With his late summer visit to the Gateway Women’s Care crisis pregnancy center in Raleigh, Vice President Mike Pence has proved once again that his preoccupation with life starts and ends at the doors of a person’s womb. Crisis pregnancy centers are organizations that seek to dissuade women and all who might be facing an unwanted pregnancy from opting for abortion. They often mimic abortion clinics, bringing people in for a free pregnancy test and ultrasound, but then proceed to use deceptive and misleading information to frighten them into making the choice that the center wanted all along: carrying the pregnancy to term, no matter the cost. The misinformation typically includes claims that abortion causes breast cancer, eating disorders, and mental health issues. A recent rigorous study has shown that these claims are simply not true; abortion is a very safe procedure without long-term physical or mental health risks.
Pence’s North Carolina circuit also included an appearance at an anti-choice event hosted by Raleigh’s Christ Baptist Church. Together, these endorsements are part of the public performance of a “pro-life”, devoutly Christian public servant. However, the teachings of Christianity, and all faith traditions, uphold compassion and truth as core guiding values. The Baptist principle of soul freedom, in particular, gives every individual the right to rule over their own bodies, minds, and spirituality with help from God. When someone is discerning what to do about a pregnancy, what they need is truthful, compassionate care that affirms their conscience and decision making. What crisis pregnancy centers offer is quite the opposite: judgment and deception.
Places like Gateway Women’s Care have an agenda: to keep women and all who experience pregnancy from opting for abortion, even if this is the most appropriate and moral choice for them and their family. Crisis pregnancy centers prey on people’s vulnerability. They do not offer true spiritual care (which allows for nuanced thought and action), and rarely do they provide actual health care. Instead, they do things like provide “incentives” like maternity clothes and diapers if people attend the abstinence education or parenting classes they offer. By shaming the very personal, moral decisions that people make about ending a pregnancy, these centers perpetuate stigma and silence around abortion, sexuality, and the basic need for comprehensive reproductive health care.
Tackling actual healthcare crises, however, is not a priority for Vice President Pence. As the president’s coronavirus czar, Pence has led an anemic effort to combat this incredibly disruptive and deadly disease that has affected all aspects of American life. Approximately 214,000 lives have been lost to the coronavirus in the past 7 ½ months. Meanwhile the Trump administration has sought eagerly to roll back the Affordable Care Act. Just in July, despite the soaring pandemic, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act, a case the Court will hear on November 10, one week after Election Day. If allowed, 23 million Americans—which includes 600,000+ North Carolinians—would lose their healthcare coverage.
Pence has previously paraphrased Gandhi’s quote, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members,” to justify his ruthlessly anti-choice policies. Currently, the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our society are experiencing the greatest suffering from COVID-19’s impact. Black people, low-income people, single parents, disabled people, the elderly, and others are being hit the hardest. These groups would benefit most from expanded healthcare, yet Pence and other GOP members are trying to strip them of it, threatening their health and very survival, all while declaring the desire to create a “culture of life”.
In reality, this “pro-life” culture, touted by Pence and others, is a political, anti-choice agenda that uses deeply cynical tactics steeped in white Christian nationalism. Their goal is not to support or protect life, but to maintain power among the few by exerting control over the bodies and lives of those most oppressed, using a narrow definition of “life”. Fortunately, the majority of Americans support abortion access. And many of us realize that removing that access would simply drive the search for abortion underground, making it least available to those who need it most while endangering them in the process.
The actions of Mike Pence and his administration betray their commitment to human life.
Vote. Life depends on it.
Dr. Amy Bryant, MD, MSCR, is a practicing OB/GYN.
Rev. Katey Zeh is the CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and an ordained Baptist minister.