In Glossip v. Gross, the United States Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the use of a lethal injection drug that might not prevent pain violates the Constitutional prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” Last week,  Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, found that it doesn’t because hey, lots of people die painful deaths. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Our decisions in this area have been animated in part by the recognition that because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional, “[i]t necessarily follows that there must be a [constitutional] means of carrying it out.” And because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether.

Pro-lifers, does this argument sound familiar? It should. It’s the pro-execution equivalent of “over half of pregnancies end in miscarriage, so who really cares about killing an embryo?” It’s wrong in both instances, for the obvious reason that not everything that happens naturally is OK to do to another person. Everyone dies, one way or another, but we still have a responsibility not to deliberately or recklessly take their lives. Everyone experiences pain, but it’s wrong to be cruel. Everyone’s life ends, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter how.

“Face it, blacks. Michael Brown let you down.”

Does that headline get your hackles up? It got mine up. But then I read the article, and it was devastating. The author describes the experience of hoping that this time, someone would care that an unarmed black kid had been killed by the police. Maybe this time, someone would think that Mike Brown — and his community — had gotten far worse than they deserved. Until people went looking for reasons why he must have brought it on himself.

For a moment there, things were looking pretty good. A boy shot multiple times with his hands up. College bound. Poor. Innocent. And in response: helicopters and tanks. Maybe this time, we thought, they would believe us.

But that’s all been ruined.

We now have all sorts of reasons to make us doubt Brown’s humanity. He may have stolen some cigarillos. He may have been facing the officer when he was shot. He got shot in the top of the head, which might mean that he was surrendering, or might mean he was being defiant. He made amateur rap songs. Perhaps worst of all, he’s been caught grimacing at a camera making a contorted peace sign, and it turns out that he was pretty tall.

And Fox News has been trying to cast doubt on whether he was actually going to go to college in the first place.

All signs that his life was worth less than we might have hoped.

The inevitable had happened. Apologists for police violence had successfully painted Mike Brown as a “thug” who deserved what he got. If the question is “what could a black person do that would make their death not their own fault?”, there’s no answer. The question should be “why are black people required to prove — over and over again, in a rigged game — that they don’t deserve to be killed?”

Remember literacy tests for voting? They were ostensibly in place to ensure that applicants were educated enough to qualify as voters. But in reality:

Determination of who “passed” and who “failed” was entirely up to the whim of the Registrar of Voters — all of whom were white. In actuality, whites almost always “passed” no matter how many questions they missed, and Blacks almost always “failed’ in the selective judgement of the Registrar.

If you don’t want to grant someone a status in the first place, any excuse to revoke it will do. So it is with the right not to be killed. If people wanted to see an 18-year-old black man as a fully human person deserving of the right to life, then video of him allegedly swiping a handful of cigars and shoving a store clerk wouldn’t change that. Photos of him making a hand signal wouldn’t change that. Rap lyrics wouldn’t change that. That he was tall and heavy wouldn’t change that. How do I know? Because white people miss those questions on the humanity test, as it were, all the time without being dismissed as thugs who need killing.

For obvious reasons, nobody who considers themselves pro-life should embrace an ideology that requires human beings to pass tests to be considered worthy of living.

And speaking of pro-life, consider this: In the United States, the abortion rate is highest among black women. Black women in America have 40 abortions per 100,000 women — almost 4 times the rate among non-Hispanic white women. That’s 360,000 black lives ending in abortion every year. That’s who knows how many black women ending up in clinics like Kermit Gosnell’s. How many of those abortions would have been avoided if black Americans, on average, had the same healthcare, access to resources, and life prospects as white Americans? If we acted like black lives, born and unborn, really matter?

Personally, not speaking for All Our Lives as a whole, I feel a deep ambivalence about the focus on the Roe v. Wade anniversary in general and the March for Life in particular. That said, All Our Lives believes that being pro-life means being pro-everybody’s-life. That’s why we support the For Peace & ALL Life Meetup and March group at today’s event. Thanks for representing, folks, and keep warm!

All Our Lives will not have a presence of its own at the 2013 March for Life, but we are co-sponsoring the “For Peace & ALL Life” meetup/march group. It will be a great opportunity to meet other consistent life/whole life proponents.

