To Governor John Kasich, “Pro-Life” = Anti Women
A few years ago, after moving to Cincinnati for Rabbinical School at HUC, I saw a sign along the interstate with a quote from the book of Jeremiah that stated “Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you. I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations.” The quote refers to God comforting an incredulous Jeremiah after being told he will be a prophet to all the people at an almost impossibly young age. It’s a lovely sentiment, that God knows us and loves us, even before birth. However, the billboard was not there to serve as a reminder of the prophet Jeremiah. Rather, this was a billboard subtly denouncing abortion, as if by being “known” by God, a fetus is no longer rendered just a fetus, but a person, capable of receiving God’s love. And if it is capable of receiving God’s love, the logic proceeds, then its death at the hands of another is akin to murder.
In short, this is the belief held by those who consider themselves “pro-life” in the debate about abortion and women’s reproductive rights and freedom. The term implies doubly that those who are anti-abortion value the lives of fetuses (and women, for that matter) more than those within the “pro-choice” movement, and that “pro-choice” essentially means “pro-death.” However, with Ohio Governor John Kasich’s recent signing of the state budget, it’s difficult to see – despite Governor Kasich’s recent protestations – how he and his administration view their new “pro-life” measures as anything other than “anti-women.“ If indeed Governor Kasich is “pro-life,“ how can he justify a budget that cuts funding to family planning centers all over the state, effectively shuttering a majority of these centers, and cutting off necessary medical resources to the poorest in the state? How can Governor Kasich claim a “pro-life” perspective when this new budget imperils the lives of women who are barred from public hospitals during their abortion should any complications arise? What is “pro-life” about censoring rape crisis centers, threatening to shut them down if crisis volunteers and counselors even mention the word abortion in their intake sessions with already scared and traumatized women? Worse yet, as State Representative Connie Pillich (D-Montgomery) described in a recent interview, there is very little “pro-life” sentiment in surreptitiously adding so much of this legislation as last-minute amendments to the state budget, making them impossible to put to public voter recall (as happened to Ohio SB 5 two years ago), and hidden from public scrutiny.
It is undeniable that abortion is a complicated and fraught issue, and recent polling demonstrates that even people within my generation have a range of opinions on legal abortion. However, what cannot be denied is the inherent danger within the “pro-life”/“pro-choice” binary, and with the notion that measures that are anti-abortion somehow inherently value life more than those that promote reproductive choice and freedom. If indeed the “pro-life” movement seeks to present the view that all life is sacred – a point that I would imagine is virtually agreed upon by people on all sides – legislation like that within the Ohio budget is an underhanded and even potentially malevolent way to do so. Additionally, the manipulation of a biblical quote as beautiful and spiritually fulfilling as the Jeremiah quote to serve the purpose of one specific viewpoint is both ignorant and malicious. The Bible, and attendant rabbinic texts provide a plethora of opinions regarding the life and rights of the mother, the moment at which a fetus becomes ‘ensouled,’ and the specific contingencies and qualifications that would warrant an abortion. I think it’s time for those of us who seek to provide options, services and resources to all people to take back that term, and to promote a “pro-life” agenda that provides care from conception to death, and everywhere in between.