Emily Articulated: Semantics

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

The leaked draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and published by Politico expressed the court’s potential decision to overturn the landmark rulings that established and for decades have defended abortion as a fundamental liberty protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Emily Erickson.

In the draft opinion, Alito argued that the right to abortion is neither included in the text of the Constitution, nor a fundamental part of the nation’s tradition and history. Therefore, it cannot be considered an inalienable right, and certainly shouldn’t be protected as such. 

By overturning these rulings and returning abortion laws to state-level regulation, the freedom of choice would be stripped or greatly reduced for women in many parts of the country — not to mention, leaving the door cracked to call into question other rights similarly established and previously understood as “settled law” (like interracial and same-sex marriage).

Unsurprisingly, the leaked draft opinion opened a floodgate of media coverage and social media attention — with the battle cries of women’s rights activists clashing against the triumphant praise of the Pro-Life movement — and politicians on both sides of the debate riding the tide of their constituents’ passions.

Since the initial flood of coverage has abated, I’ve been stuck ruminating on the semantics of it all. Specifically, I’ve fixated on the term “Pro-Life” and what the movement would look like if it were to be reflective of its name.

A “Pro” or “For” Life campaign would advocate for free access to health care, especially for pregnant mothers and their children — before, during and after birth. According to a study by Truven Health Analytics, the national average cost of a vaginal delivery without complications is $30,000 and $50,000 for a cesarean section. This cost does not account for prenatal checkups, any problems before or during birth, or any postpartum or newborn care. Some of these costs may be covered by privately held health insurance or subsidized by taxpayers through Medicaid, but the expense of parenthood stakes its claim early on families through insurance deductibles, hidden fees and uncovered costs, all of which diminish the quality of life for those left footing large bills. 

This same Living-Oriented health care would also aim to reduce maternal mortality rates, which the U.S. leads among developed countries, according to a 2019 report by The Commonwealth Fund. The report found that the “U.S. is the only [developed] country not to guarantee access to provider home visits or paid parental leave [of any length] in the postpartum period,” which are both factors known to reduce post-birth risks and account for a large portion of the maternal death rate.

Another facet of a Life-Positive campaign would ensure high-quality and affordable child care options for anyone in need of them. Child care waitlists are an ever-growing phenomenon in the United States and costs are reflecting that scarcity. A 2021 Cost of Care Survey reported that parents in their sample spent 10% or more of their household income on child care (3% above what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers “affordable”), making parents turn to measures like cutting work hours or changing jobs to pay less in child care costs and, consequently, risking making life more difficult for them and their children.

A Life-Affirming campaign would invest heavily in social programs and educational opportunities for underprivileged families, working toward a future in which every child, of any background, has equal access to a secure and successful life. Food assistance, housing subsidies and working-family tax credits would be expanded and accompanied by inclusive educational and occupational programs, social and emotional support avenues for children and parents, and ample funding for schools in areas with the greatest need. 

And lastly (for now, anyway), efforts by a For-Life campaign would seek to reform our criminal justice and foster care systems, dismantling cyclical criminality and generational poverty that disproportionately affect people of color, transgender and nonbinary people, people with disabilities, people with serious mental illness, and people living in poverty (and their families). It would also seek to ensure every foster child found a safe and secure home; that foster parents and children alike received adequate support and social and financial resources; and that birth parents seeking custody had access to effective avenues for rehabilitation, employment and housing.

“Pro-Choice” and “Pro-Life” are just names — labels for deeply nuanced and tender sets of beliefs for many people. But, without efforts like these, no stretch of semantics can bridge the gap between “Pro-Birth” and “Pro-Quality of Life” for every person and child. So maybe, a name change is in order.

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