Co-sponsored by Life Matters Journal, Secular Pro-Life, Consistent Life, Students for a Fair Society and continuing to seek other partners in the meetup/marching event!The March for Life is often portrayed and publicized as an event to protest against the (legal) killing of the preborn human among us. But what if it meant something more? What if the rallying cry in our ranks was one that stood for peace and all life? What if we stood not only for the preborn, but for the criminal, the prisoners of war, innocent civilians everywhere, the aged and the disabled, the depressed and the bullied, people of every race, gender, faith, sexuality, size, level of dependency, location, nationality?

If you are a supporter of the Consistent Ethic of Life, or just want to see our world engaged in a conversation that does not exclude any human life from consideration, please join us for a meetup and march with us at the March for Life. We represent the fullness of the pro-life mission!

The plan is merely to have a space and a time to share in the community of our little movement that encompasses the anti-abortion cause, but to be strengthened in the knowledge that we are not alone. Network with others in the CL cause, learn about opportunities available, and help to spread the message for peace and all life!

At the conference held for the 25th anniversary of Consistent Life (of which All Our Lives is a member group), Mary spoke with Elizabeth Palmberg about her views on how abortion relates to issues of reproductive justice faced by women, as well as to other forms of lifetaking. This interview is reprinted, with permission, from the Fall 2012 newsletter of Consistent Life.

When I was small, I had a strong intuition that all lives are sacred. And I heard about women’s liberation; I heard the feminists burned bras, and this and that and the other thing, but there was something about it that, inside, made me cheer. I was always kind of a free spirit. What I learned in college, at Bryn Mawr, was that if you’re for women’s rights, you have to be pro-choice— something about that just didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t know many people who felt the same way who would talk about it. I came from a very conservative background, and I came out of college feeling that some of my earlier moral and political intuitions were validated by feminism and progressive politics. But this issue of abortion—I just could not get away from the feeling that this is violence and it arises from injustice against women.

I wanted to do something about violence, but I felt very discontent with the pro-life movement as such. I became a social worker and worked in pregnancy care services. When I became too disabled to work a “normal” job, I went to being a writer and editor; one of my specializations is recovering lost history.

I’ve written on black history, Polish-American history. And I’ve done work on early feminists—even though the situation is different today, obviously, they have a very keen analysis, that still holds, why women have unintended pregnancies and abortions.

Two years ago Jennifer Roth and I co-founded a group called All Our Lives; we very consciously take a reproductive justice approach. Reproductive justice is a movement that arose from women of color, people with disabilities, people with a working-class perspective. Reproductive justice involves having not only the right to have a child but the social power to exercise that right, to raise the children we have in safety, and it also includes the right not to have a child.

Many people who identify with reproductive justice take a pro-choice stand on abortion, but there are many of us who don’t. Loretta Ross, the head of SisterSong, a very influential reproductive justice organization, talks about “perfect choice.” If everyone had the means to do what they wanted to do reproductively and sexually, that would be the state of perfect choice. Some people believe that in that state there would still be abortions, and others of us think that it would be rare to nonexistent.

So that’s why we started All Our Lives, and we’ve had very interesting dialogues, mostly behind the scenes, with both pro-life and pro-choice people. One thing that we’re finding is a niche that nobody’s taken up is that a lot of scientific research now suggests that methods that were considered abortifacient really aren’t—there is so much resistance to hearing that perspective. We also have on our website a PowerPoint presentation called “Family Planning Freedom is Prolife.” It gives 10 reasons, many backed up with scientific studies. It addresses a lot of myths that both pro-life and pro-choice people have.

“As many as God sends us” is a family planning choice, and natural family planning is one, but the important thing is I don’t think “choice” is an empty word. Some people think it’s a cover for all abortion all the time, but I think it’s very real. You can’t just talk about choice in a vacuum; you have to talk about how it’s compromised by issues of race, gender, disability, class, sexual orientation. Environmental justice is one; a lot of women are losing their ability to conceive when they want to because of environmental toxins.

Believing that all life is sacred, that means women’s lives too, and that means we do have a right over our own bodies. Pro-lifers often interpret that as a selfish demand, but I [don’t.] I remember Muhammad Ali, when I was a little kid, boasting about how great he was; a lot of white people were saying, “God, this man has an ego!” But after living in a black community for a long time and having an interracial family, I realized that that’s not egotism—that’s saying, “I’m somebody, I have value.” That’s what women are saying when they say, “We have a right over our own bodies.”

