Agency

THIS AGAIN? The Hollowness of a Pro-Life Politic

Leah Shea

Taking away the right to abortion isn’t about abortion. It’s about keeping Black and Brown people “controlled” and in poverty

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra

Written by: Leah Shea and Bunny McKensie Mack

Let’s talk about it:

The leaked Supreme Court initial draft majority opinion is poised to strike down Roe v. Wade. Roe is the 1973 landmark decision that guaranteed the federal constitutional right to abortion, protected under the right to privacy. If overturned, this would be a major step back for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. Research finds that banning or restricting abortion access does not actually decrease the rate of abortions, it only makes abortions less safe. We know that those with dominant privilege will still be able to access abortions, leaving historically marginalized folks like Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, and people living at or below the poverty line, for example in an even more vulnerable state. 

The utter hollowness of the “pro-life” movement really shines through with the focus on forced birth without policy infrastructure that supports life and the health and well-being of babies, who become children, teens, adults, and then elders in our communities. Against the death penalty? No. Advocating for universal healthcare? No. Resources for lower-income families doing everything they can to make ends meet? No. Support for comprehensive sex education so people understand how to care for their reproductive health and choose to have or not have children? No. Support for gun control? Absolutely not

So, what exactly does it mean to be pro-life? That’s a bigger question for another day. 

The Supreme Court’s draft decision will allow states to force people to have children in a country that provides very little support to parents and caregivers. If this decision were to pass,  historically marginalized people would lose the ability to experience any autonomy or agency over their reproductive health. This only increases the likelihood that Black and Brown folks, people living at and below the poverty line, people with disabilities, and more will be trapped in cycles of poverty, institutional exclusion, trauma, and what trans activist and scholar Dean Spade calls administrative violence.

Because to force someone to keep an unwanted pregnancy is to take away a person’s right to choose.  Pregnancy and delivery are high-risk medical events on their own but this is especially true in a country that has the highest maternal mortality rates of any “developed” nation. In the U.S. the bodily autonomy of people who have passed away is more respected than that of people who have or have had uteruses. No one can legally compel a person to donate tissue, bone marrow, or organs if they don’t consent to it (barring the case of Henrietta Lacks, for example, whose tissues are still being used without her consent or the consent of her family). There is no good faith explanation for why this same protection of bodily autonomy does not also apply to abortion rights.

If the decision to overturn Roe v Wade was finalized, the decision would be inherently racist. Justice Alito’s draft majority opinion states that Roe has led to population suppression of the Black population, writing “It is beyond dispute that Roe has had that demographic effect. A highly disproportionate percentage of aborted fetuses are black.” This is a deeply disingenuous take. It is true that Black and Brown folks have abortions at higher rates than white folks. But did Alito, or any of the other privileged white folks ever think to ask why? 

Oppression is intersectional. Black and Brown people are more likely to have limited access to comprehensive sex education, affordable healthcare, effective birth control, and so on. Because intersectionality compounds marginalization, People of Color experience higher rates of poverty and are less likely to be able to take time off work and afford to travel to get an abortion should they need it. Being forced to have an unwanted pregnancy and birth makes families four times more likely to live below the poverty line.

Alito also writes that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.” This is another disingenuous and harmful take. First, this centers comfort over justice which is unsurprising in a society founded on white, patriarchal supremacy. This is why it’s seen as worse for a white person to be called a racist than to actually be racist. To remove a fundamental right to bodily autonomy because it deepened division is like saying we shouldn’t have gotten rid of segregation because it “enflamed debate and deepened division.” Justice is not always comfortable and it certainly should not be measured by whether it alienates people who benefit the most from our oppression. Second, Roe did not originally enflame debate. It took a full six years for evangelical leaders to even object to Roe. In 1978, they rallied against abortion as a way to mobilize conservative voters against a second Jimmy Carter presidential term. They leveraged abortion as a political focus because they realized their true goal, to protect racist school segregation, would not be as socially acceptable.

So what can you do?

First and foremost, we want to stress that this is still a draft opinion. It has not been finalized or published. This means all people of all genders still have a right to abortion. It’s estimated that the final decision will be published in June. After that, depending on the final draft, it is likely that individual states will then have the power to make their own decision as to the “legality” of abortion rights.

Second, in the words of prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba, “Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.” Let yourself feel enraged, sad, or however you want to feel. And then, recognize we all have the collective power to push against this. This includes:

  • Donate to an abortion fund or reproductive rights center near you or in a state that is likely to lose its abortion access.
  • Mobilize: there are many rallies being planned: find one near you and participate. 
  • Remember that none of us are obligated to follow unjust laws. Legality is not the same as justice. At one time, it was considered in the United States to “own” slaves, to erect internment camps for Japanese-Americans, and to (currently not in the past) discriminate against trans athletes for being trans.