Women left behind by the pro-life movement

Anti-abortion activists gather in Washington DC for the annual March for Life against abortion rights on January 21, 2022. (Sipa via AP Images)

A a thin layer of watery ice covered the street between me and my parked car. The slippery road wouldn’t have bothered me, except that I was nine months pregnant and had a laundry basket full of baby gifts and my school bag. I crossed safely, shuffling slowly in a pair of sandals, the only shoes that still fit me. I was exhausted by the time I put everything, including my swollen body, into the parked car.

Four days later, as the winter weather persisted, I gave birth to my second child. It didn’t go well. She ended up in the NICU when I was recovering from a caesarean section. Because I was still teaching two classes that semester, as per my assistant professor contract, I had work to do; it didn’t matter that I was barely postpartum. I remember sitting in my hospital bed trying to complete an online lecture, answering questions from students on an honors thesis, and pumping milk to feed my newborn baby, all the while trying to ignore the searing pain of the staples holding my insides together. It was one of the few times in my life when I questioned my vocation.

I was lucky, however.

In 2010, the year I had my daughter, only two states, California and New Jersey, had paid family leave. I worked for a university in the state of Texas that didn’t yet have a maternity policy in place, which meant there were no clear guidelines for having a baby without taking a semester off without balance. Still, I managed to take a few weeks off without missing a paycheck. The flexibility of my department director and the generosity of my colleagues allowed me to concoct four weeks of maternity leave. Spring break gave me a fifth week. It wasn’t a fun semester, but I was grateful to keep my job.

I was also grateful for my private office and the means to buy a breast pump, as there were no breastfeeding rooms or breastfeeding policies at my workplace in 2010. I had good insurance which covered 80% of the hospital bills for my operation, my hospital stay, the birth of my daughter and the five days she was in the NICU. I had a supportive husband with a moderately flexible work schedule. I had a family willing and able to care for a baby, which saved us the high cost of childcare. Although 31,000 pregnancy discrimination lawsuits were filed in the United States between 2011 and 2015, my biggest workplace issue at the time was a negative student comment in my course evaluations.

I was so lucky – a white, educated woman with a good job, access to quality medical care, sufficient medical insurance, and sufficient support networks to mitigate the physical, financial, and professional cost of childbirth. ‘a baby. When the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization reversed Roe vs. Wadefilling my Twitter feed with celebratory comments from white women like me, it reminded me of how lucky my pregnancy experiences had been.

I had complications with the birth of my two children. It’s hard to fathom that if my skin had been a different color, my chances of survival would have been drastically reduced. Regardless of income and education level, black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy complications.

I was able to carve out a few unofficial weeks of paid maternity leave when I had my daughter. Still, I qualified for up to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA, and if my husband and I had chosen this path, we would have survived financially. I can’t imagine going through what I did to give birth to my daughter and be back in class after just a few days off sick, but until 2018 only 30% of black mothers were both eligible and able to pay unpaid leave from work.

Shouldn’t it be telling that black Christians, who are just as religiously devout as white evangelicals, are less likely to identify as pro-life? According to a recent PRRI survey, 75% of black Protestants hold that abortion is legal in most or all cases, compared to only 25% of white evangelical Protestants. The Washington Post recently interviewed black pastors, Reverend Cheryl Sanders of Third Street Church of God in Washington DC and Reverend John Fils-Aime of Central Baptist Church in New York. Sanders agreed that the Bible is “absolutely pro-life” but does not want to align itself with the pro-life political movement, remarking that it is “full of problematic racial views, exceptions and blind spots”. Fils-Aime also called overturning abortion laws a “hollow victory” without enough support to help black mothers who face greater physical and financial challenges than white women.

The sentiments of these pastors resonate deeply with me. The reality is that 67% of women in the United States support legal abortion in most or all cases. Instead of seeing this majority of women as the liberal enemy, shouldn’t the pro-life movement ask itself what it has done to alienate them?

It is true that many anti-abortion activists support helping women bear the financial and physical costs of pregnancy. But it’s also true that they’re more likely to channel their support into local churches and private, nonprofit organizations than government-backed programs that can bring about lasting change. As historian Daniel K. Williams explains:

In fact, nearly every political victory won by the pro-life movement in recent decades has attempted to reduce abortion rates by making abortion harder to obtain – that is, shifting the cost of an unwanted pregnancy on the pregnant woman. woman until the costs of obtaining an abortion outweigh the perceived costs of raising a child. Whether she maintains the pregnancy or terminates it, a woman in such a situation will have to pay the costs of her pregnancy – which individualistically minded conservatives deem fair, as they believe that everyone is responsible for their own acts.

Rather than voting for affordable child care, expansive Medicaid, higher and fair wages, paid parental leave and free access to contraception – all measures that can help reduce abortion – the pro-life movement has resisted laws that could help alleviate the precarious circumstances facing pregnant women; instead, he advocated for laws that restrict women.

I remember many years ago seeing a conservative Christian family of seven or eight children standing with the eldest son at his home school graduation. The son spoke proudly of how his family had protested the local Planned Parenthood, which he called a “baby killing mill”. Although I don’t know the politics of this family, I can guess. A strong alignment exists between conservative evangelical Christians, the Republican Party and the pro-life movement. I can also guess their theological stance on gender roles, as some at this graduation wore pink t-shirts that boasted that biblical women (Titus 2) were “workers in the home”.

I suggested in my recent book, The Creation of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became the Truth of the Gospel, that those who identify as evangelicals are more reluctant than other demographic groups to support both women’s work outside the home and women in leadership positions such as CEO and pastor. I wrote: “For evangelicals, these attitudes are linked: limiting the spiritual authority of women goes hand in hand with limiting the economic power of women. When we consider that these same evangelicals tend to be pro-life, a pattern emerges between the anti-abortion movement and Christians who are less likely to support women in the workplace, women in leadership, and the nets. social security that benefit women. For those who believe a woman’s place is in the home, the wage disparity women face (for white women, an average of 79.6 cents for every dollar earned by a white man) could seem less urgent.

Is it any wonder that so many people in this country perceive being anti-abortion as synonymous with being anti-women? Could it be that in their quest to validate the personality of an unborn child, the pro-life movement has diminished a woman’s personality?

“Love them both” is a long-standing mantra for the pro-life movement – mother and child matter. However, consistently voting against social safety nets and constitutional equality for women and rejecting the reality of systemic racism speaks louder than words. Lives matter, but for many within the pro-life movement, especially those in conservative evangelical traditions, some lives seem more important than others.

At some other time in my life, I would have joined my white evangelical sisters to witness the fall of Roe vs. Wade as a victory for life. After all, I voted pro-life, supported pro-life causes financially, and even volunteered at a crisis pregnancy center. But I don’t see it as a victory anymore. Not because my beliefs about the value of life have changed, but rather because they have grown stronger. The lives of mothers – black, brown and white – matter at least as much as the lives of their unborn babies. Yet while the pro-life movement has fought at the local, state and national levels to save unborn lives, it has not fought with the same vigor to help the lives of women, especially women of color doubly burdened by sexism and racism.

Until the pro-life movement realizes how much he left women behind, it will continue to go unnamed. He will also continue to lose support from women like me.

Beth Allison Barr is the James Vardaman Professor of History at Baylor University and bestselling author The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How Women’s Subjugation Became Gospel Truth.

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