I am a pro-life Christian.
On the Sunday of the historic vote on health care, I opened my e-mail to find a mass e-mail from Americans United for Life, basically calling the president a liar and health-care reform anti-life.
Recently, I opened my e-mail to find more of the same – despite the fact that analysts have shown that the law clearly marks abortion as something no American has to pay for without choosing to do so and also limits the reasons for abortion to rape, incest and endangerment to mothers’ lives, as David Gushee pointed out in The Huffington Post.
I deleted both e-mails without taking action.
I did this for two reasons. First, it seemed like more of the same shortsighted politics that’s a discredit to the pro-life cause, pushing the movement to be a machine of one political party. I’m unconvinced this is the way to resolve the problem.
In fact, since recent Gallup polls report that 39 percent of American voters are independents, I can only imagine that this group is actually hurting unborn babies by alienating some like me, who have a heart for the unborn but not for the movement’s tactics.
Second, I don’t think health-care reform is incompatible with the right to life. Being pro-life is more than being anti-abortion. We must value life enough to devalue any issue that undermines it.
Many in the current pro-life movement fail to recognize a need to broaden their agenda and define the movement by being pro-children and anti-poverty, not simply anti-Democrats. Unless we make a society where both mothers and children are sustained, abortion will always be possible.
The pro-life movement will continue to be ineffective unless it starts to pour as much or more resources into medical care for women, helping the poor, early childhood care and defending children’s other rights as it pours into lobbyist groups.
And yet what is the state of children in our society? More than 18 percent of U.S. children live in poverty, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. The same group reports 742,661 child victims of abuse and neglect in the United States in 2007, with 72 percent of such cases categorized as “neglect and medical neglect.”
In the meantime, the United States ranks 41st in the world in maternal deaths, and it remains four times more deadly for African-American mothers to give birth here than for Caucasian ones, according to Amnesty International. They also show that our nation spends more on health care than any other nation – with pregnancy and childbirth hospitalization getting the greatest chunk of dollars.
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Giving birth costs a rough average of $7,700 to $11,000, depending on whether it’s a vaginal birth or C-section, according to the March of Dimes. This assumes there are no complications. It also does not include prenatal or post-natal care, mothers’ unpaid leave from work and the expense of caring for a child.
In contrast, the average amount paid by a woman having an abortion was $413 in 2005, according to the Guttmacher Institute. It should be no surprise that the same source reports women living below the poverty level are four times more likely to have an abortion than those living at 300 percent above the poverty level.
Sheer economics undermines children’s right to life and their right to flourish. Health-care reform helps even the playing field to support both rights.
Health-care reform means that women will no longer face higher health insurance costs just for being women – just for having bodies that are able to nurture and give shelter to babies. That’s a pro-life victory.
Health-care reform also means that more women can have their babies safely – receiving prenatal and post-natal care. This is a victory for both unborn children and their mothers.
Health-care reform means that 95 percent of children in this country will have health coverage. A step toward a world that’s safer for children, one which encourages their health and development, is a step toward a pro-life society.
We love our children, but we are far from being a society that supports them and their mothers adequately. We pro-lifers tend to want to make abortion illegal, but we have neglected the more crucial task of making it unimaginable. Health-care reform is needed to make that happen.
This country has the resources to save unborn children and to see them flourish. We need to rebuke a political system that pits two groups of neglected children against one another. There should be no knock-down, drag-out fight between those choosing the unborn and those choosing children in poverty, the sort imposed by partisan politics.
As for resolving abortion, it’s long past time to move toward holistic solutions. And believe it or not, that requires working kindly with politicians on both sides of the party lines – just as a start.
Laura M. Rector is a doctoral student in Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary. She has a bachelor of arts in Christian studies from Union University and a master of divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.