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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Punishing Mothers Is Not Pro-Life

That’s what “the Donald” wants to do, although he doesn’t know exactly what punishment would be appropriate (is that like wanting to be “politically correct?”).  He definitely said that mothers who choose abortion would have to be punished in some way.  He also said that doctors who perform abortions would have to be punished if there is legislation making abortion illegal (and therefore an act of killing).  For Trump it perhaps sounded logical:  If abortion is made a crime, there should be criminal penalties. But his answer about women reversed what has been a near-unanimous posture of abortion opponents: that a woman should not be held criminally responsible.

 Donald has evolved from advocate of choice to a pro-lifer.  “I’m pro-life and I have been pro-life,” Trump says.  However, when he considered a run for president in 2000, Trump described himself in a television interview as “very pro-choice.” The clip was included this year in a TV ad by Senator Cruz.
In an April 2015 interview with the Des Moines Register newspaper, Trump expanded on what changed his mind:

“If you look at it, I said, ‘It really, really troubles me, and it really, really bothers me, the whole concept of abortion.’ This was years ago, and even then it really bothered me, but I went on the other side of the line,” Trump said. “But in thinking about it over the years, I’ve had instances, and one instance in particular, a friend had a child who they were going to abort, and now they have it, and the child is incredible. And the man, he changed his views also because of that. As I’ve grown older, as I’ve seen things happen in life, I’ve changed my views — and others have also,” he said.
Trump said he believes abortion should only be legal in the very rare cases when a woman is pregnant by rape or incest or when the life of the mother is jeopardized by the pregnancy. (Cruz believes in no exceptions – he wants a complete ban).  Trump brings up the GOP ‘gold standard’ to reinforce his position.

“Ronald Reagan had the same basic stances I had, and I absolutely believe in the three instances” of exception, he said. “I hope that I can convince (people) that I will be the best to save our country, and the fact is, I am pro-life.”
On Friday, April 1, 2016, the Donald appeared to change his stance once again, saying that current laws should remain in place, but finally admitting, after persistent questioning, that he is still ‘pro-life.’

Just as Donald seemed to be moving ahead quite steadily toward the Republican nomination, he threw this firebomb into the circus ring, and just about everyone came out of the woodwork to criticize his remarks and his attitude toward women.  So let’s count the ways this may have an effect upon Trump’s campaign and his possible nomination:
1)       It points up what to Progressives has been quite evident from the start: ‘the Donald’ is not prepared on the big issues, either from a factual view or from a political view.   

2)      He took an issue that so often is very important to a certain core of people on both sides of it, and made the issue one of importance to many.  Why? Because now the abortion issue is paramount in relation to the nominee for the Supreme Court.  That Justice will undoubtedly hold in hand the deciding vote on whether a choice to abort a fetus remains legal or whether it can be restricted by the Congress and/or by the states.  Most anti-abortion (pro-life) forces want a total ban on abortion, and are pushing for a Justice who will agree with that direction.

3)      But his remarks also made it plain that Trump has a ghastly shortage of knowledge and expertise when it comes to the big and/or important issues.  He was just woefully unprepared to deal with this under fire from Chris Matthews, and he showed it.  As Cathleen Decker, writing in the Los Angeles Times, put it :

“As Trump hastily issued a statement saying, in effect, that he didn’t believe what he had just said, his Republican challengers seized on his comments as proof that he lacked both the knowledge and conservative commitment to serve as president. Democrats cited his remarks as evidence that he and the rest of the Republican field have skittered too far to the right on an issue on which Americans are decidedly centrist.”

4)      Perhaps Trump and his staff now realize that this issue could affect his status at the Republican convention, where if he can’t win on the first ballot, the convention may be declared open to delegates voting for other than those to whom they were pledged.  

5)      Or, he may actually have realized that by his remarks, he gave away his position as the most moderate on abortion and on Planned Parenthood.  Now he is being taken to task by the other two candidates as out-of-the-mainstream.  He also met with the party’s central staff at the RNC to hear from them as to what his candidacy could do negatively for the other Republican office-holders on the ballot, and perhaps what his remarks could do to the convention itself.  According to commentators, there was some discussion of convention rules and procedures. (I just bet there was!)

