Yesterday, one day following the inauguration of President Donald Trump, I participated in one of the most powerful social justice actions I’ve been a part of to date—a march for women that spread around the U.S. And the entire world—nearly 3 million strong by some estimates I saw last night (and one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in U.S History). Incredible images flooded my newsfeed of people standing up in solidarity to protect the rights of women—including the right to safe, legal abortion care–and many other issues close to the lives of women. (You can read the full platform here.)
But as I wept, cheered and felt the groundswell of uprising against forces that would strip women of their power and autonomy, I also saw something else stirring among many of my friends who call themselves pro-life and I feel the need to speak to all of you now.
First of all, what I want to say is: I see you. I hear you. I see you all struggling with what this march means for you and your daughters. You, too, want equal rights for women when it comes to access to education, good jobs and income equality. You want them to be safe from violence and sexual assault. You may even feel strong support for those in the LGBTQ community and wish to stand up for racial and environmental justice. Yet you are struggling—you heard rumors and rumblings about how the march organizers received flack because New Wave Feminists, a pro-life/anti-choice group, were expected to attend and were not welcomed by all. So, you are wrestling with how you fit (and indeed whether you fit at all) with a movement that also takes at its core, a woman’s right to choose abortion. And because of that, you feel walled off from this moment. A fence stands between you and your kin.
I see you. I hear you. And I want you to know that we need you for this moment. We need everyone to stand together because there is so much at stake for all of us.
But as much as I wish it were, it’s not enough to have a kumbaya moment because we can all stand together peacefully with our dissenting opinions on abortion because the picture is far more complicated than you simply wish people just wouldn’t have abortions and I think it’s okay if they do. Where it gets complicated is because so many people who call themselves “pro-life” are working tooth and nail to ensure that no woman can ever have access to a safe, legal abortion at all. So, if that’s your version of pro-life, then I am sorry to say that that fence might be too tall for us to come together… However, if your pro-life has some room to breathe, we might have more in common than you think.
You see, at one time I was one of you. As a young girl and adolescent, growing up in a white, Christian middle-class household, there was a time I felt unsure about abortion. I believed (and still do) that human lives are sacred gifts. I felt grief when I thought of a baby’s life cut short before it could truly begin. Surely people could just choose adoption instead, right? Over time, however, I came to understand that women’s reproductive choices are incredibly complex and the way we navigate it must possess the nuance to meet those complexities. And the best navigators of that complexity are women themselves, not largely men in barred chambers legislating those choices away.
Women rarely choose abortion for the simple reason that they just don’t feel like having a baby. (Though, if they do, I support their choice too.) Most people who seek abortion do so because they are living in the cross-section of competing issues: the prospect of single-parenthood, economic uncertainty, threat of job loss, poor access to maternity care, the feeling of inability to care for or financially support another child (60% of abortion seekers are already mothers), the decision not to be a mother at all, someones disability, experiences of rape or incest, substance abuse or mental health disorders, medical conditions that place a mother’s health and life at risk, medical conditions in the fetus that are incompatible with life, racial inequities, unsafe housing or neighborhoods, loss of public schools–there are many many reasons not to continue a pregnancy especially when these issues overlap in a tight lattice work of lived realities that lead people to the only choice they feel is right for them in the situation.
And no, more adoption is not always the answer. I say this as someone who knows amazing foster and adoptive parents, whose love and selflessness knows no bounds and would open their hearts to as many children as they could. I say this as someone who has worked professionally with people who have grown up in foster care and with parents who have lost custody of their children. I also say this as a mother, a doula, and a reproductive health care advocate.
Adoption is not the antithesis of abortion—they are not equal, either/or options. Pregnancy, itself, is a dramatic undertaking for a person’s life and body whether they plan to parent that child or not. It comes with economic peril because of our lack of workplace protections for people who are pregnant, which means they often experience job loss or employment discrimination. It also comes with significant health risks especially for women of color or others with chronic health conditions who are at higher risk for pre-term birth, maternal and/or fetal death, and other complications. Pregnant women are also at far higher risk for death from intimate partner violence. I believe with all of these (and other) risk factors in play the only person who should get to make decisions about the risks to their own body and life is the person who owns that life.
Even if a person chooses to continue a pregnancy, adoption itself is not always the beautiful solution that many pro-life folks wish is was. Open adoptions do not always stay open. People who are adopted, even into wonderful loving homes may suffer from emotional (and even physical) scars from their previous life, or experience grief about the loss of their first/biological parents. These aren’t necessarily reasons to say that people shouldn’t adopt–it should be one of multiple options available, but simply that adoption also comes with complicated risks to that child. And as a person with economic privilege, or skin privilege, or gender privilege, it often feels easy to say you could offer a child a chance at a really wonderful life through adoption without also taking responsibility for the complex issues that led a person to choose adoption in the first place.
And that’s assuming there is still a choice. Right now, we are inching ever closer to banning abortion in this country. Are you prepared to accept what that will mean? First of all, people will still have abortions whether they are legal or not, but it will mean they are not safe. Pregnant people AND their babies will die, or if the parent survives they will likely go to prison. Moreover, according the the Guttmacher Institute currently close to one million abortions are performed in the U.S each year. Do you think that our adoption system can handle that annual increase considering that there are already approximately 400,000 children in foster care waiting for their forever families or hoping to be reunited with their family? How many children are you willing to adopt every year? But there’s still a problem. Forcing people to experience a pregnancy only to give up their children for adoption because abortion is banned is not an ethical choice.
So back to the Women’s March. To my self-identified “feminist” pro-life friends who want to be part of this moment, there is so much work we must do together to tear down the fence that stands between us in order to improve the lives of women and children.
If you believe that abortion should be safe and legal (even if it is rare and even if you are still struggling with what that means for you), then join us.
If you believe women should be in charge of their reproductive health decisions including choices for and access to contraception as well as when (or if) they will choose motherhood, then join us.
If you are ready to tackle the economic injustices that women face that impact reproductive choices, then join us.
If you will stand up with your LGBTQ neighbors to support their families and call out transmisogyny when you see it, then join us.
If you recognize the harms of white supremacy (and your role in it, even unintended) and racial injustice that impacts reproductive choices and you are ready to do everything you can make sure that all people of every creed and color have equal access to health care, quality education, safe housing, affordable child care and a living wage to support their wanted children, then join us.
You see, this moment is not an arrival point for women, it’s a departure for an arduous long-term battle. We cannot let others make these decisions for us. We must stand together to fight for for a social contract that truly values life at all levels of society and centers the concerns of women and families. To me, there’s nothing more pro-life than that and I hope that I can count you as my sister along the way.