Ripping babies from mothers and putting them in cages, taking away birth control and social services like SNAP, and bombing abortion clinics doesn't sound very "pro-life." Or does it?
Since May, the federal government has been forcibly separating children—some as young as eight months old—from their parents at the border. Images and audio of these children—babies and toddlers among them— locked up in actual cages, crying and pleading in terror for their parents, have horrified the nation. Cries of “pro-life” hypocrisy have abounded. Religious leaders and even some self-identified “pro-life” advocates have argued that forced family separation is cruel and antithetical to a pro-life standpoint.
It’s true that ripping children from their parents—literally taking a breastfeeding baby from his mother—flies in the face of the “pro-life” position of valuing life and treasuring babies. If you truly value babies, parenthood, and life, you couldn’t possibly support forced family separation of asylum-seeking immigrants.
But the “pro-life” political movement isn’t really about babies, parenthood, or life. It isn’t centered on valuing life and protecting children. At its core, the modern pro-life movement aims to strip bodily autonomy, and therefore personhood, from pregnant people.
Think about it: The “pro-life” movement is responsible for sentencing women of color to prison for their pregnancy outcomes and bullying undocumented immigrant teenage rape survivors out of terminating an unwanted pregnancy. Many in this movement seek to end all abortions—with no exception—even if the life of the pregnant person is in danger. This is a movement that harasses and bullies women outside of abortion clinics and terrorizes and even murders abortion providers.
This is precisely the kind of movement that leads to the fascist state we are now facing.
To call the modern anti-abortion political movement “pro-life” is a powerfully deceiving misnomer. There is no coordinated pro-life effort to curb the increasing rate of maternal mortality in the U.S. (even worse among pregnant Black women), or to expand social services like SNAP and Medicaid that benefit low-income children and their mothers. Pro-life advocates aren’t pushing for an end to capital punishment that disproportionately affects people of color or protesting the escalating number of death of people of color at the hands of police. There’s no mass pro-life movement to end poverty among children or to mandate paid family leave that would benefit new parents and their babies. In reality, “pro-life” advocates have a singular focus: ending safe and legal abortion. They have little regard for the health and safety of pregnant people, and the movement is increasingly moving away from tolerating exemptions in favor of outright bans. Anti-abortion activists have terrorized clinics and murdered abortion providers, egged on by the deeply dehumanizing rhetoric from mainstream leaders. Conservative anti-abortion legislators continue to cite pregnancy as a “pre-existing condition” for health-care coverage in their ongoing effort to eradicate the Affordable Care Act.
Not only that, but the racist and xenophobic “zero tolerance” immigration policy that the Trump administration is currently pushing is an extension of the very same racism and xenophobia that underwrites so much of anti-abortion sentiment. “Pro-life” political leaders like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) fearfully claim that “we can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies,” and anti-abortion protesters chant racist and appropriative phrases like “Hands Up, Don’t Abort.”
A movement that values life doesn’t tolerate assassinations. It doesn’t harass pregnant women and their loved ones at health-care facilities. It isn’t silent in the face of escalating rates of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth. It neither tacitly nor explicitly endorses ripping immigrant children from their parents, nor shrugs at their abuse and possible death, and it certainly isn’t predicated on white supremacy.
The dehumanization and degradation of basic human rights that we see happening to children and their parents at the border, all because they are seeking asylum, is simply a natural progression for this movement. In a world where pregnant people have no say over their own bodies and reproduction is a tool to reify white supremacy, immigrants are easily disposable. It’s easy to lock children up in cages and listen to the sob, to deny them touch, care, support, or basic human empathy. When we not only fail but actively combat any effort to see marginalized groups as human, the potential for fascistic cruelty and terror is limitless.
Americans should and must continue to call out the hypocrisy of identifying as “pro-life” while supporting state-imposed child abuse. But we must also demand an end to a movement that has wrought the dangerous thought patterns and destructive policies that have led to this very moment. Until we end that movement, “pro-life” will continue to make a mockery of us all.
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