Building the Progressive Culture of Life
April 21, 2005
By Katherine Brengle
Many of us on the left have been discussing the real meaning of
a "culture of life" and what it would truly mean to embrace this
ideal for the past few weeks. We've argued about Social Security,
and Medicare, and stem-cell research. But it's time to get real.
The right wing's culture of life rests on, currently, two main
issues: abortion and, because of the Terri Schiavo debacle, end
of life decisions. Because the right also opposes comprehensive
sex education, a universal single-payer healthcare system, welfare
that actually keeps people well, and same-sex marriage and adoption,
we have the ability to reframe this debate, if we're willing.
Recently, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced a landmark piece
of legislation called the Prevention First Act. Senator Reid is
a pro-life Democrat and wants to approach the abortion rights debate
with common sense and reasonable expectations.
The Prevention First Act basically aims to reduce unintended pregnancies
by giving women easier access to birth control. It's as simple as
that. The major pro-choice organizations are supporting Senator
Reid's proposal, and so should you. However, this legislation should
only be considered the first step in creating a new dialogue about
reproductive rights and choice.
In order to create a culture of life, and prevent unwanted pregnancies,
we must first provide our children with comprehensive sex education,
while stressing abstinence as the safest option, at a fairly young
age. We need to remove the mystery from sexual exploration, teach
our kids to value themselves and their bodies, and show them how
to protect themselves when they falter. Simultaneously, we need
to make a conscious effort to foster our kids' talents and give
them every opportunity to focus their energies on activities that
will enrich their lives - energies that might otherwise be misdirected
into sexual activities that could be harmful to them.
Parents have an obligation to talk frankly with their children
about sex. In order to instill the values we want our children to
have, we need to be honest: sex is a natural, beautiful thing, but
it must be entered into responsibly. By ignoring the natural curiosity
of our children about their bodies and their sexuality, we are putting
them in grave danger. If our daughters feel that we will be ashamed
of them if they get pregnant, they will be more likely to have abortions,
and no one wants their child to go through that. One thing we can
all certainly agree on - abortion is not a good thing. It's ugly
and sad, and no one should feel they have to endure it. But in order
to make abortion obsolete, we need to enable women and girls to
make better choices.
Women and girls need to be empowered from a very young age to
make the best choices for themselves. We need positive reinforcement
of our intelligence, our beauty, our ability to make great lives
for ourselves from the day we make our entrance into the world.
Unfortunately, there is still a violent undercurrent of sexism in
our society that infiltrates even our families and our schools.
We can't simply want our daughters to wait until marriage to have
sex: we absolutely must teach them to love themselves and all of
the potential they possess. We cannot ignore any of their interests,
any of their worries, any of their insecurities. These insecurities
grow as our little girls grow, and have the capacity to be horribly
Education and support are paramount. But these are still just
building blocks: we can do more.
We must build up a healthcare system that can provide reproductive
services to every woman who wants them. The system needs to provide
women who cannot afford it with access to doctors and birth control,
to prevent unintended pregnancy. Birth control cannot be a financial
burden for low-income women if we want to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Gynecological visits cannot be a financial burden if we want women
to value their bodies and their health. Financial instability is
the most oft cited reason women choose abortion. No woman should
feel compelled to have an abortion because she cannot afford to
take care of her baby.
Financial assistance has to be available for low-income women
and girls who become pregnant, so they have the option of keeping,
raising, and loving their babies. Welfare "reform" has made this
much more difficult. We must embrace real welfare reform that provides
for the wellness of women, girls, and their babies. Child support
orders need to be strictly enforced: men cannot simply be allowed
to walk away from babies they have fathered. However, our society,
by ignoring this huge problem, is making it harder for women to
feel financially secure when they become pregnant outside of marriage.
Pregnancy is stressful for a woman, even when she desperately wants
her baby. By making it more difficult for her to feel secure when
she becomes pregnant, we instantly limit her options.
Pregnancy is an incredible event in a woman's life. Holding a
new life inside of your body is a feeling like no other I have ever
felt in my life. It's wonderful and miserable and stressful and
joyful. Your mind is constantly running in circles: what will she
look like, what will I look like, will she be healthy, why do I
have heartburn, what will it feel like to give birth, how am I going
to take care of her, I can't wait to take care of her, will I be
a good mother, and on and on and on.
As a society, we have an obligation to not only support pregnant
women, but to treat them like the amazing givers of life that they
are. We haven't learned yet to celebrate every pregnancy, every
child, and every mother. If that mother is a high school student,
we need to celebrate her pregnancy: there's no turning back, and
there is no excuse for shaming her. If that mother is a 35-year-old
corporate lawyer, we need to celebrate her impending motherhood,
and so does her employer. Among higher-income women, job security
is often the major concern that leads to the choice of abortion.
Programs need to be instituted to sanction employers who discriminate
against pregnant women and mothers and who discourage pregnancy.
The key to making abortion obsolete is to educate our children
and expand the options we give to women and girls concerning their
reproductive health. One of the options embraced by the right-to-life
movement is adoption. Adoption is a wonderful option for women who
don't feel they can raise their babies, but don't want to have abortions.
It is an incredible gift for couples who want children but are unable
to have their own. Unfortunately, there are thousands of babies
every year who are given up for adoption but are never adopted,
and instead float from foster home to foster home until they turn
18 and have to begin fending for themselves.
Sadly, there are also thousands of same-sex couples who want desperately
to adopt, raise, and love these babies. By opposing same-sex marriage
and adoption, the right is leaving these children to live within
a system that is psychologically destructive to them when they could
be part of loving, stable families.
Providing reproductive education and viable alternative options
is key to ending abortion. Taking away a woman's right to make her
own reproductive decisions and turning those decisions over to the
government is not a solution. Lacking better options and support,
women have been forced into abortion by society for thousands of
years, legal or not, and our culture of life needs to provide alternatives,
not make abortion illegal and put more women's lives in danger.
Katherine Brengle is a 23-year old mother, writer, peace activist,
and host of the Bristol County Democracy for America Meetup in Fall
River, MA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.