Now with pregnancy, it’s a matter of two bodies, two lives. Our responsibility has two sides: one is responsibility for pregnant women and their children, and the other side is the responsibility to respect women’s right to prevent conception when they want to. That is a difficult thing to write in the pro-life movement. Some Catholics have objections; the other thing is the belief in something called the “contraceptive mentality,” that if your contraception fails, that you automatically have an abortion—that doesn’t explain millions of pregnancy outcomes. It certainly doesn’t explain why I had my daughter and why she had her son. I know lots of women who use contraception in the knowledge that it doesn’t always work as intended. But if it doesn’t work as intended, then you and your child have a right to everything that will help you both survive.

A lot of [the bridge-building we at All Our Lives have] done so far is behind the scenes. We find, in surprising places, opportunities to join with people who have a common concern. We have found pro-choice people who say, “I don’t agree with you on abortion, but I have respect for your perspective because it’s consistent, because you value women’s lives.” We found pro-lifers who say, “That’s exactly how I feel.” We share a lot of supporters with the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians. One very interesting thing is that women of color, even those who identify as pro-choice, really can relate to this perspective. There’s probably a lot of opportunity for common ground there.

We have a small board; most of us have disabilities. We’re all female; one of our board members is a woman and an independent ordained Catholic priest. We’re not anti-religious; we’re open to people of all faiths. I’m someone with Catholic and Protestant ancestry, and I also practice Buddhism, and Jen Roth is an atheist. We really try to bring in multiple perspectives, which can be difficult sometimes, but so far it’s worked out really well.

I was involved in Feminists for Life, I think, from 1986 until I resigned in 2007. I don’t quarrel with what they do—what they do is good—but I left specifically in protest of their inaction on pre-conception issues. [They] said [they] couldn’t come to a consensus because people disagree. I feel like we’ve worked out another approach. I kind of understand; Catholics in the United States, including my white ethnic ancestors, Polish and Irish, were targeted for eugenics, and that collective memory is still there. That legacy is one reason it’s hard to talk about birth control in the pro-life movement. But I think it needs to come more out in the open, it needs to heal.

As a multiply disabled person who depends on expensive medical care, I am really concerned about the threat euthanasia poses, especially to people on public assistance. I think disability rights folks—who are often not included in the debates, but we have had some impact—have gotten people to think about the fact [euthanasia often] isn’t a free choice; it can easily slide into coercion. As for the death penalty, I really think that’s tied into racism, it’s tied into poverty. I know a family with a member who was eventually exonerated, but he was on death row for something like 14 years. He was a young man, and he lost those years of his life. So that issue has a very human face to me. All these issues do.

War is very tied in. I know people who have gone into the military for very noble reasons: they want to serve their country, they know that some things are worth dying for. It’s unfortunate that they’re dying for such horrible reasons.

I see a parallel between that and a lot of women I know who’ve had abortions. They are not evil people; they are people trying, like all of us, to make the best of very bad situations. I know women who’ve had abortions who go to either the pro-life or the pro-choice movements, and I see good people in both groups. A lot of women feel they have to have an abortion because it preserves a relationship with a man, or with their parents. They are concerned about the situation they bring the child into. I just think it’s unfair that women are placed in that position to begin with, that the whole karmic burden is thrown on that woman and that child. We always talk about most of these issues in terms of individual rights, but what about collective responsibility? I think that’s where Americans really, really have gone wrong.

[Author’s note: this article was originally published in Life Matters Journal, Volume 2, Issue 1.]

The consistent life ethic is traditionally seen as a way to draw connections among issues that do not seem related at first glance, such as war, the death penalty, and abortion. However, the connections between forms of violence and injustice are sometimes more immediate. Recent research, including a study published in August 2012 by the Guttmacher Institute, has highlighted connections between intimate partner violence, poverty, and abortion.

