For continuing coverage of how COVID-19 is affecting reproductive health, check out our Special Report.
During a prerecorded address to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday, President Donald Trump promised to sign a “born alive” executive order. The order is based on the lie that babies “born alive” after a failed abortion (a scenario that is incredibly unlikely) need to be protected from infanticide (something that is already illegal).
It is a political stunt, just like the similar bills congressional Republicans keep introducing. This order is meant to excite Trump’s most fervent base: conservative Christians who oppose constitutionally protected abortion access more than they oppose a man who embodies the very antithesis of their Jesus Christ and his biblical teachings.
Trump will waste taxpayer time and money on this order for one reason: to appear sufficiently “pro-life” ahead of a contentious election. But as he continues to oversee the deaths of more than 200,000 people—the direct result of the president’s purposeful inaction to stop the spread of COVID-19—the numerous times he lied to the public about the severity of the disease, and his egregious inability to rise above his own self-interests to meet this unparalleled moment in global history underscore the utter meaninglessness of the term “pro-life.” It has always been a misnomer. And now, under the Trump administration, the term has become nothing short of a parody.
The term “pro-life” was likely coined by A.S. Neill, the headmaster of a progressive English boarding school, in his 1960 book Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing. “No pro-life citizen would tolerate our penal code, our hangings, our punishments of homosexuals, our attitudes towards bastardy,” Neil wrote, describing his philosophy of anti-authoritarian education.
But anti-abortion activists co-opted the term, and by the time Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, “pro-life” had become synonymous with the anti-abortion movement. Those who would see the government force pregnant people to give birth—perhaps under penalty of incarceration and even death—found a way to convince the public that mandating childbirth was somehow honoring the “sanctity of life.”
Of course, example after exhausting example highlight that to consider yourself “pro-life” is to actively work to harm, destroy, and diminish the lives of pregnant people and their families.
The states with the strictest abortion laws also have the highest maternal and infant mortality rates, yet GOP politicians work feverishly to pass more anti-abortion laws every chance they get—proof that what happens to a person once they’re no longer pregnant is of no consequence to them, and what happens to a fetus once it exits the womb is of no concern.
Denying a pregnant person abortion care puts them at greater risk of poverty, mental health issues, and food insecurity, and it negatively impacts their existing children’s physical and developmental health. By aiming to shut down clinics that provide abortion care and enacting even greater barriers to access, these politicians are not defending life; they’re actively engaging in the degradation of the lives and overall well-being of countless families, predominantly Black, brown, and poor.
When Republicans ask the Supreme Court to reinstate unnecessary restrictions on medication abortion during an ongoing public health crisis, forcing abortion patients to travel long distances and enter clinics instead of having abortions safely in their home, being “pro-life” means putting people at risk of contracting a virus ten times deadlier than the flu.
When we live in a country that claims the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation, yet powerful people seek to ban a common medical procedure 14 times safer than childbirth, 40 times safer than a colonoscopy, and significantly safer than getting your tonsils or wisdom teeth removed, it’s not “life” they’re defending. It’s the destruction of legally recognized bodily autonomy.
When immigrant women are reportedly having their uteruses removed without their consent or knowledge at an ICE detention center, it isn’t motherhood the GOP considers sacred: It’s the unbridled control of Black and brown bodies.
And when elected officials champion anti-abortion laws in public while privately coercing their secret girlfriend to have abortions, it’s not “life” they want to protect so much as it is the ability for only a certain select, privileged few to terminate their unwanted pregnancies.
Some anti-abortion zealots have called for abortion providers and the pregnant people who receive their care to be legally executed. Elected officials have attempted to force doctors to suggest dangerous, unproven “abortion reversal” to patients—a fake treatment that has resulted in patients hospitalized for “severe vaginal bleeding.” Republicans hail white supremacists as “very fine people” and celebrate radicalized gun aficionados for shooting and killing protesters, but they demonize OB-GYNs who make it possible for pregnant people to decide if and when they become parents.
This blatant hypocrisy is nothing new. Anti-choice activists have a long, tainted history of harassing, threatening, harming, bombing, and murdering abortion providers and the pregnant people who seek out their care. And sadly, that history is far from ancient: In 2015, doctored videos hawked by anti-abortion groups inspired a man to shoot and kill three people inside a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. And just a year after Trump took office in 2016, death threats, intimidation, and harassment of abortion providers and clinicians had more than doubled.
But the anti-abortion movement’s sanctimony has taken on a whole new insidious form under the presidency of a man who just uses this rhetoric for personal and policial gain; who happily separated more than 5,400 immigrant children from their mothers and fathers; and who purposefully lied to the public about the severity of a virus that has caused unfathomable death, boundless economic insecurity, historic job losses, and a devastating eviction crisis.
The only way to truly be “pro-life” is to ensure everyone who wants an abortion can have one.