Finally, uteri are no longer political footballs. (Isn’t that a visual?)
Since President Obama signed the order prohibiting the withholding of Title X family planning funds for any reason short of gross agency incompetence, meeting women’s reproductive and health rights is no longer political fodder. Yes, men do receive family planning services from the thousands of agencies that help with birth control, cancer screenings and similar services, but most family planning recipients are women. So there really isn’t an equality issue at stake here. The issue is, and has always been, who gets to determine who’s in charge of life.
The kind of life I’m referring to has little to do with the decades-long war we have been fighting over whether women should have the right to an abortion. Let’s talk about what it really means to be on the side of life.
As I see it, anyone claiming to be pro-life must also be pro-choice. That’s not a contradiction in terms unless you are speaking in capitals: Pro-Life and Pro-Choice. Once you head to the big letters, you arrive at the political screaming match over abortion. I have been listening to it much of my adult life. I’m tired of it. I want it to stop.
I’m talking about the life that we animals and plants live. The essence of life is to be able to choose. Mostly those choices involve what is best for a particular animal or plant, aka survival. It’s freedom from constraint of any kind. While that may sound chaotic, that’s life. Choice doesn’t always mean choosing correctly, or wisely, or in ways I might have chosen. But to live is to choose. Take away choice and you have dictatorship. We humans get in the most trouble when we think, and act as if, we have control over anything other than the person walking around inside our own skin. We can make laws governing consequences to the choices we make, but ultimately choice is up to us.
Being pro-life also means being pro-environment. Here’s a pretty good checklist of where our environmental priorities need to be: Air, water, food. Shelter and clothing are up there, but not at the top of the list. After that it’s pretty much a free-for-all. As it should be. That’s life.
Most living organisms die within minutes of being deprived of oxygen. The end comes a little more slowly without clean water; about 3 days for the average human. Some people, most spectacularly religious ascetics, have been able to live for months without food, although the price they pay in damage to muscle and organ systems is high. But that’s a choice. The point is one doesn’t absolutely have to eat three squares a day to keep going. There’s no argument that air and water are absolutely essential to life.
The nation’s air and water are far cleaner now than they were when I was growing up with a front-row seat to the burning Cuyahoga River. That fire in 1969 captured the national imagination two years after I graduated from high school; Earth Day came one year after that.
Yet, there are now in Congress people who would roll back those basic environmental protections, as if our air and water are clean enough that we can afford to make them dirty again. They say we cannot afford the luxury of continued protection of these essential natural resources. I suspect many of those same people are Pro-Life.
They clearly aren’t reading the current scientific literature pointing to air and water pollution as culprits in our ongoing struggle against a host of diseases that were unheard of 100 years ago. Fracking, hailed as the savior of the domestic energy industry, is being implicated in rising incidences of breast cancer and other diseases because of the toxic stew of chemical needed to separate oil from the rock in which it is embedded.
These anti-environmentalists are the same people who call climate change a hoax. They attribute the increasing number of catastrophic weather events, rising overall global temperatures, rising seas and increasing numbers of species extinctions all to some natural blip in weather patterns that will soon straighten itself out. They contend that we don’t need to jump through the hoops – pay the cost – of finding renewable energy sources.
Even if that were the case, a couple of questions: What’s the harm in clean energy? And what happens when the oil, gas and coal run out, which they will do? The phrase “renewable energy” is premised on the fact that fossil fuels are one-time use materials. Even if they weren’t so dirty in their production, use and disposal, once fossil fuels are gone, they’re gone. Then what?
Even those in favor of Life might be interested in answers to those questions. What’s the point of bringing a baby into the world if it will only die because the air it needs to breathe and water it must drink are poison and the food it needs to thrive is so adulterated that it kills long before our God-given expiration date. Unless, that is, they see this planet as a lost cause and really don’t care what happens next. What’s pro-Life about that?
We need knowledge to answer those what-next questions, so being pro-life also means being pro-education. No doubt one can live a rich and meaningful life without formal education. Still, we have this cultural conceit that we are civilized and as such need a system by which many of us can learn a lot of important things others of us have picked up over the millennia. The system is education and what is learned is knowledge.
Answers to “What next?” questions require more than a little knowledge. A lot of the knowledge we are generating now suggests there really isn’t a “next” unless we change course as a species inhabiting this planet. Now.
In fact, it seems to me a necessary piece of being pro-Life is to be pro-ALL-life. Not just unborn human babies, but plants and topsoil (it’s alive, trust me) and elephants and skinks and followers of certain religions and gut bacteria and Tasmanian devils and, well, everything. There is a reverence for all life that seems to be missing from the political battles waged over Life. Without such reverence, it is too easy to compartmentalize some lives as more precious than others. When that happens, life loses.
I understand but don’t share the perspective of people whose rallying cry is “Save the Planet.” Frankly, I’m not concerned about Mother Earth. She is the ultimate pro-lifer. If, or more likely when, she gets tired of us two-legged brats running around fouling our nest (and the nests of every other creatures we share this Blue Marble with), she’ll simply wipe us out. Clever lass that she is, she’ll make it look like an inside job. Still, I suspect when we reach the environmental tipping point, we’ll start to disappear. Maybe it’ll be by Big Flood, or Big Disease, or Big Poisoning or lots of little killings. But we’ll be gone. Who says humans as a species is exempt from the Sixth Great Extinction, under way right now?
With us gone or at least greatly diminished, Mother Earth will, as she has for the gazillions of years since the Big Bang, build a world in which life can exist. She’s done it many times before, without humans. She’ll do it again. That’s life.