Leaving the Pro-life Movement

Growing Up Pro-life

When I was a little girl, my parents ensured that I knew what it meant to honour the sanctity of life. I don’t even remember when I first learned about what abortion was; I just always knew that it was wrong and it was murder. Zero exceptions.

When I grew up a little bit, and entered my teens, my passion to fight for the unborn pulled me into action. I began doing what all good fundie homeschool children do: I joined a forum filled with secular unbelievers and I began to minister to them. My ministry at the time? Teaching other teenagers around the world about the horrors of abortion so that they, too, might fight for the side of life.

Bless their hearts, these teenagers. They tried. They really did. I spent hours and hours of my life debating the merits of the pro-life movement with them. I was determined to do the Lord’s work.

These teenagers? They tried so hard to bring nuance into the conversation. They weren’t interested in debating this strange girl who wandered into their corner of the internet, but they did want me to understand better what it means to have to choose to carry a pregnancy to term when health and life circumstances that might make that an unsafe choice.

I couldn’t hear them. I knew they were wrong. I knew that God planted me there to preach the truth. I knew I was doing God’s work.

A Shift Occurs

For years, my pro-life leanings went unquestioned. Well into my 20s, I knew the truth. No one could convince me that I was wrong. The Bible was clear that life begins at conception and that choosing to end a pregnancy was murder. Yet, something was beginning to shift; I began to leave room for myself to not have all the answers.

What if a woman’s life was in danger? Did I have a right to call her a murderer? I was positive that I would choose life for my unborn child if I found myself in a life or death situation, and I was positive that it still meant the willful death of a child. But I began to feel uneasy in saying that I had the answer.

What if a young girl is assaulted and becomes pregnant as a result? Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to call a child a murderer (or their guardians) for choosing to protect her young body against a medically and emotionally traumatic event like carrying her attacker’s child to term.

While I still maintained that, in most cases, abortion should not be allowed, it stopped being a completely black-and-white issue for me. Nuance was beginning to arise that forced me to see shades of grey.

Opened Eyes

In 2015, two things happened for me that were pivotal for changing my perspective on the topic of abortion.

The first event happened when those deceptively edited videos were released that attempted to show how Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue taken from abortion procedures. It didn’t take long for the truth to come out about these videos, and I waited for my pro-life community to accept the truth and renounce this group and these videos for the dishonest way they approached their agenda.

I kept waiting. But that never happened.

I watched people I once respected double down and claim that any “facts” that showed these videos were edited to show a false narrative were actually lies themselves. I watched people I considered friends who claimed to have looked at all the evidence and declare, without equivocation, that there was zero proof to show that the creators of these videos lied in any way.

Worse. These friends of mine? They turned it around on me. My unwillingness to fall in line and agree that the faked videos weren’t actually fake made me, according to them, an accomplice to murder.

I watched lawmakers in the USA, who publicly declared themselves pro-life, use these videos as a smoking gun to defund Planned Parenthood and further the pro-life agenda.

That was when it dawned on me: for all the cries and claims to the contrary, there was no love of truth in this movement.

The second event that helped changed my mind was a random blog post I happened to read. It was written to show how complex the topic of abortion can be, even for those who identify as pro-life.

This post was written by a deeply religious woman who lived her entire life in the pro-life movement. She had five children of her own when she became pregnant with her sixth – this pregnancy was wanted and the unborn child loved. The pregnancy progressed as normal until, sometime in her third trimester, something happened.

I cannot recall the specific details, nor am I able to find the post again (if anyone knows what I am talking about: please send me the link!), however what I do remember is this:

Her unborn child, the one she loved though she had never laid eyes on them, was not going to survive to be born. Further, continuing the pregnancy with a dying baby inside of her was putting her own life in jeopardy. She had to make the choice no expectant mother ever wants to make: carry this child to term and pray for a miracle or get a late-term abortion so that her five children would grow up with a mother.

She and her husband chose the latter.

But it wasn’t as simple as just making the choice. She had two obstacles to reckon with first:

  • Her church: she belonged to a pro-life religious community who saw the issue in terms of black and white. In her blog post, this woman described how she literally got down on her knees in front of her elders, begging for her life; for the permission to seek this medical care she desperately needed.
  • The law: where she lived, late-term abortion was not accessible. She described having to leave her state and travel to get a life-saving abortion.

This was the story I needed to read to open my eyes to the fact that I had no right to judge any woman who ever had to make the brutal decision of ending their pregnancy.

Firmly Pro-Choice

Once my eyes were opened to the nuances of the topic, and the lack of integrity within the pro-life movement, something shifted inside of me almost immediately.

The second I lost the ability to believe that I had all the answers to a highly charged and complex medical topic, the less I was able to make any judgments against any woman.

I began to hear more stories as I opened myself up to acknowledging that I had been deeply wrong:

  • Women who were trying to flee abusive relationships being trapped by pregnancy
  • Women who could not afford to care for themselves
  • Physical and mental health conditions that make pregnancy a life-threatening condition
  • Adults and children coming out of foster care and adoptions experiences that were far more traumatic and damaging than my pro-life world ever led me to believe was possible.
  • So much more…

The shades of grey began to erase all the black and white I saw before. There were no easy answers here, and not a single one of us can claim to be able to say what any other person can or should do with their body.

No, Actually, The Bible Isn’t Clear

One other thing that gave me pause as I began to deconstruct my views on the pro-life movement was a question that my (now) fiancé asked me once back before we were dating. He asked as a matter of curiosity. He knew I identified as pro-life and one day he asked me why I identify that way. Our conversation went something like this:

Him: What makes you so certain of that position?

Me: Well, I mean, the Bible seems to be pretty clear about that abortion is murder.

