Whose Babies Are We Trying to Save?

Originally published in Issue One: The Stand or Fall Issue on July 13, 2019.

Photograph by Richard Martin

When we discuss abortion from a moral standpoint, we have two modes of operating: either as people who want to kill babies or as people who want to save them. Basically, you are evil or you’re a savior. 

But abortion in and of itself isn’t so black and white. This moral argument leads to more arguments about religion, separation of church and state, and Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, women’s bodies continue to be a battleground for the struggle to maintain national identity.

Consider the definition of a nation. Political scientist and historian Benedict Anderson defines it as “an imagined community realized by symbols and traditions circulated through various forms of media.” The circulation of these images and rituals serve to solidify the identity of many people with a commonality as citizens of the nation. 

As it stands, the U.S. has a diverse array of citizens who have historically not been included in the “vision of America” and are often demonized when protesting such glaring inequality. For example, people of color still having to live in 2019 with monuments dedicated to generals of the Confederate South. And until recently, people in same-sex relationships being excluded from marriage and its benefits as provided to  heterosexual couples. These battles to be respected as citizens were met with fierce resistance by those in power, which points directly to how America was originally envisioned.

To be sure, the U.S. was imagined as white, Anglo-Protestant, governed by land-owning men. Since its inception, every attempt to change this vision has been met with resistance. The nation-state looked for loopholes in the law to prevent true equality for indigenous people, women of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community, as they did not conform to the idea of the imagined “proper citizen.” Indigenous people were considered savages, women weak and amoral if unmarried, people of color subhuman, homosexuals psychotic, and immigrants outsiders. These were considered “character flaws” of citizenry by the hetero-white male-dominated state of the nation.

Indeed, countless efforts have been made to prevent the procreation of an undesirable citizen throughout our nation’s history. Specifically the history of eugenics that began in the U.S. before it was used by Hitler to justify mass genocide during WWII. Check in to any media outlet today, rampant with stories of black men and women being shot by police, ICE raids of immigrants’ homes, mass incarceration of people of color, to see that the historical ideal for the nation is still fighting to be preserved. 

This leads me to question the argument over abortion in our nation as one truly concerning morality, “saving babies” or that of another political agenda. States pushing the abortion bans have a history of punitive legislation that disenfranchise people of color, with the majority of inmates serving prison sentences being black or brown people. Also, I spot a major red flag when state legislators are pushing for abortion bans while judges are offering reduced sentences for volunteer sterilization. 

In 2017, a Tennessee judge offered a 30-day sentence reduction to  inmates if they volunteered for the procedure. Men would receive a vasectomy and women would receive a four-year birth control implant. In 2018, a judge in Oklahoma suggested sterilization for a woman who was an admitted drug user involved in check fraud, saying he’d consider it at her sentencing. It appears in these instances that the state does wish to dictate who can and cannot have babies. What is the moral stance of the pro-lifers on this issue?

In light of these patterns, it is clearer that the moral argument surrounding abortion is another attempt to uphold the citizenry of the nation to an old ideal instead of working towards real equality. Innocent babies are the red herring and women’s bodies are the political bargaining chip. Whether those who preach pro-life know it or not, they are complicit in a political agenda. 

If the lives of these babies were truly a consideration, one would think those so concerned about unborn babies would also be liberal socialists, meaning they would back other movements such as reformed education systems and universal healthcare. Because those are the systems that would ensure that once these future babies are born, they will have full and sustainable lives and a chance to thrive. Yet, that is not what we see. The problem is this “nanny state language” does not support the American ideals of marriage and self-sufficiency, ideals that serve to disenfranchise those who were never intended to be citizens. 

After all, late capitalism tells us that if a citizen is not self-sufficient, they are a burden to the nation. And yet, the hierarchy of the nation requires a lower class to do menial work for little pay. This nation was built on the free labor of enslaved Africans. When slavery ended there had to be an economic plan to maintain the flow of money upward, and the lower class filled that role; a class that is still largely made up by people of color and immigrants today. While it is important to not dismiss white people who struggle with class inequality, it is even more important to note the ways the state has worked to preserve a “slave labor class” and has used race as a way to maintain it. This hierarchy is part of our national identity; therefore, it is our duty to scrutinize in every possible way how the scales of justice are uneven for any of its citizens.

Considering the idea of a nation, who represents it, and who bears future citizens, it is imperative to leave the morality argument surrounding abortion off the table in order to actually get to the root of the issue. At this moment in time, healthcare is a privilege and not a right. A ban on abortion would force all women to have more babies, yet black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth, according to the CDC. The mere possibility that the state can decide a woman in prison’s reproductive fate while the healthcare system is more accessible to white lives is at the very least disturbing. It echoes stories from an era where eugenics was seen as a rational, sound science to perfect the citizenry of the nation. Any control of a woman’s reproductive system is an attempt by the state to control the production of citizens instead of actually providing national security that is real human security to its current citizens. 

Regarding human security, I understand that even though technically a fetus is not a baby, it has the potential to be one. Emotions tend to run high for people who don’t contemplate more than innocent babies. I get it. I love babies and the idea of abortion isn’t high on my excitement list. 

But that isn’t the point. The same people who are anti-abortion close down discussions about sex by preaching abstinence until marriage. They want self-sufficient family units and no social safety nets. They refuse to acknowledge the infinite documentation of injustice and inequality that still pervades our nation and our justice system. I have a hard time with a moral argument to “choose life” when it requires forcing a woman to incubate a fetus for no other reason than it could be a human, when the compassion towards the adult population is seriously lacking humanity. 

So my question is this: whose babies are we trying to save with these abortion bans? Why can’t we have a reform around sexual education and accessible birth control, making it a priority to have sex ed and contraception available to all? Why is sterilization encouraged and at times paid for by the state when it involves people of color who are continuously being imprisoned for crimes of poverty?

The system we are currently operating under has an obvious agenda that has played throughout history time and time again. I look to the politicians (on the left and the right) vying to lead this nation to address how abortion is being co-opted as a means to continue oppression and inequality. It’s time to stop being afraid of the topic as one about killing or saving babies. It’s about time we stop nationalizing women’s bodies and stop trying to use them as a means for salvaging an ancient American ideal born from white dominance.

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