Are You Really Pro-Life?

Are You Really Pro-Life?

About two weeks ago, Nicholas P. Carfardi of the National Catholic Reporter, wrote a brief opinion piece and asked who was more pro-life, Obama or Romney?  He argued that although Obama is clearly pro-choice, he is actually more pro-life than Romney, because Romney profits from abortions and supports cuts in federal spending that might actually increase the abortion rate. Carfardi did not go further to redefine the term pro-life or call on Catholics and other anti-abortion groups to address this term in a more nuanced and complex manner.  I wish he had, because he may have addressed the hypocrisy that lies beneath the term.  Look, as a self-exiled Catholic, I am very well aware of the Church’s stance on abortion.  I am also familiar with the history of abortion.  But that is not what I want to focus on today.  The term “pro-life” needs a new definition.  There is much more to being pro-life than just praying, preaching, marching, and legislating for the rights of the fetus.  Being pro-life means advocating for the rights of babies, children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.  If you are going to claim you are pro-life, then you must support the life outside the womb, not just the one attached to the umbilical cord.  So, are you really pro-life?

Being pro-life means that you believe that ALL women deserve access to good prenatal health and that ALL newborns deserve good health care:  In the early twentieth century there were an estimated 132 infant deaths per 1000 live births and of the 2,500,000 babies born in the United States in the early 1910s, around 300,000 died before they turned a year old.[1]  Maternal mortality was also extremely high; approximately one mother in 154 live births died during or right after childbirth.  Since women averaged five pregnancies in their lifetimes, one in 30 might die due to complications.[2]  Persistently high infant and maternal mortality rates pushed many doctors, reformers, and government officials to seek medical and political solutions.  Prenatal care, maternalist policies, and government bureaucracy shaped the public discourse in a way that focused on maternal, infant, and child health and well-being as necessary to the future of the nation.  Not all policies were successful, but given the precariousness of labor and delivery and high mortality rates, heightened public concern, especially at the federal level, signified that maternal and infant health was no longer a private but a public affair.

Now you might ask, things must be so much better today, right?  We have the best medical care in the world, with the best doctors and hospitals making sure that every mother and baby remain healthy, correct?  Not exactly.  In 1960, we ranked twelfth in the world in infant mortality, and today, we are thirty-fourth.  In fifty years, the country that arrogantly boasts about its premiere health care, dropped twenty-two spots, during which time we also experienced tax cuts, an expanding military-industrial complex, the rise of HMOs and the GOP, the attack on the Great Society, the end of welfare, and the movement of the Democratic party to the center.  As for maternal mortality rates, we rank fiftieth.  Yes, in the world, there are forty-nine countries that do a much better job of keeping mothers alive.  In fact, since 1987, maternal mortality rates have doubled.  Why? The answer is complex, but as in the early twentieth century, race and socio-economic conditions play a huge role in the care that women and babies receive before and after birth.

There is nothing pro-life about allowing the U.S. to rank 34th in infant mortality and 50th in maternal mortality.

Being pro-life means you believe that access to good health care is a right, not a privilege: Mothers-to-be and babies are not the only ones who deserve good health care.  All individuals deserve that right.  But for the 49 million individuals who have no health insurance, and the 38 million who are underinsured, good health care is a luxury.  For the past three years, we have the heard the battle cry “Socialized medicine is EVIL!”  But it is not the first time a variation of these words have been uttered. The history behind health care reform reflects missed opportunities, self-interests rather than collaboration, and no unified grassroot movement.  Various groups, throughout the twentieth century, understood the need for health care reform, but the inability to connect the top (the AMA, politicians, economists, labor leaders) with the bottom (workers, activists) as well as the dirty word “socialism,” left the U.S. as the only developed country without universal health care.[3]

Because the problem has been left unsolved, uninsured individuals’ medical costs exceed 125 billion dollars a year, and for the underinsured, their health care costs rose as their insurance premiums escalated.  Both groups ration their health care, only seeking medical care when it becomes an emergency.  Many find that they have to choose between paying for the doctor or groceries.  And if you think both groups have no impact on your life, think again.  Those who have adequate health insurance can pay an extra $1,000 a year because of the uninsured and underinsured’s medical care costs.  At the same time, the average family, who has health insurance, will spend approximately just over $20K for health care.  In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would stave off health care costs and ensure that 95% of individuals have health care when it is fully implemented.  It is not perfect, but the people who decry it is socialized medicine and sneer as they say the word ObamaCare, are many of the same people who claim to be pro-life.  These are the same people who will repeal and/or support the repeal of ACA when given the first opportunity, threatening the health of millions as medical care costs continue to skyrocket.