6)      Perhaps what he also found out is: “What has changed most is the emphasis voters give the issue. A Gallup survey last year found a record percentage of Americans would only vote for a candidate with similar views on abortion rights—and abortion-rights supporters in that group now equal those opposing abortion.” (Los Angeles Times).

Let me remind you of a few other items that may have been unleashed by his contentious remarks:

1)      He may have run out the string on his outrageousness and on being able to say anything without losing supporters.  The next primaries will tell a lot about that.

2)      Women are going to decide this race to the White House, and losing Republican women over these kinds of remarks is not the smartest way to hold on to the lead toward nomination.  Several rather conservative women spoke out against the Donald on TV, and there may be more who are re-considering their support.  Let’s hope so.

3)      “Pro-Life” is a manufactured euphemism that needs to be taken apart piece by piece.   At least Trump goes so far as to laud Planned Parenthood for providing medical care for women and not just abortions.  But Mr. Trump, and a good many of our conservative politicians, have got to place more emphasis where it belongs – on life that has a longer span than just nine months in a mother’s womb.  There is a whole lot more to being pro-Life than being against abortion.  Let me count some of the ways.  (I am indebted to the book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to American Public Schools” by Diane Ravitch for many contributions to the following thoughts).

a.      Pre-natal care in this country is abominable.  Of 184 countries assessed for a study by international organizations including the WHO and March of Dimes, the US ranked 131st for its failure to prevent premature births; prematurity being the second leading cause of death worldwide among infants. Only a handful of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan and Southeast Asia rank below us. So if we can launch expensive programs to combat poor international test scores in math and science, why can’t we summon the resolve to make the US first in the world in ensuring that every woman receives the pre-natal care she and her baby need? “Reducing preterm births with excellent prenatal care would improve the life chances of half a million children in the US every year.”  It would guarantee that more children are healthy and ready to learn and improve educational and life performance by preventing many cognitive and emotional disabilities.  Moreover, it would save a large amount of the money we spend trying to remediate those disabilities in future years.  What are Pro-lifers waiting for?  The sky to fall?

b.      Parenting classes for men and women are few and far between.  Real Pro-lifers can’t avoid the need for a large concentrated effort to teach parenting skills in this country.  In addition, that March of Dimes report had some specific recommendations of its own: improve nutrition, family planning services (Planned Parenthood anyone?), health education; reduce substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and exposure to environmental pollution.  Improve access to quality childbirth services and to emergency obstetric care.  Being Pro-Life is a major undertaking given the need to do so much.  What an excellent place to begin taking meaningful steps toward an effective and money-saving plan for real Pro-Life reform!

c.       Many disadvantages experienced by adults start way before the first day of school. Many factors of one’s early socioeconomic circumstances affect the life outcomes for many individuals.  But we know of something else that can influence the readiness of children to learn and to prosper.  Researchers have shown us that early childhood education is a major key to reducing the disadvantages of economic and social dysfunction.  Day Care and pre-school programs are not at all what they need to be.  We are woefully behind other advanced nations. Politicians, particularly conservatives, need to expand pro-life advocacy by funding and supporting universal pre-K.  We need desperately to get all our children started on the road to a better life with a proven boost for success later on in life. Early intervention not only enhances life prospects of our children; it has a high benefit-cost ratio and a high rate of return for the investment.  Defunding Head Start and obstruction of funding for universal pre-K instruction is not a Pro-Life stance.  It is a huge wasting of life potential.

d.      Secondary education is equated far too often with high test scores in math and science and not nearly enough with a Pro-life stance to provide children with clean and effective school buildings, small classes, great teachers, and unmatched technology.  But we can’t stop there.  We must provide a full and balanced broad-based curriculum with built in extras for the gifted and for those with disabilities.  We must teach the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; teach more languages; broaden knowledge of the world, enrich understanding through literature and history. Author Ravitch concludes: “Tests do not measure character, spirit, heart, soul, potential.  When overused and misused, when attached to high stakes, the tests stifle the very creativity and ingenuity that our society needs most.” Our society cannot afford to overlook the importance of a quality liberal arts education free to all who need and desire to seize its proven advantages.

