I’m pro life, not “pro life.” Or, to put it another way, I’m pro living.
One of the things that frustrates me as a person of faith is how limited the understanding of life is for the “pro life” movement. Pro-life consists, in its entirety, of the complete conflation of sex with babymaking – first, by making access to contraception as bloody difficult as possible, and second with the familiar attacks on abortion. As I wrote this last night, the U.S Federal government seemed likely to go into a shutdown that is effectively driven by the Republican desire to unfund Planned Parenthood. And since the Hyde Amendment (boo hiss!) already prohibits Federal funding of abortion, this battle is (and make no mistake, it’s not over yet), misleading GOP framing aside, about the birth control and cancer screenings PP provides.
With the flurry of bills this year, the “pro-life” movement has made clear abundantly clear how little they value the lives of pregnant women (the pregnancies of trans men and female-assigned genderqueers are not even a blip on their radar). Previous exceptions for rape and incest are heading out the window, as are cases where the pregnant person’s life is in danger. That life does not count.
But what would it mean to be truly pro-life? It would mean valuing every life. Every.
First, some consistency might be nice. If you claim to be pro-life, you can’t be pro-war, pro-gun or pro-death penalty. You can’t be talking piously about the millions of “babies” (ie fetuses) dying every year in the U.S and advocate whole-heartedly for the slaughter of people in other countries, or blithely ignore the number of shootings and accidents in this country. You can’t ignore the bloodshed that comes with policing the borders of this country, the white supremacists, the vigilantes.
You can’t be anti-environmental regulation. All those children you want to be born need somewhere to live, need food that hasn’t been polluted, need earth and ocean to be productive. Genesis/Bereishit 1:28 says “ Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion ” (the translation’s the same for that in both Jewish Publication Society and King James). So many conservatives conveniently forget that “replenish” bit and head straight for the “have dominion” section”—using that as an excuse to turn the world into a scorched-earth Mad Max nightmare (trust me on this, I’m Australian – giant killer kangaroos fighting it out with koalas for the last gum leaf, it’s not pretty down there). Some Christian conservatives like that word Dominion so much it effectively forms the basis of their religion.
And frankly, if you are pro life, you can’t be anti-labour, apologising for a capitalist system in which most products come with a human toll, from farms to sweatshops. 100 years after the Triangle Fire, it’s worth remembering that it was unions that made the industrial workplace remotely safe to work in, and as with the fight over contraception and abortion, the cost was often paid most heavily by women.
Left to the capital class and most of us would still be living in a Dickens novel. And with the racist for-profit prison system putting prisoners to work for next-to-nothing at best, some people still are.
Being pro life would mean fostering the conditions for life to fully flourish. That makes taking care of every child after it’s born. That’d mean having an adequate healthcare system, one that can provide for the care of people no matter how poor they are. It’d mean a free education system, not one based on coercion. Just last week at Detroit’s Hope Academy, parents were followed to school, arrested by ICE agents and taken away in view of the school in unmarked vans, for the “crime” of not having documents. These and a hundred, a thousand, other traumatising stories form the fear and violence woven into the fabric of migrant communities’ lives.
Being pro-life would mean having a politics that includes desire, that includes a multiplicity of desires. Sexuality is a natural part of life (remember, the “natural” was defined by St. Jerome in the 4th century as not sinful), and in order for people to fully express their sexuality they need to be able to control their reproductivity. Because raising a child is work, and not everyone is capable or wants to do that loving work at a particular moment in time and those people need to express their (G_d given, natural, evolutionary-produced, whatever you prefer) sexuality too. A patriarchy where heterosexual cis women do most of the childcare without giving them adequate support is not one that allows those women to flourish in every possible way.
This politics of desire – dare I say theology of desire – would mean being pro-LGBT. Some people have desires for the same sex, have different sex/genders to the ones they were assigned at birth. Stifling those desires, those practices, those lives, is anti-life too. For much of human history, LGBT people have had to pretend they were otherwise, and it has not resulted in happiness.
I know there are exceptions to many of the above, moral people who believe in life and honestly believe that abortion is anti-life. I think they are mistaken on that last score, but I can understand, sorta. But they are exceptions. The fact is, pro-lifers as a whole overwhelmingly advocate brutal, violent policies on every possible level. Freud talked about thanatos, the death drive, the desire for the void. I think the pro-life movement is driven by thanatos, because if abortion and contraception were made illegal, what would happen? Catastrophe. People would die. Hell, people are dying now. Never has there been a political position so badly named as the pro life movement.
But for those of us who do care about life, who do care about people, I think we should making this clear. Should be screaming from the rooftops. We are for justice, for safety, for desire, for love, for happiness, for lives that are filled with as many wondrous possibilities as there can be.
We are for life. And they are not.