Abortion Providers Are the Ones Who Are Really “Pro-Life”

I’ve always bristled when discussions of the legality and morality of abortion are reduced to simplistic “pro-choice vs. pro-life” rhetoric. Neither term accurately reflects the stances of either side, nor does the crude terminology address many of the questions that the debate raises. Framing the discussion in terms of “abortion rights vs. anti-abortion” much more accurately portrays both sides and centers the question of whether abortion is a right at the heart of the debate. But when anti-abortion protesters resort to threatening and killing people, as Robert L. Dear, Jr., did in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on November 27, they do not get to label themselves “pro-life.” There is nothing “pro-life” about murdering and wounding innocent people seeking healthcare and the law enforcement officials protecting them.

For five hours, Dear terrorized hundreds of people in a shopping center when he began shooting in a Planned Parenthood parking lot. Dear killed three people: Jennifer Markovsky, a mother of two; Ke’Arre Stewart, a father and an Iraq war veteran; and Garrett Swasey, a police officer. He injured nine others. Law enforcement reports that as he was being apprehended at the scene, he commented, “No more baby parts.” While Dear’s actions are extreme, they are in some ways merely an escalation of the daily threats and intimidations lobbed at Planned Parenthood clinics around the country. Since July, four clinics have experienced arson attacks. Hate speech against Planned Parenthood providers has escalated since the release of heavily-edited videos by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group linked to the extremist group Operation Rescue, which has called for the state to execute abortion providers.

Despite the claims of Fox News, which has attempted to distance the anti-abortion movement from last week’s attack, violence does not happen in a vacuum—not even violence carried out by a mentally unstable individual as Dear likely is. When those who oppose abortion rights call for the deaths of healthcare providers and dismiss the women who seek their services, they dehumanize these people and allow individuals like Dear to justify killing them. And when they do so, they must give up the label “pro-life.” Calling for death does not in any way promote life, nor does ascribing to an ideology that gives more worth to an embryo than to a living person.

Being truly “pro-life” means nurturing and promoting life by providing healthcare services, even to those who cannot pay for it. Being pro-life means empowering individuals to not only exist but to thrive, whether it’s by offering abortion services so that they do not need to carry an unwanted pregnancy or by providing counseling services to LGBTQ youth so that they can come to terms with their sexual orientation and gender identity. It means enabling people to make informed decisions about their sexual health by making contraceptives available to them. And it means screening high-risk individuals for cancer so that the disease can be detected early and treated more effectively. Planned Parenthood does all of these things and more. The anti-abortion movement and the Religious Right supporting it merely shame and threaten women and the LGBTQ individuals who benefit from Planned Parenthood’s services.

In the wake of the Planned Parenthood shootings, conservatives have been attempting to dismiss the accusations from feminists and humanists that anti-abortion rhetoric played a role in Dear’s actions. We must vigilantly counter this dismissal with the fact that demonizing abortion providers allows such violence to happen. We must also not let anti-abortion protestors hide behind the label of “pro-life.” When they use rhetoric that excuses a man for taking three lives, they are not “pro-life.”

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