Intimate partner violence and abortion

Multiple studies from countries around the world have established a link between intimate partner violence (sometimes also known as domestic violence) and unintended pregnancy and abortion.[i],[ii],[iii],[iv]

The increased abortion rate among women who have experienced intimate partner violence begins with an increased prevalence of unintended pregnancy. A health survey in Massachusetts found that 40% of women who reported being abused had experienced one or more unintended pregnancies in the past five years, compared to 8% of non-abused women.[v]

Women in abusive relationships who become pregnant face numerous pressures to abort. These include fear of being punished if their partner doesn’t welcome the pregnancy, fear that the child will be abused, and the belief that having a child will make it impossible to leave the abusive partner for good. Among women who had abortions in the United States in 2008, about 7% reported having been physically or sexually abused by their child’s father, compared with about 1% of women in the general population who report experiencing physical or sexual abuse in the previous 12 months.[vi]

Reproductive coercion

In 2010, University of California-Davis researcher Elizabeth Miller and colleagues conducted the largest study to date of a phenomenon Miller has termed reproductive coercion[vii]. Miller’s team surveyed women aged 16-29 seeking reproductive health services in five clinics in northern California. Of these women, 53% had ever been physically or sexually abused by a partner. Nineteen percent had experienced pregnancy coercion, defined as a male partner using emotional or physical pressure or threats to get a woman to agree to become pregnant. Fifteen percent had experienced birth control sabotage, in which their partner had deliberately interfered with their efforts to use birth control. Miller uses the umbrella term reproductive coercion to cover pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage.

Reproductive coercion is often associated with intimate partner violence and may partly explain why intimate partner violence is associated with high rates of unintended pregnancy.

Guttmacher study of “disruptive life events” and abortion

In August 2012, the Guttmacher Institute published a study in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care about the circumstances under which women have abortions. The researchers surveyed 9493 women who had abortions, and found that most had experienced at least one “disruptive life event” in the last year, such as unemployment, divorce or separation from a partner, getting behind on the rent or mortgage, moving two or more times, or having a baby.[viii]

The women in the study who were living in poverty experienced more disruptive life events – and hence, more abortions – than the women who were making greater than poverty incomes. Women living in poverty were also more likely to report having been physically or sexually abused by their partners.

In addition to the quantitative survey, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 49 women. Nearly half of these women said that disruptive events interfered with their ability to use contraception consistently. Women reported losing health insurance and having trouble affording prescription contraception and getting to doctor’s appointments. Consistent use, not simply any use of contraception, is key to preventing unintended pregnancy. Poverty and disruptive life events appeared to make consistent use more difficult.

There were no questions on the quantitative survey about reproductive coercion, but six of the 49 women interviewed in-depth reported experiencing it.

Conclusions

Intimate partner violence and poverty both make it more difficult for women to avoid unintended pregnancy and to carry to term if they become pregnant.

For pro-life advocates who are working to reduce the demand for abortion, these data suggest two courses of action. The first is working to end poverty and abuse themselves, and ensuring a strong social safety net to buffer against the effects of disruptive life events. Second, it is also important to ensure that women currently experiencing poverty and abuse have the information and health care access they need to prevent unintended pregnancy, as well as social and material support if they do conceive.

Mitigating the effects of injustice and working to end the injustice itself are not mutually exclusive approaches. As one example, Elizabeth Miller and colleagues reported in 2011 on a pilot program that tested a new harm reduction intervention for women experiencing abuse or reproductive coercion.[ix] Their intervention enhanced standard intimate partner violence counseling with information on reproductive coercion and strategies for minimizing the risk of unintended pregnancy by using birth control methods that were concealable or hard to tamper with. The enhanced intervention both reduced the incidence of reproductive coercion and increased the likelihood that women would leave abusive male partners.

Protecting lives that are threatened by poverty and intimate partner violence also turns out to be a way to protect lives that are threatened by abortion.

 


[i] Christina C. Pallitto, Claudia García-Moreno, Henrica A.F.M. Jansen, Lori Heise, Mary Ellsberg, Charlotte Watts, on behalf of the WHO Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Intimate partner Violence, Intimate partner violence, abortion, and unintended pregnancy: Results from the WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Intimate partner Violence, Int J Gynecol Obstet 2012. Published online in advance of print September 6, 2012. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijgo.2012.07.003. Accessed September 17, 2012.

[ii] Lockart I, Ryder N, McNulty AM. Prevalence and associations of recent physical intimate partner violence among women attending an Australian sexual health clinic. Sex Transm Infect 2011; 87(2): 174-176.

[iii] Alio AP, Salihu HM, Nana PN, Clayton HB, Mbah AK, Marty PJ. Association between intimate partner violence and induced abortion in Cameroon. Int J Gynecol Obstet 2011; 112(2): 83–87.

[iv] Fanslow J, Silva M, Whitehead A, Robinson E. Pregnancy outcomes and intimate partner violence in New Zealand. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol 2008; 48(4): 391–397.