Him: What verses lead you to believe that?

Me <Never having been asked that question – or even thought about that question for myself- thinks for a few minutes before answering>: Well there is that verse in Psalms that talks about God knitting a baby in the womb. That seems pretty clear to me.

Him: I mean sure, if you think that poetry is meant to be taken as doctrine. I could see that.

The conversation wasn’t meant to be a gotcha for me, he really was asking out of curiosity about how I came to my views. We quickly changed topics after this and I don’t recall it ever coming up between us again. And yet it wasn’t a conversation that I could fully shake.

Almost certainly, all societies and cultures have had their own methods of abortion since the dawn of time. It could have been something that the Bible would address if it was meant to be the central issue that the religious right had made it. Right?

My dive into Scripture didn’t come up with anything particularly helpful to justify my pro-life position. On the contrary, I was shocked to discover that abortion was prescribed, seemingly by God, in one very specific situation: to test a woman’s fidelity to her husband.

Then the priest shall bring her near, and set her before the Lord; the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. The priest shall set the woman before the Lord, dishevel the woman’s hair, and place in her hands the grain-offering of remembrance, which is the grain-offering of jealousy. In his own hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse. Then the priest shall make her take an oath, saying, ‘If no man has lain with you, if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while under your husband’s authority, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings the curse.  But if you have gone astray while under your husband’s authority, if you have defiled yourself and some man other than your husband has had intercourse with you’—  let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse and say to the woman—‘the Lord make you an execration and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your uterus drop, your womb discharge; now may this water that brings the curse enter your bowels and make your womb discharge, your uterus drop!’ And the woman shall say, ‘Amen. Amen.’

Numbers 5:16-22

Further, there are multiple examples in which God is either shown to be active in taking the lives of children or silent when they are sacrificed to Him:

The question also comes to mind: why did Abraham so readily accept the idea that God would ask him to sacrifice his son if child sacrifice were not already an established thought in his understanding of faith?

The more I dug into my Bible, the more I realized that I had been lied to by my church leaders and my pro-life community; the Bible cannot be used to justify a pro-life position.

More can be said on the topic of child sacrifice to Yahweh here.

The more I dug into my Bible, the more I realized that I had been lied to by my church leaders and my pro-life community; the Bible cannot be used to justify a pro-life position.

The Israelite understanding of God, shown throughout the Bible, is not one that aligns neatly with a modern-day pro-life worldview.

The Pro-Life Movement is White Supremacist

One thing I was never taught, despite having grown up in the pro-life movement, was how the movement began.

I was always told that the pro-life movement found its origin in Scripture. God Himself declared the sanctity of human life and faithful Christians have been standing up for life since that declaration was made. The formalization of the movement was, as I was told, in response to the Roe V. Wade ruling of 1973.

The actual history, however, is very different.

It is a movement that is, in actuality, only a few decades old. In fact, the evangelical church has, historically, taken very little interest in the topic. The reigning idea, up until around the late 1970s/early 1980s, was that life began after birth – not conception.

As this article so eloquently details, the religious right did not rise up in order to protect unborn babies; it arose in response to the government’s involvement in denying tax-exempt status to segregated schools. The very conception (pun intended) of the evangelical pro-life movement began in white supremacism. There is no separating the movement from its roots.

[W]hat galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment]. I am living witness to that because I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their minds was Jimmy Carter’s intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation.

Paul Weyrich, One of the Founders of the Moral Majority

Even today, much of the advertising you see features the images of white babies and white families. This isn’t a coincidence:

As recently as the last few days, US representatives, have championed the SCOTUS ruling to overturn Roe V. Wade by referring back to the white supremacist roots of the movement:

(For those unaware, Plessy Vs Ferguson was the case that advanced the doctrine of “separate but equal” and was used to justify segregation within the USA. Brown Vs. The Board of Education of Topeka struck down that precedent in public schools)

Mary Miller, a Republican representative for Illinois, was also caught telling on herself at a recent rally in which she praised Donald Trump for the victory for “white life” with regards to the SCOTUS ruling on abortion. While Miller and her camp have attempted to explain away the statement as a slip of the tongue, this is a hard claim to take seriously when just last year Miller came under fire for quoting Hitler at a different rally (on January 6, no less).

Where I have Landed

I no longer believe that the pro-life movement, or the religious right, is a safe space for anyone to land.

I no longer believe that the pro-life movement, or the religious right, is a safe space for anyone to land. The historical roots, and modern day actions, of those within the religious right have shown that they are only interested in pursuing their agenda of a narrow definition of morality. They have shown themselves to be unsafe for any person whose skin does not look like mine. They have shown themselves to be unsafe for democracy itself (but that’s an even longer blog post for another day).

I have landed here:

It is not my business what a woman chooses for her body and her life. This is a decision she must make for herself. I do not know what might prompt someone to make the choice that very few women actually want to make, and I have no right to insert myself in anyone else’s medical care.

What’s more: if we are truly pro-woman, we have to be able to trust that women can make this decision for themselves. We are not children who need to be protected from ourselves. We are human beings with full agency and ability to determine what is best for our bodies, our lives, and our families. No one else should ever get to make that call for us.

I do not foresee a world in which I would choose it for myself; the very idea makes my heart hurt. But I also do not know what I’ll do until I am in a situation where I might have to make that choice.

If, God forbid, I ever am in the situation of having to decide if I need to have an abortion? I don’t want anyone except myself, my doctor, and my partner in on the decision-making process.

If, God forbid, I ever am in the situation of having to decide if I need to have an abortion? I don’t want anyone except myself, my doctor, and my partner in on the decision-making process.

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