Opinion: Pro-life should be pro-lifelong

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(Arindam Ghosh/Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

A doctor and 2 Georgia medical students say honor Southern religious conservatism by expanding healthcare, societal rights across life’s span.

We write as three Black women across the spectrum of medical education and practice rooted in the southern United States. We uplift the holistic well-being of unborn children, especially those in racially minoritized communities like our own. Yet, we are troubled by the current pro-life agenda’s attempts to force births.

To our beloved home of the southern United States we say: more than anywhere else in the country, we must transition focus from coercive “pro-life” restrictions of reproductive rights to a more effective, freely chosen “pro-lifelong” approach that protects unborn children and their families by expanding healthcare rights and social supports.

Inequities to Black mothers are perhaps no more clear in the U.S. than in the South, which geographically contains 6 of the 10 worst states for maternal deaths. Anti-Black medical and societal racism fail to treat Black women’s health at baseline, and this ongoing failure causes Black women to have the highest rates of preventable infant and maternal pregnancy-related deaths of any racialized group in America, being three times more likely to die than white women. These deaths are driven by medical racism and racialized inequities in income, education, employment and criminalization, which are worsened for the next generation of women through restrictions to healthcare and social rights.

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Edil Nour

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Edil Nour

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Edil Nour

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Particularly here in the “Bible Belt” of America, many of the loudest pro-life advocates are Christians passionately chanting, “Thou shalt not kill!” However, as Black providers of Christian and Islamic faith, we see a missing side of the commandment. To be sure, the Lord absolutely instructed not to kill. But, the Bible and Quran similarly provide explicit instruction to cherish and nurture children and mothers in ways that are actually quite compatible with pro-lifelong, health equity stances like offering social support, quality education and provisions like food and clothing to promote health.

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Warda Abdi

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Warda Abdi

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Warda Abdi

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Religious pro-life conservatives profess the overturning of Roe v Wade to protect unborn babies. Health equity-minded, pro-lifelong activists wholeheartedly agree! We would first benefit unborn children by removing financial terrors that disincentivize parenthood, like ensuring universal healthcare so mothers have necessary prenatal care for a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Next, historically informed pro-lifelongers would undo centuries of Black families being separated with robust parental leave policies that allow bonding time with children during their critical first days of life.

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Carmen Black, M.D.

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Carmen Black, M.D.

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Carmen Black, M.D.

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Pro-lifelongers would then transition focus from birth into early childhood through subsidized childcare and scholarships for single moms so that they do not have to risk poverty to keep an unplanned pregnancy.

Next, a pro-lifelong standpoint would expand a school-aged intervention that proactively lowers unplanned pregnancies yet is desperately missing in the South: quality high school sexual health education programs. Only 11 of the 16 Southern states mandate sexual education, and only 2 of those 11 states require medically accurate information. It is perhaps unsurprising that none of the aforementioned 6 Southern states amongst the 10 top-ranking states for maternal deaths require medically accurate sex education in schools.

A social justice-oriented pro-lifelong stance safeguards racially minoritized children’s lives into their teen and adult years. We fight to save Black lives by dismantling the school to prison pipeline, by reversing the health effects of redlining through redistribution of wealth to racially minoritized neighborhoods and their public schools, and by requiring salary parity for Black parents.

Lastly, pro-lifelongers demand carceral reform to end the lives lost to police brutality and the overcriminalization of Black communities - including the Black women who will undoubtedly be disproportionately targeted for seeking abortion services when the current pro-life agenda fails to truly support “pro-life” societal equity.

Because the pro-life agenda currently neglects these many facets, single parents instead require personal family wealth and resources to overcome societal obstacles, which systemic racism limits to racially minoritized families. White families will continue to have more privilege and financial resources to overcome financial barriers to raise a child. Thus, restricting abortions will only decrease the number of safe procedures to racially minoritized groups, as white people in states outlawing abortion may simply use their privilege to travel to states with safe, legal abortions with less risk of criminal prosecution, thereby amplifying further immediate and long-term racialized inequity.

If religious conservatism is compatible with pro-lifelong reform, how do we explain the stark absence and frank resistance to supporting children beyond their forced birth? Perhaps it is social bias - not religious principle - limiting such advocacy amongst many pro-lifers.

After all, a “pro-life” agenda without pro-lifelong emphasis kills more Black children than abortion. But it prefers a slow demise perpetrated by systematic racism and neglect across their entire lifespan, as opposed to all at once in the womb.

Edil Nour and Warda Abdi are M.D. candidates at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) at Augusta University. Carmen Black, M.D., is a second-generation MCG alumna serving as assistant professor and director of social justice and health equity education for the Yale University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry. All identify as proud Black women.