Why I'm Pro-Life, a Christian, and a Democrat (Deep South Daily)

Photo by Yosef Hadar / World Bank (Flickr).

[dropcap letter=”I”] grew up in Mississippi-the heart of the conservative South-and was raised by evangelical Baptist parents. Naturally, I grew up a Christian Republican. For me, like many others, Christianity and the GOP were inextricably linked. I went to church on Sundays, listened to Rush Limbaugh in the afternoon, and if I wanted to watch the news, Fox News was basically extended holy scripture. I was raised to believe that liberals hated Christians, political correctness took God out of everything, and by damn, we’re a Christian Nation.

My fascination with politics began while I was still a teenager, during the 2008 presidential primaries. Of course, I dismissed the Democrat’s primaries as a joke; they only wanted to enable the lazy and poor on welfare, to weaken our military, raise taxes on everyone, and murder babies-or that’s what Sean Hannity told me, at least. I went into college pro-war, pro-life, and had a McCain/Palin sticker on the back of my 4-wheel-drive SUV. But then life intervened. I began to question the correlation between being a Christian and being a conservative, and I realized that my views of compassion were incompatible with the hollow ‘Christian’ notions espoused by the majority of right-wing evangelical politicians.

For example, my home state of Mississippi just erected an 18-ton, 110 foot cross, next to an all-you-can-eat buffet, which cost around $170,000. Though the cross was privately funded, my state’s leading officials, our governor, lieutenant governor, and congressmen all attended its dedication. Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation and 21.7% of our population lives in poverty. Somehow, it is deemed praiseworthy and admirable by my state’s officials when someone spends nearly $200,000 on a giant cross instead of using that money to help the poorest and most in-need within our own communities.

This attitude, one could argue, is in direct contradiction with what that cross actually stands for. In Matthew 6, Jesus said: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven”, and in Matthew 23 He criticizes the Pharisees’ hypocrisy: “For they don’t practice what they teach… everything they do is for show.”

While seeing things like this made me sad about how my faith was being represented, it made me angrier that Christianity itself was being tied to a warped political ideology so far from what it actually symbolizes. Helping and welcoming those who are marginalized, giving to the poor, and loving your neighbor as yourself-these are the lessons of Christianity that became the crux of my newly formed political beliefs. Despite my shift from right to left-wing, I retained one political idiom from my conservative background: I still consider myself pro-life.

Photo by benuski (Flickr)

Photo by benuski (Flickr)

This term, pro-life, is an interesting one. When it first entered popular consciousness, it was actually coined by far-left Roman Catholics during the Vietnam War, for those protesting not only the war, but also abortion and the death penalty. In the pre-Roe v Wade era, this moniker was adopted by the anti-abortion movement, allowing them to sound like they were not decidedly against anything, but rather that they were for something-life. One of its earliest recorded uses was in the Chicago Tribune in 1971, in an article about the University of Minnesota’s anti-abortion student group call Save Our Unwanted Life (SOUL). The article said that for a liberal “[t]o be pro-life you have to be for all life.” Since proponents of legal abortion couldn’t very well flip the term and call themselves anti-life or pro-death, the common nomenclature or the opposition became pro-choice.

Personally, I had always supported legal abortion in the case of rape or incest. The argument that a pregnancy from rape could still be a “blessing” was staggering to me. With two degrees in psychology, I can tell you that for a hypothetical teenage rape victim to be forced to drop out of school, go through a pregnancy, and be stigmatized by her community can be as traumatic as the rape itself. No one should have to go through that without options.

Speaking of stigma, whether one agrees with a woman’s right to an abortion or not, the scare tactics deployed against it are certainly disconcerting. I remember in Sunday School during 8th grade when my teacher talked to an all-male class about “tough topics.” One was abortion. When he went into the details of what he vaguely described as “an abortion,” it was incredibly gruesome. It was not until much later in life that I realized the brutal details he described were not only outdated, but also strictly for late-term abortions, which only accounts for around 1.4% of abortions performed in America. But the point of that lesson wasn’t to educate us; it was to convince us that every single abortion, no matter the situation, is a bloody, brutal murder.