e.      A broad Pro-life stance is synonymous with the evocation of the human spirit as illuminated through the arts, music, dance, drama, community service.  No one can claim to be truly Pro-life if they abandon the enhancement that comes from nurturing the human spirit. But as an aside, this does not mean that public schools should also teach religion (except in a comparative and historical sense).  It is not the job of the state to promote religion because that always ends up in a war over who is right and whose belief system should rule all others. We can effectively inculcate human values without forcing a particular religious belief or practice upon children.

f.        A real Pro-Life stance has to do with the promotion and support of some other values t shown through the centuries to have outcomes that enhance living.  Let us not forget athletic competition in sports and other areas, and resulting awards for excellence.  But let us not only promote competition, let us expand the role that collaboration, teamwork and shared leadership have within our society, our economic endeavors and our well-being.  It is time to bring the concept of working as Teams into the education classroom and to stress the intrinsic value of working cooperatively with others. Supporting others and encouraging others to succeed where they have previously fallen short, or been handicapped in some way, is not a choice; it is a necessity.  Being truly Pro-Life means placing high value on the contributions of every Team member.   

g.      Let us also realize that Pro-Life is pro-active in validating and enhancing every life and all of life.  This means that we cannot separate out or discriminate against people with differences, handicaps, disabilities, inabilities, challenges, certain skin color, ethnicity or orientation.  Being Pro-Life means respecting, supporting and providing equal opportunities for all who inhabit this earth.  If one is truly Pro Life, one cannot also be a bigot, a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobe or a snob.

h.      Being Pro-Life means being an equal opportunity promoter.  Equal schools, equal pay, equal opportunity to excel, equal opportunity to attain the best possible job, equal opportunity for a free college education supported by our taxes and our wealth-making and profit-taking.  We must also include the best possible training other than college for those who choose another way toward success – apprenticeship may be a potent tool in providing training toward the trades and skilled and unskilled work. Must we continue to have lotteries and games that support education when over $2 trillion languishes overseas in safe havens to escape taxes?  Someone who is Pro-Life must also be proactive in presenting broad-based opportunities for all young people (and others) to excel and to prosper, and then to contribute something back to a society that expanded their opportunities.
No, I haven’t finished this list by any means.  That’s because being Pro-Life should mean a proactive, positive approach toward life in all of its manifestations, and toward every individual over a lifetime outside the womb.   I cringe at self-proclaimed Pro-Lifers who believe, not in life-enhancing equal opportunities, but in the slow death of missed opportunity and discrimination and denial.  Denying equal opportunities to meet the fundamental educational and humanistic needs of children – such as denying access to universal pre-K, excellent teachers, a free public education, good jobs and a cooperative spirit promoted and practiced at earliest ages – is not pro-democracy, pro-life, pro-liberty or pro-pursuit of happiness.  It’s basically a form of nihilism, bent on division, diminution, discrimination, and destruction. 

Right-wing zealots cannot be true Pro-Lifers when they ignore the needs of children who have left the womb.  Protesting solely about the rights, health, survival and protection of fetuses during a nine-month gestation period is not being “Pro-Life.”  It can too often appear to be an excuse to hide from the responsibilities of supporting full lives well-lived.  The mere fact that many Pro-Lifers advocate against funds for pre-natal care and providing universal pre-K instruction and child care is enough hypocrisy to close the case against anti-abortionists being called ‘Pro-Life’ advocates.  Anti-abortionists parading as Pro-Lifers need to expand their vision and extend a life-giving hand to every child born into this world.  Anything less is hypocritical nonsense.
Vitalization and re-vitalization of other human beings should be our primary mission. Thus, if one is to be Pro-Life in a broader enlightened manner, one must be an opportunity-provider, an inspirer (one who breathes life into others), an advocate for hope and a pro-active architect and builder of a society structured to promote well-being and success for all, not just for the privileged few.  Being truly Pro-Life is exactly what most Right-wingers abhor: taking affirmative action on behalf of others who, so often in their eyes, do not ‘deserve’ such consideration. Like Donald Trump, too many of these conservative ideologues would rather restrict, control and punish people instead of serving the needs and aspirations of every human life by providing a plethora of opportunities to enhance their life beyond the womb.   Being truly Pro-Life is a full time job not a temporary avocation, and it doesn’t include punishing women!