Whatever This Is, It Isn’t “Pro-Life.”

Whatever This Is, It Isn’t “Pro-Life.” May 4, 2022



I was raised steeped in pro-life rhetoric.

We were told that we were not only pro-child but pro-woman; that abortion was deeply traumatic and abusive for women as well as deadly for babies, and we all had to work together to save women and babies by making it stop, and I believed that. I believed it without question. We were told that, although it’s gravely sinful for a mother to kill her unborn child, we should regard mothers as victims instead of criminals and treat them with compassion and respect, and I believed that that was what it meant to be pro-life.  It was expected that we would help pregnant women choose life by doing everything we could to make it easier for them, and I wanted to help.

I still remember finding the pamphlets with graphic diagrams of a Dilation and Extraction abortion in my grandmother’s car when I had just barely learned to read. They horrified me. I was sick, not just for that poor baby but for that uterus and half a leg drawn around the baby. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to be a woman who’d had that done to her. I wanted to make it stop.  When my second grade teacher told us to draw pictures of what we would do if we were president, I drew a stick figure standing behind a podium with ABORTION KILLS BABYS crayoned on it. I wrote “BABYS” because I wasn’t sure how to spell “Children,” but I got “abortion” right. I had seen the word enough times. I wanted to help.

As a teen, I went to the March for Life with the other teenagers and chanted “Wade v Roe has got to go!” before I had any earthly idea what “Wade v Roe” was. In my late teens and in undergrad, I tried to help sidewalk counsel outside an abortion clinic that was being picketed by a crowd of screaming Evangelical Christians who terrorized everyone going into the clinic and effectively ensured that sidewalk counselors couldn’t help women at all. Nobody could hear the counselors for all the noise. The women would take one look at the graphic, gory picket signs and run into the clinic. I will always remember the woman with the bullhorn who shrieked “NEXT TIME USE A CONDOM” at the terrified woman being escorted into the clinic. I was shocked at the Evangelical woman. Didn’t she know that we were trying to save mothers and not shame them?

Later, in a graduate bioethics class at the famously pro-life Franciscan University, I studied the actual Roe versus Wade decision. I was in that class because I wanted to be a bioethicist and fight abortion. And that might have been what I ended up doing if my chronic illness hadn’t left me a grad school dropout. And then Michael and I found ourselves broke without job prospects in a bad part of Steubenville. And then I got pregnant. And I had to eat my words about how pro-lifers want to help poor women, as I’ve already described. And as the events of 2016 and the next four years played out, I called out corruption after corruption, abuse after abuse in the pro-life movement. I critiqued the bills and laws that were proposed and I pointed out how they made things worse. I was accused of being some kind of secret pro-abortion infiltrator for doing this, which never ceases to shock me. If I weren’t against abortion, why should I care so much? I care because we’re supposed to be the good guys. We’re supposed to care about women and children. That’s what exasperates me. I’ve completely run out of pro-life people I can endorse with a clear conscience, and it shouldn’t be that way.

But apparently, being pro-life isn’t so much about helping mothers and babies, as it is about worshipping the correct household gods and currying favor with the correct politicians.

I watched as the conversation quickly shifted.

The same kind of people who used to swear that they didn’t want to hurt any mothers who had chosen abortion, only those terrible doctors who manipulated them– those people started saying just the opposite. They started talking about women as also deserving punishment. And acting like they were pious for doing so.

And women who obtained abortions started getting arrested, just as I was promised wouldn’t happen. Yes, that particular woman was released, but as the Overton window shifts, I don’t know what will happen next. The “pro-life” laws that keep getting drafted and passed are getting more and more draconian.

I’ve said all this before. I don’t think I’m saying anything new.

But it didn’t feel right to let the news of Roe versus Wade’s immanent reversal go by without any comment at all.

It didn’t feel right to let this go by without pointing out that we’ve done nothing to make a world where abortion is not sought out in the first place. If anything we’ve made matters worse.

It doesn’t feel right not to say, one more time, that we’re supposed to be the good guys but we’re doing everything we swore we wouldn’t do.

Well, there isn’t a “we” anymore. Nothing will convince me that abortion is a good thing. The correct number of abortions is zero. I still want to help babies and their mothers in any way I can. But “pro-life” means something I didn’t think it meant, when I was a little girl reading pamphlets in my grandmother’s car and crayoning pictures of myself behind a podium. I can’t be that anymore. I’m something else.

When I was a child and a teenager, I thought I’d feel relieved and happy the day I heard that Roe was being reversed.

As it is, I just feel numb.



Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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