by Jennifer Jones Hamilton
Jennifer Jones Hamilton is an Instructional Assistant and Substitute Teacher with Carroll County Public Schools in Eldersburg, Maryland, as well as an application reviewer for Teach for America. She has a bachelor’s degree in History and is a 1994 graduate of Messiah College. She is an avid reader of all varieties of books, a lover of music, a runner, and a person with deep curiosity about the world we live in. She continues to work on figuring out what she wants to do when she grows up, and while doing so enjoys life with her husband, Bill, and their three teenage children.
As the election looms nearer, recent events have brought the battle over a woman’s right to choose to the forefront. Starting with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the nomination of pro-life advocate Amy Coney Barrett, to the insensitive and horrific response of “pro-life” individuals to the premature death of Chrissy Teigen and John Legend’s third baby (see here) to this well-written, thoughtful response written by Jeannie Gaffigan to Catholics who say she’s not a “real Catholic” unless she votes for Trump (see here), once again it is clear that this particular issue is a huge reason why many people of faith are continuing to choose to vote for Trump in spite of the fact that literally none of what he does jives with the message of Jesus. As I have argued with these people in my head (because I’m terrible at confrontation and lose the ability to form coherent thoughts when faced with a debate) I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I would say if I had the opportunity (and were brave enough to do so).
There are so many ways that simply voting for the conservative, “pro-life” candidate is an oversimplification of a much bigger issue.
First of all, most conservatives advocate for an abstinence-only sex education for students, in spite of the fact that the evidence shows that if teens and young adults have access to quality information, they are less likely to be sexually active in the first place, and thus less likely to end up with an unwanted pregnancy. In the Netherlands, children are provided with very frank and honest information about sex from a young age (4) and the result is low teen pregnancy rates, lower instances of sexual abuse or coercion, and greater equality and satisfaction for both partners when they are ready. The idea of shamefulness or “sin” is absent from the equation, which results in healthier, happier, more knowledgeable children, teens, and eventually, adults. There are many books and articles which discuss this, find one of them here.
Meanwhile, American teens continue to be provided with misinformation, limited access to contraception, and a silence around sex that implies that this is something bad, something forbidden. The effects show, as evidenced in this article.
Touching on the contraception issue; conservatives don’t typically support low-cost contraception, the morning-after pill, or organizations like Planned Parenthood, which aside from abortion, also provides low-cost health care for girls and women. They also do not support universally affordable healthcare or insurance. So we don’t get accurate information about sex, and we don’t get quality, accessible healthcare for all, but are expected to have any and all babies that result from intimacy with a partner. It sounds like Christians just don’t want people to be having sex at all, a bar that they prove unable to achieve themselves.
The pro-life issue also falters when it comes to actually “born” lives. The conservative response to immigrants and refugees, particularly the family separation situation, and the corralling of families in what basically amounts to a prison while they await deportation, is particularly shameful. I guess these “lives” aren’t important.
The response by conservatives to the Black Lives Matter movement also shows their particular callousness towards brown and black lives…there is a disdain and refusal to acknowledge how years of racism have led us to this point, which results in tragedy that we see playing out before our eyes. Time and time again many conservatives fail to live up to their favorite saying that “All Lives Matter.” Saying this may make themselves feel better, but it is a lie.
We can even look at the dreadful response to Coronavirus from the top of the government on down to the local churches. This illness is deemed a “hoax,” masks and restrictions on large group meetings are seen as violations of freedom, and the response to the deaths of over 200,000 Americans is callously brushed off with an “it is what it is,” or even worse, the sentiment that many of these deaths were “old or sick people” who were just going to “die anyway.” Such a pro-life point of view!
The economic realities tied to abortion are utterly ignored by so many Christians and conservatives. In their “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps” mindset, people who are poor and struggling must be in that situation because of their own doing. A family I know from my children’s school recently lost their 19 year-old son who was born with a profound genetic disorder that resulted in him being in diapers, a wheelchair, and needing constant care for his whole life. They point to the fact that he wasn’t supposed to live so long as a reason for their determined pro-life stance. It is beautiful for them that they had a son that they loved and got to spend 19 years with. But the reality is that they were financially well-off and could afford for his mom to stay home with him, to have 2 additional children, and take care of all of his health care needs. They had a strong community support system to help as well. They were undoubtedly very blessed in all of this. However, not all families are in this same situation. When less fortunate couples receive such a diagnosis during pregnancy, if they realize are not going to be able to take care of this very ill child, they find themselves in an impossible, perhaps heartbreaking, position.
This leads in to the often haphazardly tossed off-references to adoption as a simple solution to abolishing abortion. But are people lining up to adopt very ill children? Drug addicted children? The reality is that parents typically want to adopt want a healthy, white, infant, as is evidenced by the more than 400,000 children (many of whom are children of color) currently in foster care in the United States. Adoption can be wonderful, but it is naïve to present that as the ultimate solution to solving the issue of abortion.
The bottom line is that voting pro-life is an easy way for many people to feel good about themselves, to feel they are pleasing God, without actually having to do the hard work of what it truly means to be pro-life. They can mark off their ballot for conservative candidates without a second thought, and go on their merry, self-righteous way. This election in particular magnifies the very real issues that many Americans are facing related to jobs, health care access, COVID-19 response, racism, mental health issues, and on and on.
I was encouraged to read this opinion piece in the Washington Post from a pro-life evangelical. It is time for people who claim to be “pro-life” to truly own that moniker and start acting accordingly.