When I was in high school, a teacher asked our class to each propose a topic that we staunchly believed in and would ardently defend no matter what. I raised my hand. “I’m firmly pro-life,” I said and told him that I would stand by that conviction wholeheartedly.
Ten years later, that conviction has been put to the test.
On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood released a statement announcing that my home state of Missouri could lose its only abortion clinic after its state licensure expires this week. The group has filed a lawsuit against the state in an effort to keep abortion services running past the May 31 license expiration. But if the measure fails, Missouri will become the first state without an abortion clinic since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
This announcement is just the latest in an onslaught of anti-abortion measures in Missouri.
On May 24, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed anti-abortion legislation criminalizing abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy, placing Missouri alongside Georgia and Alabama as one of the states with the strictest abortion laws in the country.
Parson said in a statement,
“By signing this bill today, we are sending a strong signal to the nation that, in Missouri, we stand for life, protect women’s health, and advocate for the unborn. All life has value and is worth protecting.”
Parson’s statement that Missouri “stands for life” is, at best, seriously misguided. After all, Missouri holds the ninth-highest maternal mortality rate and the seventh-highest child and teen death rate. When it comes to overall healthcare, Missouri ranks 41st in the country. To claim that you value and protect life, that you want to make Missouri the “most pro-life state in the country” while ignoring these statistics is blithely irresponsible.
What Parson is realistically working toward is making Missouri the most pro-birth state in the country. Women’s health, which he claims to protect, is merely a catalyst for doing so. And the reality of living in a pro-birth state, a place with no real regard for the children that fetuses grow into, or for the women sustaining them, grows increasingly unsettling by the speed with which these decisions are made. Not to mention the lack of female voices from the dialogue.
“This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is real, and this is a public health crisis.”
My friends who live in Missouri have varying reactions to the latest anti-abortion measures. Some are conflicted. Others are getting IUD implants as an extra precaution. Mostly, though, are using social media to tweet and retweet and post and repost articles and quotes and long-winded rants about how let-down they feel by their state.
On a national level, social media has been ablaze with calls to boycott conservative-controlled states in protest of these new abortion mandates. Many people have suggested that women flock to more liberal states or that Missouri secede the Union altogether.
But the truth is that the ones who will be affected most by anti-abortion legislation, and the ones whose lives will be altered most by the lack of abortion services, are the ones who can’t just pick up and leave. My friends and peers are all lucky enough to have access to health insurance and affordable birth control. Women in poverty will suffer the most because many don’t have access to the same benefits that we take for granted. Whether we vilify women in crisis or threaten to abandon them when they are at their most vulnerable, we couldn’t be further from being pro-life, no matter which side we are on in the abortion debate.
As for me, I’ve spent the past decade learning that being truly “pro-life” has nothing to do with the prevention of safe and legal abortions. If Parson actually cared as much about valuing life as he claims, perhaps Missouri would adopt the expansion of Medicaid (which would give hundreds of thousands of people access to healthcare coverage) or it would start taking discernible measures to combat the gun violence that continues to plague St. Louis. Protecting life involves far more than enacting a ban and patting yourself on the back about it.
Am I still pro-life? Maybe in a different way than I thought I was in high school. But Missouri certainly isn’t.
Photo by Timothy Paul Smith