GOP candidates Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s extreme anti-abortion views made this lesbian writer truly appreciate the distinction between being “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”
Abortion is a lightning rod in American politics that no major candidate wants to touch—and until last night, no one has done so in any substantive way during a debate. Why? Because they risk alienating voters if they lean too far in either direction, as GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has discovered with his various gaffes throughout his campaign. Formerly openly pro-choice, Trump picked a side when he opted to run as a Republican, and by taking Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, he chose quite aggressively to appeal to a conservative, Christian, pro-life demographic.
Governor Pence is notoriously anti-abortion, having proposed legislation that would force women to have funerals for fetuses following miscarriages and abortions. In his role as a congressman, he’s introduced bills to defund Planned Parenthood, and to require mandatory ultrasounds before every abortion. As governor, he’s closed sexual health clinics and made abortion almost completely inaccessible. So when he said during last night’s vice-presidential debate that he “stands with great compassion for the sanctity of life”; and held forth about “healthcare counseling for women,” as non-abortion alternatives, one has to wonder how he and Trump believe such counseling will provide actual, physical healthcare for women and their babies. This so-called compassion for “the sanctity of life” isn’t going to do much to help low-income women pay to feed, clothe, and care for their children. Then again, this is a man who doesn’t believe women should have the right to make decisions for themselves.
Neither does Donald Trump, who last month toughened his stance against abortion with a letter to pro-life leaders, inviting them to join his coalition, uphold the Hyde Amendment, defund Planned Parenthood, and pass a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
I’ve never liked the mutually exclusive terms pro-life and pro-choice. One implies that by supporting a woman’s right to make decisions about her body and have safe and legal access to health-care I am in some way anti-life. Trump’s coalition would have Americans believe this to be true.
I was not surprised to see his letter peppered with erroneous “facts” about Hillary Clinton’s campaign’s pro-choice stance. Trump writes, “Hillary Clinton also supports abortion until an hour before birth.” Pence also brought this up in last night’s debate. Snopes reports that while Clinton does support abortion access with limited restriction—a stance consistent with Roe v. Wade—she would agree to late-term abortion bans that include provisions for the health of the mother. Additionally, only 1.3 percent of abortions occur at or after the 21-week mark, and only seven states allow late-term abortions.
I can’t speak from experience with regard to abortion, because I’ve never had one—that’s not a boastful admission, just a fact. As a teen, I remember vividly bringing a friend to Planned Parenthood for the morning-after pill. I held her close as she cried and we navigated through the picketing throngs. Now, at 31, I’ve known enough women in my life who have had abortions—for a variety of reasons—and I appreciate the sacrifices each woman has made. They have weighed their decisions, bore the stigma, and for many, the sadness and the loss. Not one of them regrets her decision.
In a blog post responding to Trump’s latest pro-life positioning, OB/GYN and physician Dr. Jen Gunter outlines Trump’s goals and elaborates on some of their consequences. Planned Parenthood—which has provided a safe and compassionate health-care environment for my own loved ones—is the only source of reproductive health care for many low-income American women. According to his letter, one goal of a Trump presidency includes “defunding Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to perform abortions, and reallocating their funding to community health centers that provide comprehensive health care for women.” In her response, Dr. Gunter mentions Texas, a state that has passed legislation that diverts funding to these so-called “community health centers.” She cites an example of $1.6 million worth of state funding that went not to Planned Parenthood but to the Heidi Group, an anti-choice organization that promotes abortion alternatives to low-income women. Says Dr. Gunter, “They don’t even provide health care. (I don’t count their counseling centers that lie to women about abortion).” This is the “health-care counseling” of which Pence speaks. Dr. Gunter adds that the Hyde Amendment “curtails access to the full scope of reproductive health care for women in 35 states.”
There’s a pro-life argument that once you get pregnant or give birth, only then will you fully comprehend the value of life. This past spring my wife and I embarked on the ultimate planned pregnancy, as same-sex couples truly must plan to have a family. We purchased sperm. We tried and we failed and we charged fertility treatments on various credit cards until our spending landed me a viable pregnancy.
As weeks passed and the pregnancy progressed my fear shifted from “I’m scared I’ll lose the baby,” to “I’m scared of the baby.” I hear this is normal, and it felt natural that my wife and I would take stock of our lives and finances and be frightened by impending motherhood. But with the fear came a caveat; My partner is readily equipped to co-parent with me. I am genuinely excited that she will be a mother to our child, which we can financially support when he or she arrives. I am lucky for the love and support that surrounds me and my unborn baby. My happiness, my excitement and my preparedness outweigh the fear that comes with approaching parenthood.
Trump would sign into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which outlaws abortion after 20 weeks except in cases where the mother’s life is “endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest against a minor.” I wonder how Trump and his pro-life coalition believe they can quantify danger. Surely a pregnant woman can face dangers outside of rape or incest. Surely there are women who are in situations in which they fear for their lives and the lives of the child they may be legally forced to carry to term.
My wife and I were recently watching a TV show that took on the issue of abortion. “This feels kinda pro-life to me,” I said. My wife sighed. “You know, I feel torn now.” She explained that watching our baby grow inside of me has stirred something within her, that she already thinks of it as our child. I understood what she was saying. I, too, love our unborn child.
“But babe,” I replied, unconsciously placing a hand on my bulging belly. “We want this. We want this so much and we’re still scared.” I’m healthy, our baby’s healthy, and we have the resources to be parents. I ask my wife what she would want if something went wrong, and I ask her to imagine if legally, there was no choice to be made. She and I signed up to do this parenting thing together. We understand there are no guarantees about our future, but our path to motherhood has been paved with choices. Many women don’t have that luxury.
What would I do, I wonder, if I were not in this position? What if I was alone, scared, or living in poverty? What if I was in an abusive relationship, had been sexually assaulted, or was just too young? What if my spouse and I simply weren’t ready?
Donald Trump only switched his abortion stance while running for president and gone so far as to say that women who seek abortions should face “some form of punishment.” He later recanted this statement, but last month’s letter and Pence’s language are a testament to how far the candidates are willing to go to deny women access to safe and legal reproductive health care in the name of growing a conservative base. What’s more, Trump’s letter was released via the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that seeks to make abortion illegal. Trump has dangerously aligned his campaign with SBA list President Marjorie Dannenfelser, an anti-choice activist whom, according to Dr. Gunter’s findings, “has stated that contraception and family planning are the cause of abortion.”
Legislation like what Trump proposes is dangerous because it denies the facts of reproductive health care as it relates to American women and persecutes against those with limited financial resources.
It’s worth remembering that one can be pro-choice while still having compassion for the sanctity of life. I didn’t know what it felt like to be pregnant until I was, and I quickly realized that legal abortion care is an absolute necessity for all women, everywhere. What grows inside of me is a responsibility, and for reasons that should never need to be public, some woman cannot withstand this responsibility. I can love the life that grows inside of me yet understand, maybe now more than ever, why women must have a choice.
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