The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the religious right that it’s a pro-life organization.
For as long as I’ve been active in the church, the religious right (along with its bedfellow, the GOP) has crafted a false narrative, giving the impression it’s pro-life. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
To make this point abundantly clear, I’m going to concede each of the religious right’s talking points.* As such, I’m not arguing against the belief that life begins at conception; I won’t highlight the connections between misogyny and the assault on reproductive justice; I’m not addressing the fact that the right’s commitment to a consistent ethic of life leaves much to be desired when it comes to the religious right’s stances on the death penalty, the military industrial complex, gun reform, etc. (not to mention their treatment of immigrants and LGBTQIA+ people); I won’t even go so far as to argue against the draconian laws recently passed in Alabama and Missouri.
Instead, I will simply highlight the most effective measures proven to reduce abortion, and ask why the religious right — despite all its pro-life rhetoric — consistently rejects them. These measures include providing quality and affordable healthcare to mothers and their children, reducing poverty, and offering equitable access to education for everyone. While every reputable study shows these are (by far!) the most effective ways to reduce abortion, states like Alabama and Missouri — despite all of their pro-life rhetoric — are well-known for enacting policies that do the precise opposite. The hypocrisy is downright nauseating.
As the Rev. Kira Schlesinger writes, “many so-called ‘pro-life’ politicians do little to address measures that would support women and their families by providing adequate maternal health care, equal pay, a raise in the minimum wage, and mandatory paid family leave.” The state legislatures in Missouri and Alabama are exhibit A.
In the words of theologian John Caputo, “It is hypocritical to oppose abortion while simultaneously opposing the vast support system such a ban would require. That would include full and free prenatal care of poor and uninsured pregnant women, of unemployed and unwed mothers, so that they might bring their pregnancies safely to full term, along with free neonatal care for their uninsured children. It would further include a comprehensive system of government supported adoption agencies in order to place newborn children in welcoming families… In order to keep children from falling off the radar once they are born, funding and resources will be required, which conflicts with the greed of our country and especially those who don’t think government should build larger social systems of support, which, ironically, are usually the very same people who are most vocal about ‘pro-life’ issues.”
I have people quite close to me who say that anyone who opposes “pro-life” legislation sponsored by the GOP is a baby killer, or a murderer. Yet these very same people consistently oppose measures that are proven to (1) reduce poverty and (2) provide equitable access to education and healthcare. Rejecting such measures exacerbates (rather than reduces!) the abortion rate. If the right truly cared about reducing abortions, they would implement policies that actually do so (as opposed to just virtue-signaling to their base).
Those of us who are not part of the religious right — who actually try to offer concrete policies proven to reduce abortions — are told we don’t care about the unborn, when in fact it’s the policies we support that best protect the unborn, while the policies championed by the religious right actually increase abortions. The religious right likes to shout from the rooftop that they’re pro-life, but their actions — whether deliberate or not — betray their rhetoric.
And let’s be clear. Any cursory reading of history shows that bans on abortion do not stop abortions from happening. Leslie Reagan puts it this way: “Making abortion hard to obtain will not return the United States to an imagined time of virginal brides and stable families; it will return us to the time of crowded septic abortion wards, avoidable deaths, and the routinization of punitive treatment of women by state authorities and their surrogates.”
When Texas recently slashed its family planning budget, it forced over eighty family-planning clinics to close, which in turn led the maternal mortality rate to double in just two years. What’s more, countries that provide safe access to abortion actually have lower rates of abortion, not higher rates.
So we must ask: If the religious right cares so much about the unborn, why do they reject policies that reduce abortions, and support policies that increase abortions?
Part of the answer may simply be lack of knowledge. Folks may not realize the strong correlation between abortion, poverty, and education. This was me at one point in time. (The propaganda of the religious right is persuasive to those reared in it.) So I’m willing to give others the benefit of the doubt, up until they know otherwise.
But when those on the right knowingly refuse to acknowledge this reality, I can only surmise they are more interested in power and control than in compassion and conviction. (This is the one common denominator to all policies offered by the religious right: domination and control.) And until the GOP stops fighting legislation that actually reduces the rate of abortion, they are pro-life in name only. Which may help them win votes, but it certainly doesn’t help them follow through on their promises to care for the unborn. Precisely the opposite.**
* Disclaimer: I recognize this approach fails to acknowledge and frame this conversation from perspectives not beholden to the religious right. However, my interest here is in debunking the most obvious flaw in the religious right’s (stated) logic: that their policies reduce abortions when in fact they increase them.
** I also realize how “pro-life” rhetoric functions (i.e. how it provides a cover to hide the traumatic truth of having to acknowledge one’s support for policies that are utterly inhumane, misogynistic, racist, etc.). If one believes they support the GOP because of their commitment to saving thousands of unborn lives, it sounds more noble and hides the deeper, more unsettling reasons one usually supports the GOP (hint: racism, classism, patriarchy, nativism, cishet normativity, etc.).