The right to life is mine

By Pearl Benjamin | May 30, 2019

The United States is not “the land of the free." We are not “free” when there is no equal rights amendment in our Constitution. We are not “free” when all men are created equal, but not all people. We are not “free” when women are taunted and punished for reporting sexual assault. We are not “free” when women are unable to make medical decisions about their own bodies.

How are we still divided on the issue of abortion? Why am I still having debates with boys in my classes who tell me a simple medical procedure is murder? Why do I hear about a new state enacting an abortion ban every day? I don’t understand how we could possibly still be arguing over something that links so closely to our country’s constitutional ideals of liberty and equality. Abortion is a right provided to every person with a uterus, just as getting a vasectomy is a right for every person with testicles, and getting knee surgery is a right to all people with knees. So where did the so-called “pro-life” argument come from? The truth is, there was never any true argument for “the right to life.” The anti-abortion argument was born out of racism and insecurity, and continues to follow those same themes today.

The American Historian magazine recounts that the first anti-abortion movement to adopt the “right to life” slogan in an effort to appeal to individual liberty was a group of physicians in the mid-19th century who were anxious about their professional status. Around that time, physicians were dealing with heightened competition from new medical specialists who suddenly cornered the market on issues like women’s reproductive health care. Many physicians sought governmental licensing and regulation on abortion procedures in an effort to eliminate the competition. This movement was eventually what banned abortion in the United States until Roe v. Wade.

In his 2014 article “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” author and historian Randall Balmer details the beginnings of a new and more powerful “pro-life” movement crafted by evangelical leaders in the mid 1970s. The sudden rise of the movement was timed to coincide with President Jimmy Carter’s run for a second term as president. Evangelical leaders were opposed to Carter’s reelection because his administration had cut tax exemptions for high-profile Christian academies including Bob Jones University and Lynchburg Christian School, a school that still declared itself “whites-only.”

The move angered conservative activists like Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich, who had been trying to find a way to promote his segregationist ideals more widely. He decided to use the insecurity behind the recent Roe V. Wade decision to fuel his rally for a new, conservative government that would protect and support private segregationist Christian schools. Weyrich wrote: “The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition.”

The post-Roe pro-life movement was founded on propaganda and purely political motives. The attack on women’s reproductive rights was never about the “life” of the unborn child. If it were, so-called pro-life activists would fight for the things that are actually proven to reduce rates of abortion and increase rates of healthy, wanted children, like sex education, free contraception, affordable and accessible health care and child care and public preschool. But they do not, because the “right to life” movement is really just about power, manifesting in a thinly-veiled attack on rising feminism, a criminalization of women’s bodies, a foot on the neck of the poor and a desperate attempt to keep that power out of the hands of people like me.

Remnants of the anti-abortion movement’s corrupt past are still present in today’s politics. In 1999, Donald Trump declared himself pro-choice in an interview with NBC News, stating: “I am pro-choice in every respect as far as it goes.” Trump changed his view around the time he first considered a run for president in 2012. Now, he states on Twitter: “I am strongly pro-life.” It’s apparent that Trump, like many other political figures throughout the history of the abortion rights conflict, used the issue to gain the support of the conservative right in his run for office.

Racism and segregationist views are also still visible in the modern pro-life movement. It’s not a coincidence that anti-abortion laws are being pushed almost exclusively by white male legislators and it’s also notable that the states attempting to ban abortion have higher concentrations of black women than the rest of the country. When people in power are threatened by minorities, they use their privilege to regulate them in any way possible. Maybe this racism isn’t quite as blatant as it was at the time of segregationist private schools, but it’s still there and it’s still oppressing people of color throughout the country.

I’m not saying all those who self-identify as “pro-life” are racist or have ulterior motives. I think that many abortion opponents, especially the ones my age, believe they are doing the right thing. They value life in all forms and want to fight for it. So when someone says “right to life,” they join the rally. They are swept up by an old propaganda tactic and their intentions are misguided. The value of life should really be focused on the health and safety of pregnant people, their willingness and ability to carry a pregnancy to term, and the protection of their freedom to make the health care decisions that are right for their individual circumstance, including the decision to end a pregnancy.

I deserve the right to make decisions for my own body, and so do you. I must be trusted to do what is right for me. I hope that we all can learn to respect each other’s decisions and think about the origins of the argument before we jump into a debate that shouldn’t even exist. A person who is forced to give birth is not “free.” A person who is restricted from determining the course of their own life is not “free.” If we really want to live in the “land of the free, we need to put in the work to protect reproductive rights.

Because when you value freedom, you value life.

Pearl Benjamin is an 11th-grade student at the Watershed School.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | May 30, 2019 12:54

Kudos to you Pearl. Honest, concise and factual!  Carol, thank you for sharing and love to you and constant healing.

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever +:)

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 30, 2019 09:25

Proud of Pearl.  Had to read this several times since there is so much to give thoughtful consideration. 

God gave us all free will and man has been trying to take it back ever since.

Posted by: Ananur Forma | May 30, 2019 09:21

as always, Pearl well written and passionately stated. You've got BIG talent. I enjoy learning how the teens are thinking.

When I was married and already separated age 21, my soon to be ex told me he felt that my IUD was slipping down. I went to my doctor Selig Neubauer in New Rochelle NY (Dr. Neubauer had written a controversial book (was on TV interviewed by Dick Cavett) 1969 about women's rights to choose, and the choices. He set me up for an abortion in the hospital, at one week pregnant.  The nurses avoided me. He may have said I had a strange disease or that I was "mentally disturbed, and sometimes prone to violence." Don't know what story he made up to get me in the hospital to perform the needed abortion.  Thank goodness for him because I was so young. I had one child. I was about to get divorced and was emotionally unstable and grieving the loss of my idealism... and first love,marriage. This was 1970 June. I would like to see ALL pro-life people sign up to adopt the children they want to be born. period. This is a big deal and need not be decided by  men.

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