[v] Futures Without Violence. The Facts on Reproductive Health and Partner Abuse. Available at: http://www.knowmoresaymore.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/The-Facts-on-Reproductive-Health-and-Partner-Abuse.pdf. Accessed September 17, 2012.

[vi] Jones RK, Moore AM, Frohwirth LF. Perceptions of male knowledge and support among U.S. women obtaining abortions. Women Health Iss 2011; 21(2):117-23.

[vii] Miller E, Decker MR, McCauley HL, Tancredi DJ, Levenson RR, Waldman J, Schoenwald P, Silverman JG. Pregnancy coercion, intimate partner violence and unintended pregnancy. Contraception 2010; 81(4):316-22.

[viii] Jones RK, Frohwirth L, Moore AM. More than poverty: disruptive events among women having abortions in the USA. J Fam Plann Reprod Health Care 2012; published online in advance of print August 20, 2012. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jfprhc-2012-100311. Accessed September 17, 2012.

[ix] Miller E, Decker MR, McCauley HL, Tancredi DJ, Levenson RR, Waldman J, Schoenwald P, Silverman JG. A family planning clinic partner violence intervention to reduce risk associated with reproductive coercion. Contraception 2011; 83(3):274-80.

 

A column by Thomas Friedman titled “Why I Am Pro-Life” is making the rounds. I’d been ignoring it because I have a policy of ignoring anything Thomas Friedman writes, but after about the 1,926th time this thing crossed my path, I got fed up. I am 100% on board with criticizing the hypocrisy of people who claim to respect life but oppose universal health care, oppose life-saving environmental care, and hawk war and guns. But criticizing those people isn’t a free pass to avoid examining your own inconsistency.

The term “pro-life” should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth.

Wonderful! I agree! But you will let that label apply to people for whom sanctity of life begins at birth. You will sneer at the notion of wanting to protect “every fertilized egg in a woman’s ovary” (since corrected, but a handy reminder that ignorance about how reproduction works is not confined solely to the far Right). “What about the rest of life?” you ask, but I could ask you the same question: what about the life you minimize and deride and don’t consider part of the human family?

I’m getting pretty tired of people who divide the world into two groups — those who only care about protecting human life before birth, and those who only care about protecting it after — and congratulate themselves on their superiority for being in the latter.*

What about being pro-everyone’s-life? Funny how that possibility never arose in Friedman’s column, or in any of the smug tweets and Facebook shares and blog comments using it as a club to beat those horrible pro-lifers with.

Finally, as someone who actively opposed the Iraq War for which he was a cheerleader, I decline to accept a lecture on the sanctity of life from Thomas Friedman, thank you very much.

*(Edited to add, because I want to be clear: I don’t think a person has to be for banning abortion to respect prenatal life. But I do think they have to talk about that life as one of us. They have to treat its destruction like it matters and is more than simple personal choice. They have to favor trying to prevent abortion, in every just way, because it ends a human life. If you’re doing all those things but identify as pro-choice because you don’t think legal bans are the answer, you’re not who I’m talking about here.)

MoveOn.org displayed a poster with a photo of an unborn child and a series of questions that All Our Lives has heard many times before.

"Will You Still Be 'Pro-Life' AFTER SHE'S BORN? Will you apply the same vigor to your work: against war, against hunger, against poverty, against homelessness, against our planet's degradation, against capital punishment, for human rights, for opportunities for education and jobs, that you do to your efforts to make abortion illegal? If not, please stop calling yourself 'pro-life.'"

So often these questions are accusingly rhetorical, with the expected answer-if the recipient has not been utterly shamed into speechlessness-of "Hell, no."

But that is not at all what All Our Lives has to say.

Our response?

Yes of course.Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course.Yes of course.

And by the way, it's all about making sure as few women and babies as humanly possible ever end up in situations where there appears to be no other choice.

Of course "pro-life" cannot mean anything less than this!

Thanks to Aimee Bedoy, editor of the new consistent life ethic journal Life Matters. She published our article "Family Planning Freedom Is Prolife" in the inaugural issue.

All Our Lives has encountered active censorship not simply when we have sought cooperative action on birth control with prochoice groups, but when we have tried to civilly raise this issue within the organized prolife movement as such.

Never mind (as the article points out) that most who identify as prolife on abortion support contraceptive rights. We welcome this opportunity to get matters out in the open.

Please read, support, and send your own work to this welcome new journal.