Whether you support abortion or not, it’s legal, and that doesn’t seem likely to change. It seems like common sense, then, that opponents of abortion would support, by all means, the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. Instead, it is the Democrats-not the Republicans-who support easier access to birth control, contraception, and sex education in schools beyond abstinence only. Lack of access to these resources is especially harmful to the poorest Americans, who have even less access to birth control and contraception. A 2005 poll by the Guttmacher Institute showed that 73% of the 1,203 women polled had an abortion because they couldn’t afford to support a child at that time. Of course, this doesn’t tell us how many of those would have chosen not to abort their pregnancy if they did have financial support. Ultimately, though, with 22% of children in our country living in poverty, this is an issue much larger than just abortion.

When I vocally support a political candidate, I make sure that they are, by my definition, pro-life. The thing is, life is much more than just an embryo. I want to support someone who is against the death penalty. That person’s life, no matter their mistakes, is still a life. And as a Christian, I do not believe it my right, or anyone else’s right, to decide to end that person’s life. A recent study shows that as many as 4.1% of people sentenced to death in America were actually innocent. That’s upwards of 300 people killed for being wrongly convicted. That statistic makes me sick to my stomach.

I want a candidate who is for the lives of innocent people in the Middle East. A study by Brown University showed that at least 132,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan alone due to the war on terror. These are lives that matter. Lives that were ended too early and without reason. Just as prisoners of war’s lives matter-even if they have committed atrocities, no one deserves to have pasta and hummus “rectally fed” to them as a form of torture, as was the case under the Bush administration. As the most powerful country in the world, we should lead by example when it comes to war, and not flagrantly dismiss the thousands of lost innocent lives and nonchalantly chalk horrendous torture up to the victims being the “bad guys.”

Photo by luna715 (Flickr).

It’s estimated that in 2013 around 2,600 abortions were performed per day in the United States. To me, that’s not a good thing, but much like the topic itself, the solution is not black and white. Banning abortion will not end abortions. It will drive those in unthinkable circumstances to have it done illegally or do it themselves, putting the mother’s life at great risk. While 2,600 is a high number, the United States is currently 29th in infant mortality, and Mississippi, with its decades of conservative leadership, ranks somewhere between Botswana and Bahrain.

Conservatives want to cut money that goes towards welfare and programs for the poor, a demographic in which infant mortality is at its highest. What about their lives? In America 28,000 babies die each year as a result of economic inequality and lack of healthcare access, where in 2008 nearly 10 million children were uninsured. While Obamacare is far from perfect, it has seen us to a record low uninsured rate of 11.9 percent. Republicans say they want to completely repeal it. What will happen to the millions of newly insured children in impoverished families if they do? What about their lives? Where are the conservative politicians advocating for healthcare for poor, unemployed, and disabled American citizens? Instead, they insist we already have the best healthcare system in the world (a distinction that actually belongs to France, according the World Health Organization, where we rank a lowly 37th, behind Chile, Costa Rica, and Columbia).

None of this is to say all these other atrocities make abortion okay. Every single abortion that happens breaks my heart. It is easy to argue that some pro-choice advocates on the left have become callous about the topic of abortion, making it more of a political talking point or gender equality rallying cry than the extremely complex issue it is. But life is more than just what is created at conception, no matter your definition, and I can’t help but shake my head in disgust when most Republicans tout themselves as pro-life but want to limit healthcare, participate in endless wars, support the death penalty, refuse even a modicum of gun control, and push to cut money from the poorest, most helpless Americans.

I firmly believe that the idea of being pro-life should not only be incredibly important to Christians, but also to every person with compassion for human lives. When you cast your vote for a politician, certainly support a candidate who is pro-life. The question, though, is whose lives are they “pro”? As the Chicago Tribune printed in 1971, to be pro-life, you have to be for all life.