There is nothing pro-life in wanting to save a fetus in utero, but kicking its health care to the curb after birth.

Being pro-life means you believe unemployment, welfare, and Social Security are not entitlements:  On August 14, Geoff Nunberg published an excellent piece on entitlement that examined the root of the word.  It actually has two meanings, but as he points out, when entitlement is applied to the role of the government, it takes on a negative connotation.  He writes, “When people fulminate about the cost of government entitlements these days, there’s often the implicit modifier “unearned” lurking in the background. And that in turn makes it easier to think of those programs as the cause of a wider social malaise — that they create what critics call a “culture of dependency” or a class of “takers,” which are basically ways of referring to what the Victorians called the undeserving poor.”

Who are the undeserving poor or better yet, who are the deserving poor? During the twentieth century, concerns regarding who did or did not deserve government assistance were built on specific ideas of race, gender, age, and class.[4]  In short, welfare recipients (“unwilling to work”), undeserving.  The elderly and unemployed (but able to work), deserving.  But with the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the line blurred between the two.  The unemployed definitely deserved support in the beginning, but then found themselves labeled semi “welfare queens/kings” as the recession deepened and their benefits lengthened in time.  As for welfare, its “traditional” existence ended in 1996, but for the most part, the stereotype of the “welfare queen” still remains.  Additionally, Social Security and Medicare became identified as “entitlement” programs, which now casts some doubt as to whether or not grandma and grandpa truly deserve those benefits.  Each are being partially blamed for some of America’s social and economic malaise.  Those habitually unemployed could get jobs if they really looked.  Welfare recipients (which might in fact be former unemployment recipients) are just lazy and unreliable.  And the elderly?  Well, with baby boomers now retiring in increasing numbers, a group that was once respected is now considered a burden.  They have become takers and contribute to this “culture of dependency.”  Dependency on a government handout is bad, very bad.  (Oh, unless it is corporate welfare, then it’s ok.)

There is nothing pro-life in stating corporations are people, deserving of corporate welfare, but the old woman living on a fixed income shouldn’t feel entitled to her Social Security.

So are you pro-life? 

There are approximately 1.3 million abortions per year, but over 4 million babies born each year in the U.S.  4 million each year to feed, to clothe, and to educate.  4 million each year who will grow up and grow old.  4 million each year who need parents who can support their growth.  4 million each year who need a country that looks out for their well-being from the first cry to the last breath.  4 million each year who will need jobs, a place to live, and funeral arrangements.  4 million each year who need good health care.  4 million each year who might have families of their own.  4 million each year who might be in search of a good latte one day.

Look, before you hit the reply button and write some scathing comment, which I will just delete, think about those 4 million babies born each year.  Do not claim to be pro-life unless you are praying, marching, and legislating as hard to support the 4 million babies born every year as you are for the 1.3 million fetuses aborted in that same time.  And please do not claim to be pro-life if you support individuals and a political party who clearly have no interest in life, unless it’s the life of the GOP.  If you are not advocating for all life, I am not sure what you should call yourself, but you are certainly not pro-life.

[1] Kriste Lindenmeyer, “A Right to Childhood”: The U.S. Children’s Bureau and Child Welfare, 1912-46 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 43.  See also,b See Molly Ladd-Taylor, Mother-Work: Women, Child Welfare, and the State, 1890-1930 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994); Joanne L. Goodwin, Gender and the Politics of Welfare Reform: Mother’s Pensions in Chicago, 1911-1929 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997); Linda Gordon, Pitied but not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994); Alisa Klaus, Every Child A Lion: The Origins of Maternal and Infant Health Policy in the United States and France, 1890-1920 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993); and Robyn L. Rosen, Reproductive Rights: Reformers and the Politics of Maternal Health, 1917-1940 (Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2003).

[2]Judith Leavitt, Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)

[3] See Beatrix Hoffman The Wages of Sickness (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2001) and Health Care for Some: Rights and Rationing in the United States (University of Chicago Press), to be published in October 2012

[4] See Michael Katz, In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America, 10th edition, (New York: Basic Books, 1996) and Walter Trattner From, Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America, 6th edition (New York: Free Press, 1999).

Cheryl Lemus earned her PhD from Northern Illinois University in 2011. Her dissertation, “‘The Maternity Racket’: Medicine, Consumerism, and the American Modern Pregnancy, 1876-1960,” examines the rise of the modern pregnancy in 20th-century America. She is mainly interested in gender and women’s history, the history of medicine in America, and the rise of consumer culture.