In July of last year, many pro-life advocates seethed with reenergized hatred towards Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health services, including abortions. The Center for Medical Progress, a self-described group of citizen journalists for the advancement of ethics in medical concerns, released a series of videos claiming to prove Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue or ‘baby parts.’ In late January, a grand jury indicted the group for record-tampering and using fake IDs. On Feb. 5, a federal judge ordered a preliminary injunction to halt the group from releasing any videos of the meeting that could possibly support any other baseless claims.
As much as pro-life activists rage about the injustices of abortion and Planned Parenthood, it seems like less and less of them offer viable alternatives. Activists comfortably cast their ballot for their favorite Republican, lob stones at their liberal opponents behind their invective Facebook posts and consort with one another about their mutual enemy, miles away. Their churches tiptoe around political issues, and sometimes refuse to support pregnancy centers (religiously-organized clinics that seek to dissuade women from having abortions and offer prenatal care, through adoption referrals or parental resources) in the process.
When pro-life activists discuss this issue with pro-choice neighbors or friends, they are provoked in the righteousness of their convictions, attack anyone with a differing opinion and alienate them while doing so, receding behind the massive line drawn in the sand between both groups. When pro-life advocates try to provide options outside of abortion to pregnant women, many times their pregnancy centers provide faulty information, pretend to be normal medical clinics through their advertising or shame women into not having abortions altogether. They also set up groups with names as pretentious as ‘The Center for Medical Progress,’ that attempt to vilify Planned Parenthood by committing illegal acts and yielding zero progress for anyone.
These actions have not exactly helped their cause, a cause that is not ignorant or uncompassionate when considered. Defending the rights of the unborn is, in many ways, more than a catch-phrase. To say that a clump of cells growing within a womb is not a person is to invalidate the tears of any parent who had a miscarriage. To deny that the unborn are people is to deny our right to life before we are born, when many of our parents were already painting our nurseries and hosting baby showers before our arrival.
While the the pro-life stance has substantial reason and history, many pro-life methods do not. Activists often forget that the living, breathing people they argue against are women who did not ask for a child, much less an abortion. The Guttmacher Institute recalled the main reasons women chose abortion stemmed from concern for other individuals and a careful assessment of their current financial situation, weighing the full effects of carrying a child to term or supporting one.
Women usually do not have abortions enthusiastically or easily. Unlike the murderers many accuse them of being, they are not motivated by hatred or vengeance. Women have abortions because they feel it is the best available option presented to them.
Medicaid reported that the birth rates for a group of women in Texas rose by 27 percent after legislation to cut funding for Planned Parenthood in 2011, next to a 36 percent decrease in claims for long-acting contraceptives. Cases like this suggest that eliminating abortion will not eliminate unplanned pregnancy. The Guttmacher Institute also reports that outlawed abortion does not coincide with lower abortion rates and, if anything, is connected with higher unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortions.
If pro-life activists claim to care about the lives of the unborn, they should start caring about the lives holding the unborn. Demonizing, shaming and guilt-tripping do not count as caring; and to pregnant women carrying an unwanted child, neither does defunding Planned Parenthood.
Value these women whether or not they have an abortion. Before religiously motivated pro-life advocates quote Psalms 139 or Jeremiah 1:5, they may practice loving their neighbors, even neighbors considering abortion, above themselves. Being relational and caring even more than Planned Parenthood starts in the day-to-day decisions to reach out, be available and give generously.
Pro-life activists need to stop belittling women who want to preserve their future as if they have never prioritized their own needs before someone else’s. Pro-life activists need to stop expecting women below the poverty line who cannot even feed themselves to be able to support another child, as they sit in their white, cozy, middle-class neighborhoods miles from inner cities. They need to stop expecting that abolishing abortion will fix everything, when it will only present a new set of problems to these women. They need to stop treating the unborn as the only ones who are worth advocating for.
When pro-life advocates can finally agree with pro-choice supporters that contraception is one of the most effective ways to stop unplanned pregnancy, they may be able to enact change for the unborn they claim to fiercely care about. Pairing this knowledge with an honest, informed dialogue about abortion policy with those across the line in the sand is crucial.