Whatever this is, It Isn’t Pro-Life

Whatever this is, It Isn’t Pro-Life December 8, 2023

a pregnant woman seen in profile through half-closed blinds
image via Pixabay

We need to talk about the pro-life movement again.

Or rather, we need to talk about what it’s like to be a pregnant woman in America, now that Roe versus Wade has been reversed, and what the laws that the pro-life movement has clamored for are doing to those women.

I want to draw your attention to the case of Brittany Watts, right here in Ohio. Watts is a woman who experienced a late miscarriage. She went to the hospital for help twice, and twice was sent home to miscarry. Her baby was too young to survive when the membranes ruptured; they did die,  and Watts gave birth to the corpse on the toilet. The police were called and found the remains stuck in the toilet drain. She’s now facing a felony charge for “abuse of a corpse.” This even though a forensic pathologist testified that the baby passed away of natural causes.

Can you imagine suffering the trauma of a miscarriage, and then being charged for it in a court of law?

I can’t even fathom what Ms. Watts must be suffering right now.

It’s actually common for miscarriages to come out on the toilet, and some of them get flushed because the mother doesn’t realize or doesn’t catch them in time. It’s VERY common for women not having complications to be sent home to miscarry alone, and this is an expected result. But the lawmakers who framed the law Brittany may have accidentally violated didn’t know that. Lawmakers aren’t doctors. Doctors who save women’s lives regularly don’t have time to make laws, because they are busy being doctors. The same for prosecutors and police. They only know that there are laws, and it’s their job to spank the people who break them.

When lawmakers, on purpose or by accident, make laws that criminalize natural things like miscarriages, it’s not respectable white ladies of means who get prosecuted. We can continue to get pregnant and give birth, with all the complications that can occur, and miscarry on or off the toilet, and have it treated like a tragedy instead of a crime. We can even, if we choose, do what respectable ladies of means have always done and quietly pay a doctor to give us something to “bring on a late period” or even a surgery to “remove the abnormal tissue” and no one will ever find out an abortion happened. That’s something that’s tragically happened for as long as there’s been a science of obstetrics. But we can certainly have a miscarriage. Women of color, poor women, women in minority religious groups, women who are under the prosecutor’s eye for something else already, will get slammed. They will get slammed even though they didn’t have an abortion but just went through something that looked like one. If the prosecutor can’t slam them for an abortion they’ll find another charge. That’s no way to run a society.

If the pro-life movement were what they say they are, “pro-woman, pro-child, pro-life,” they would be the first people rising to Watts’s defense. They’d be rushing in with a pro bono attorney and free grief counseling, a meal train, a flower arrangement and a stack of sympathy cards for this poor woman.

And I know there’s no point in saying “if the pro-life movement were what they say they are” anymore. They’ve been unmasked so thoroughly it might as well be a joke. But I don’t know what to do except keep drawing attention to this to warn people.

I also want to draw your attention to a legal case happening in Texas right now. A judge has granted an exception to Texas’s extremely strict anti-abortion law for Kate Cox, a woman suffering a tragedy. Cox is pregnant with a deeply wanted baby, but the baby has trisomy 13.. That baby is terminal. There is no chance they’re going to survive. Some babies with Trisomy 13 live a few days outside the womb, and in a tiny number of cases they live longer, but Cox’s doctor has determined that this baby won’t make it that far. It’s also that doctor’s opinion that Cox could die or be gravely injured if she carries the baby to term, and she could lose her uterus and any chance of giving birth again. The doctor’s opinion is that the only safe option for Ms. Cox– not to murder a baby but to keep one horrible death from becoming two deaths or a death and a maiming– is to abort. This is one of the many cases when the line between abortion and miscarriage care is so blurred it’s hard to tell which is which. I know that as Catholics, we were taught that abortion is the direct killing of a baby and miscarriage care is something else, but in obstetrics a lot of things get referred to as “abortion” that are not what we mean by that term. And I’m not saying this is an easy choice, and I’m not saying I know what I’d do in Cox’s shoes. As a Catholic I think that an elective abortion is a very serious wrong. There are two persons in every pregnancy, both of them are infinitely loved by God, and both deserve careful consideration. I will never believe that a baby isn’t a person. But as a Catholic I also believe in the principle of double-effect and in self-defense. If someone who’s dying anyway stands a good chance of killing me, I do not have to lie there and get killed under any other circumstance. We desperately need to be in dialogue with obstetricians who actually have to make these life and death decisions, because these cases are nothing like the abortions we were taught about in Catholic school. Direct killing remains wrong for any reason, and we need to learn what counts as direct killing and what counts as self-defense in these horrendous cases. Ms. Cox is not a murderer. She’s a woman in a medical emergency with no good options.

In any case, Ms. Cox was granted a temporary restraining order so she won’t be prosecuted or sued for that abortion as long as it’s carried out before December 20th. This might save her life.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t see it that way. He’s sent a letter to three hospitals menacing them, warning that  the restraining order will “not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas’ abortion laws.” The state of Texas views Cox’s case as not serious enough. There’s not enough of a chance that she’ll die for their tastes. They want her, and anyone who helps her, treated like a criminal.

Whatever this is, it isn’t pro-life.

It has nothing to do with saving anybody’s life, just hurting people who are already going through hell.

However horrified you are by abortion, Ms. Watts, Ms. Cox, and the other women going through similar tragedies are also human beings. To paraphrase what so many people on anti-abortion picket lines have shouted, a person’s a person no matter how small and no matter how female. America’s pro-life movement, as it currently stands, doesn’t seem to care very much about saving lives. But it does seem to be excited to use the law to hurt women who are already in agony.

That’s not something I could ever support.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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