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Fighting the Pro-Choice Narrative

This isn’t my body. 

The first time I thought these words was at eight weeks pregnant, when we had our first ultrasound. We got to hear our baby’s heartbeat and see her tiny form for the first time. I cried, with relief as well as joy, because I could feel this baby’s existence.

The feeling intensified each time I heard her heartbeat at the doctor’s office, each time I felt her flutters and kicks and jostling as she grew. Amid the queasiness and exhaustion and annoyance with ill-fitting clothes, I would pause and remember that there was a human being inside me. The way I lived on a daily basis began to shift: I went to bed early—but not for myself. I rested, ate healthy, and tried not to push too hard in order to nurture the life inside me.

This slowly built a re-imagining of my body as a vessel, and not my own. My body began to seem more like a shell, a sustaining cocoon, rather than something that was “mine.” It was a strange, yet wonderful sense of emptying and humbling.

Then came childbirth: with the pangs that felt as if they would tear me apart. But here, too, I felt an assurance that my body was doing what it ought to do: serving, loving, giving of itself in order to bring a new and precious life into the world. And despite all my misgivings, it performed the task—and healed, and repaired itself—in a miraculous way. As a nursing mom, I learned that even post-birth, my body was a vessel, continuing to nurture and provide life for the child it had grown. My physical and emotional self was tied inextricably to this vulnerable little life—committed to the well-being of a soul not my own.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve begun to realize that this is, really, the struggle and essence of the pro-life movement: to comprehend and appreciate the souls around us, to be as aware and cognizant of their existence as we are of our own, to sacrifice our own comfort and pleasure in order to nurture the life and well-being of others. It has prompted me to ask the question: do I treat the existence, the individuality, and the essence of other people with the same sort of grateful awe I showed my unborn baby?

These thoughts have been particularly on my mind in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Texas’s HB2 law, a measure that attempted to create further restrictions on abortion clinics throughout the state. While some say HB2 was meant to bring greater safety to the women visiting clinics, most pro-choice advocates saw it as a snare meant to close as many abortion clinics as possible, creating (as Mother Jonesput it) “a crisis in abortion access.” Says Vox,

Under the landmark 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which upheld Roe v. Wade but weakened its legal standards, states were allowed to pass laws designed to convince women to change their mind about having an abortion. But, crucially, those laws couldn’t actually stand in women’s ways and present an “undue burden” to accessing the procedure.

“In our view, the record contains sufficient evidence that the admitting-privileges requirement led to the closure of half of Texas’ clinics, or thereabouts,” the majority opinion read. “Those closures meant fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and increased crowding.” … As Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it in her concurring opinion, “It is beyond rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women.”

Though HB2 would likely have been overturned even with his presence, Justice Antonin Scalia’s absence was sorely felt: “The outcome would almost surely had been 5 to 4 had Justice Antonin Scalia not died in February, and in his dissent, Thomas quoted his friend,” noted Robert Barnes for the Washington Post. “Monday’s decision ‘exemplifies the court’s troubling tendency “to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue,”‘ Thomas wrote.”

The response from pro-choice advocates has been loud and victorious, while at times also horribly insensitive. In a statement released by the White House, Obama said he was “pleased to see the Supreme Court protect women’s rights and health today. These restrictions harm women’s health and place an unconstitutional obstacle in the path of a woman’s reproductive freedom.” He added that he believes in protecting a woman’s “right to determine her own future.”

This is your body, says the culture.

In a thoughtful piece for TAC on the decision, Robert VerBruggen acknowledges that “Unless and until the Supreme Court’s balance tips, that [pro-life] side has remarkably few avenues through which to pursue its agenda—especially now that the most promising avenue has been closed.”

I wonder, however, whether HB2’s avenue for furthering the pro-life agenda is (or was) indeed the most promising. I believe the people who advocated for HB2 cared about women’s health, and hoped their measures would indeed protect them. After the horrific case of Kermit Gosnell, it should be abundantly clear that high standards are vital to the health and safety of the women who frequent abortion clinics. But it’s also true that most pro-life advocates wouldn’t mind Texas abortion clinics closing and becoming harder to access. Because remember, in our minds, every abortion = a life lost.

By focusing primarily on the women’s-health argument, and not also on the “fetus = baby” argument, we end up destroying our own efforts. Because pro-choice advocates can point to HB2 and say, “These measures are meant to protect women’s health, but they’re making clinics harder to access, and thus they’re not protecting women’s health. There, you see?”

We live in the age of hookup culture and casual sex—yet we’ve also seen TV shows like Jane the Virgin and films like Juno present a case for carrying unexpected, unwanted babies to term. Our culture keeps telling people (men as well as women) they can “do what they want” with their bodies—have sex whenever they want, use or not use birth control as they will, abort the unborn children resulting from the aforementioned decisions whenever they want. This is why we need to direct our energies toward the dominant cultural narrative, and craft our own winsome, thoughtful, truthful rebuttals.

Unless we can begin to shift attitudes on this issue at a cultural level, it will become increasingly difficult to make advances on a political level. As long as the idea that “I can do what I want with my body” dominates our discourse, it will be difficult (if not impossible) to see the pro-life movement truly gain ground. Because being pro-life—in a thorough, unequivocal, passionate way—means acknowledging the personal cost and sacrifice involved in supporting life. It means choosing the difficult path, more often than not. It means admitting, This is not (or at least not justmy body.

We also must work on building a strong-yet-winsome voice within the pro-life movement, teaching and exhorting people to combine grace with truth. There is a strong contingency of the pro-life movement that can be extreme, cruel, even murderous. This contingency consistently undermines the movement as a whole—not just because it’s unkind at best, but because it’s often anti-life at worst. In trying to support the pro-life movement, this contingency actually undermines it. The Atlantic ran a story Monday telling of the death threats and unkindness suffered by a Planned Parenthood clinic CEO in a small Texas town. While the story is obviously biased in a pro-choice direction, it also shows us the great damage we do to the pro-life cause when we are not loving, choosing to castigate rather than convince.

In the aforementioned Atlantic story, abortion clinic CEO Karen Hildenbrand says, “If you have forced pregnancies all the time, you can’t ever succeed. You can’t ever be free.”

How do we fight that argument, that pervasive cultural mantra?

By telling our own stories of empowerment. By letting women know: you don’t have to be childless to succeed. You don’t have to abort your unborn baby in order to find freedom. There can be freedom, and power, and success, in your pregnancy. There can be joy and excitement and passion in motherhood. If you need financial, emotional, or spiritual support, we will help provide it. If your life circumstances are far from ideal, we understand—and we want to support you. Because just as we would argue that it isn’t just “your body” to do with as you please, so too these aren’t just “our lives” to dispose of in sheer selfish pleasure. Being pro-life means living to serve: the unborn, and the born.

about the author

Gracy Olmstead is a writer and journalist located outside Washington, D.C. In addition to The American Conservative, she has written for The Washington Times, the Idaho Press Tribune, The Federalist, and Acculturated. Follow Gracy on Twitter @GracyOlmstead.

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