There was a version of myself that would have celebrated – nay, even have fought for – the overturning of Roe v. Wade. There was a version of myself that earnestly believed that having federally protected access to safe abortion was a scourge on America that needed to be remedied as soon as possible.
There was a version of myself that didn’t know better.
Having grown up in the echo chamber that is American Evangelicalism, I can say with confidence that the pro-life indoctrination is as prolific as it is insidious. I annually visited my local crisis pregnancy center with church groups. I also vividly remember fighting at the lunch table pre-2008 election with my “worldly” public school friends – advocating against an Obama presidency specifically (and only) because he was pro-choice. I didn’t know his stances on any other issue – nor could I tell you any other specifics of McCain’s platform. It was irrelevant. I felt knowing their stance on this single issue was enough.
Upon receiving pushback from my friends, I visited the library after school one day to do some “research.” I am nothing if not spiteful. However, my endeavor was not in good faith – I was there to find facts that would irrefutably prove my pro-life position (a position I felt preemptively totally justified in having in spite of never having engaged with the information surrounding this issue in any sort of academic capacity.) I was there to confirm my bias, and the internet was already rife with pro-life organizations eager to do just that. Even at the time, I was educated enough to be aware that I wasn’t able to come by the information I did find honestly because my sources were clearly persuaded in the same direction I was. However, I was hard-pressed to find what I was looking for outside that closed feedback loop (a first red flag of many) so I went ahead and cobbled together a list of alleged statistics anyway. The ends justify the means, or so the saying goes. After all, what’s one bad faith “research” session against saving fetuses?
Newly empowered in my pro-life position and armed with my printed list, I returned to the battleground of the lunch table. After giving an impassioned address to my friends based on the aforementioned “statistics,” my friends asked that we discontinue having this ongoing conversation, indicating that their mind was as stubbornly made up as mine, and no amount of conversing could or would change that. While I silently seethed at their close-mindedness while denying my exhibition of the same, I respected the boundary nonetheless.
Looking back now on what I can recollect of the statistics I gathered then, both the fallacies therein and the misogyny is glaring – but I was not yet equipped to engage with the information in such a way that those things would be exposed. I remember specifically being scandalized at the time by the statistic that claimed that 98% of all abortions were done in response to the baby’s conception being an “inconvenience” to the mother – that only 2% of abortions were done in response to a pregnancy resulting from incest or rape. However, no parameters were given to indicate how that statistic was measured – what was quantified as an inconvenience? What was the sample size used to pull these numbers? Was any nuance or deference given to the differences in class amongst the people observed to arrive at this percentage? Who was asking the question to begin with and why, and collecting the data? Not to mention the fact that rape is not reported at the rate at which it occurs, so there was also no way to ensure accuracy on how implantation occurred in the first place.
Statistics are only as good as the metrics that are used to measure them. If you think that they can’t be readily manipulated to push an agenda, you must never have talked to an American Evangelical about the Bible.
Unfortunately, a few debates with my friends over lunch in 9th grade was not sufficient to turn a lifetime of pro-life indoctrination on its ear. In fact, their resistance to my position only served at the time to further confirm the importance of maintaining it – they had subscribed to the mainstream narrative, meanwhile, I was “in the world but not of it.” I was fighting the good fight, supernaturally resilient to the liberal manipulation they had succumbed to – ignorant of how manipulated I’d been, aware only that there were social consequences in my sphere when pressing this issue, and social rewards for citing the party line. Ironically, maintaining a pro-life politic was treated as indicative of thinking for one’s self – which couldn’t be a more dishonest representation of the truth of what was happening against the context I was in.
I maintained a pro-life politic well into college – each assault on my deeply held belief only resulting in – on the surface at least – further doubling down. Inwardly, however, the more I learned, the more I was embroiled in cognitive dissonance. (Evangelicals are right, an educated woman is a dangerous one. This is why we have to be subjugated lest we learn to advocate for ourselves and others…lest we learn how angry we actually are.) Unfortunately, once I started engaging with facts beyond my echo chamber, the threads holding together my pro-life politic began to unravel. The data available just did not reinforce my beliefs, however sincerely they were held.
As a child, I had been taught that overturning Roe v. Wade would lower abortion rates, which was preached on as the ultimate goal. However, that has been shown to be statistically untrue over and over again. Making abortion illegal does not lower the rate at which abortion occurs, it only makes the procedure more dangerous and creates legal justification to criminalize the people who get them (regardless of the reason, even if the procedure was medically necessary.) So this begs the question – why the hyperfixation on overturning a Supreme Court ruling when it wouldn’t even accomplish the alleged intended goal in doing so? Why not an ongoing, more concentrated effort in creating a society conducive to and supportive of life, instead of focusing almost exclusively on doing the one thing that would do the least?
For me, learning that a change in federal policy wouldn’t result in lower abortion rates was the final straw that broke the fraying web that lingered of my pro-life politic. I was unable to recover from the intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy of the movement. I had been told it was about saving babies, and I believed them. But it wasn’t – and it never was. If it had been, the focus of the pro-life movement would have been altogether different from the beginning. This was about policing bodies with uteruses, and it always had been. I could no longer pretend that didn’t implicate me too.
I was once a good Christian girl who ignored my cognitive dissonance and swallowed both my questions and my discomfort. No more.
I still consider myself ethically pro-life, which is why, politically, I have become pro-choice. I don’t believe in ignoring the personhood of the person in front of you in deference to the potential of life they may or may not be carrying. I believe there is more nuance and tension here than a blanket abortion ban can possibly hold. Furthermore, the government does not need additional ammunition or justification to criminalize women – especially Black women and women of color. The principalities and powers of racism and misogyny are still very real and at large – and will absolutely inform how this is applied. Victims of domestic violence – disproportionately women – will be further punished and scrutinized by the system, as well as deterred from getting help in light of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as most documentations of abuse (if any exist at all) are embedded in medical records – a professional file of the injuries sustained at the hands of their abuser that were severe enough to require a hospital visit.
I know there are already people claiming those saying that women will be arrested over miscarriages is hyperbolic – to them I say that it was already happening prior to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in states like Texas; you are simply not paying attention. I wish I still retained your optimism in the American government’s capacity to do the right thing – but to do so is at once ignorant and dangerous. I know too much at this point to pretend to know less.
There is so much more I could say on this issue, but I am so disheartened and angry by the overturning of Roe v. Wade that I am finding words lacking. I know how deep the pro-life indoctrination goes in Evangelical circles – I lived it. And then I lived through a Trump presidency that was directly borne out of it. I recently went to a vigil intended to hold space for the collectively embodied trauma and rage that so many of us are experiencing in the fall-out of this decision – and I found myself wondering what my life would be like if I didn’t have to spend so much of it in protest, begging for my humanity and the humanity of others to be seen and valued. It feels like all I’ve done for the past few years is protest. Meanwhile, decisions keep rolling down Capitol Hill like millstones, crushing us in their wake, and those that raised me are celebrating.
One thought on “On the Overturning of Roe v. Wade: Confessions of a Former Pro-Life Evangelical”
I always enjoy reading your thoughts, Amy. I have enjoyed it since you were a third grader. You were an amazing writer then and you continue to share some very powerful words. Thank you.