and anti-health care. If there’s a singular connection, it is in privileging the completion of term of the pre-born over the rights, needs, bodies and autonomy of the pregnant person. And so-called pro-life politicians combine the worst of both main wings of the anti-choice movement, with the implicit support of both Evangelical and Catholic “pro-life” movements they deny access to contraceptives and access to economic justice while denying sexual justice for women and trans* people.
Yet, at its core, the anti-choice movement is not concerned about what constitutes life or how to improve it, either after six months in the womb or before it. They seem fixated only on limiting women’s autonomy on their own bodies and rights. If the anti-choice movement was interested in pro-(at least human) life, they would:
- Cease using the terms “murder” and “killing” and certainly “murderers” and “killers” to describe abortion and those who have had and provide abortion, respectively. Such language is violent and seeks to target abortion providers and those who seek abortions. Those who have had abortions are harassed and intimidated, and in some extreme cases, abortion doctors have been murdered. All of this is promoted by the mainstream anti-choice movement and carried out by militant anti-choice groups (not unlike the connection between the mainstreamed White Citizen’s Councils and the terrorist Ku Klux Klans of the American South in the 1950s and 60s).
- Stop comparing unviable unborns to the enslaved and to Holocaust victims. This is especially the case if anti-choice people, politicians, and related organizations work against or ignore the rights of black Americans; ignore, excuse, or propagate current and prior Jim Crow laws or consider the rights of Jewish people only in regards to so-called End Times prophecy (as George W. Bush is involved in right now).
- Restrict access to semi-automatic weapons responsible for massacres – and particularly those with a history of domestic violence.
- Weigh in to help end the unfair War on Drugs that imprisons large swaths of communities and thus endangers those entire communities, leaving significantly fewer resources to mothers and children in those communities – particularly ones of color.
- Unequivocally denounce war on foreign soils – particularly those of the War on Terrorism.
- Support comprehensive living wages for all workers.
- Support fair, accessible housing for families and individuals.
- Support educational justice for all students regardless of neighborhood, socio-economic status, or race.
- Seek implementation and accessibility for all people with disabilities.
- Cease attacking programs that protect, feed and house women and children (I thought Rand Paul was pro-life?).
- Support trans* rights to be free from unmitigated violence and attacks.
- Work to abolish the death penalty that unfairly targets minorities and skewers the justice system, reducing life options for the poor and people of color.
- If they must decry the Affordable Care Act, do so on the grounds that it isn’t comprehensive, universal healthcare.
- Recognize that the need for safe, procedural abortions is real and strong, not imaginative. Reducing women’s options for safe abortions doesn’t reduce abortions, but only moves the search underground, where it tremendously risks the lives of those women (and trans* people) in need of terminating the pregnancy. This is historical fact, and can be attested to by the fact that countries that ban legal abortions have similar rates as those that have open, accessible abortions.
- Fight to allow spouses and partners in highly abusive relationships a safe way out of their relationships, rather than using pregnancy as yet another means to tether women to unsafe relationships.
- Realize that affordable access to high-quality birth control (condoms are not very effective in preventing pregnancies, it should be noted) reduces unwanted pregnancies (the driving reason for abortions) by 75%.
- That is: Seventy-Five Percent of the driving reasons for abortions can be avoided in the first place! What can be more pro-life than ending the need for abortions? It could reduce abortions by 49-71%, according to researchers.
- Barring all of that, anti-choice people should at least fully support comprehensive, full medical, economical, housing, and food care for pregnant and post-pregnant people. This is necessary for the life of the fetus, pre/un-born itself and reduces infant mortality.
The fact that few anti-choice people can identify or get behind most (if any) of these demonstrates not only that they have an extremely limited definition of life, but that the singular concern of the anti-abortion movement isn’t the expansion of abundant life (a promise of the Jesus that most claim to follow), but merely the stoppage of a woman’s right to be educated about and practice her own rights over her own body.
In contrast, when she described herself as “pro-life,” Texas State Senator Wendy Davis followed that up with, “I care about the life of every child: every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream, every woman and man who worry about their children’s future and their ability to provide for that future.”
That’s more than Rick Perry’s ever done to promote life in his state.
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