Restricting abortion rights in Mississippi has nothing to do with being pro-life

Published 11:38 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The biggest lie sold to Mississippians by some of its most influential lawmakers is that restricting a woman’s right to an abortion is the same thing as being “pro-life.”

This week, the Mississippi Senate passed what would be the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Gov. Phil Bryant’s predictable response on Twitter was a pat on the back of sorts in wanting Mississippi to be the “safest place in America for an unborn child,” which is cruelly ironic considering we all know Mississippi is one of the worst places for a born child, not to mention his/her mother.

Mississippi has the second-highest infant mortality rate in the country, along with the highest preterm birth rate, low birthweight rate and child poverty rate. It ranks near the bottom for OB-GYNs and midwives per capita, along with family doctors and pediatricians, making it statistically the worst state in the nation to have a baby.

A child born in Mississippi isn’t even guaranteed an adequately funded public education. All of this and we’re supposed to believe restricting abortion rights is what it means to be pro-life and not what it actually is: pro-birth.

Here’s what pro-life means to many of our lawmakers: Protect the lives of the unborn with no regard for what they’re born into and zero evidence that their quality of life will improve given Mississippi’s ruthless cycle of poor education, crippling poverty, and for many, a lack of opportunities to somehow break out of it.

It also means disregarding the life of the woman having the abortion, who always seems to be forgotten or branded as an irresponsible sinner who should be forced to live with the consequences of her actions. Who cares if she’s incapable of caring for a child in a state that doesn’t give her much of a running start?

As a mother whose child was born in Mississippi, I am not without personal feelings regarding the decision to have a baby. But that baby was born to a college-educated, employed woman living in a major city. I had insurance, access to health care and a support system of family and friends. Child care wasn’t difficult to find. My employer was flexible when it came to adjusting my work schedule after having the baby.

That’s a hell of a lot more than many women in this state have. And while a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy should not be limited to the question of whether she can adequately care for the child, it is an excellent question to consider when restricting that right and calling it a victory for life.

The truth is, it’s just another memo from the predominately male Mississippi Legislature that women shouldn’t be allowed to decide what to do with their bodies. And let’s not forget even without a 15-week restriction, it is no easy feat for a woman to have an abortion in this state despite the common belief that it’s just another form of “birth control.”

Not only must a woman be able to afford the procedure, which can run between $600 to nearly $1000 at the state’s only abortion clinic, but there is also the cost of transportation to Jackson and possibly lodging, depending on where she lives. When she arrives, protesters will be waiting for her with no guarantee she won’t be called a murderer or baby-killer or some other label that’s likely weighed on her mind throughout her decision-making process and will continue to do so long after it’s over.

The emotional, physical and financial toll of an abortion is an awfully high price to pay for birth control. No matter a woman’s reasoning for terminating her pregnancy, we’ve got to stop assuming it’s an easy decision and stop pretending these laws are intended to protect life when they harm women by restricting their rights.

The next time a lawmaker touts limiting a woman’s abortion rights as a victory for life, they need a not-so-gentle reminder that in reality it’s a bill that has more impact on a woman’s likelihood to go out of state or have an unsafe abortion than it does her likelihood to have a safe, healthy birth or for her and her child to live safe, healthy lives.

There’s more to being pro-life than being pro-birth. If our lawmakers are going to use that label to defend abortion restrictions, they could at least try harder to live up to what it promises.