What would Susan B. Anthony Think?

How and why did an organization dedicated to limiting a woman’s right to control her own reproductive system—her own body—take the name of a woman whose lifelong commitment to women’s rights is legendary?

I didn’t know the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) existed until I happened upon Mike Pence’s remarks at the luncheon last week (February 27) held to mark its new partnership with Life Institute. I read Pence’s comments in their entirety on the White House web site. He drew applause with the statement that the Trump/Pence administration “has stopped U.S. funding of the United Nations Populations Fund….” And again when he spoke of his pride in casting the “tie-breaking vote…to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood.” Pence praised President Trump for “keeping his word to stand without apology for the sanctity of human life.” He went on to reference the inalienable “first right in our Declaration of Independence…the right to life.” (The rights to “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness,” however, were not mentioned.)

All this prompted me to explore the web sites of the SBA List, Life Institute, Planned Parenthood, and the United Nations Populations Fund (UNPF) to see how they define themselves. Here are excerpts from each one’s “About” statements:

• “SBA List exists to pass laws that protect unborn children and their mothers from abortion…. investing heavily in voter education to ensure that pro-life Americans know where their lawmakers stand on…advancing pro-life laws.…”

• “Life institute exists to serve churches by helping believers establish a Biblical framework for everyday financial decisions [and] partners with churches to help disciple Christians, offer[ing] practical Biblical teaching for everyday decisions…”

• “Planned Parenthood (PP) works to educate and empower communities, provide quality health care, lead the reproductive rights movement, and advance global health. PP believes sexual and reproductive health rights are basic rights.”

• “The United Nationals Population Fund (UNPF) is the United Nations reproductive health and rights agency. Our mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.”

In essence, then, SBA List—supported now by the disciple Christians of Life Institute—is focused on undermining the work (and very existence) of Planned Parenthood and UNPF. The reason? Because, in addition to everything else these agencies do to promote the health and well being of women and their families, they provide abortions as an option to what Pence describes as “crisis pregnancy.”

Crisis pregnancy. I’d never encountered that catchphrase before. But it’s easy to recognize that Pence and all those who gathered at the luncheon last week believe that if terminating a crisis pregnancy is prevented, the crisis will be over.

As I imagine the range of situations that might cause a woman to seek an abortion, it’s clear to me that there are times when ending a pregnancy might be, for her, the best choice among several sad options. If we as a society are going to make laws to deny her that option, then we have a responsibility to protect and support her and the child she reluctantly—or unwillingly—brings into this world. We become obligated to make certain that the “unwanted” child we caused to be born is protected from neglect and abuse, hunger and poverty, and has at least a fighting chance at to grow to healthy adulthood and to become a capable, educated, self-sufficient adult. We also have an obligation to help that woman cope with the frustrations, stresses, and heartache of a motherhood she did not want. This is a long-term—and expensive—commitment. But there’s no way around it. To advocate for preventing abortion without, at the same time, advocating for financial support, healthcare, and mental health services for mothers—and the children they were forced, against their will, to bear—is both hypocritical and irresponsible. There is more to “life” than breathing and having a beating heart. The foundation for lifelong healthy development is established in the earliest weeks, months, and years after birth.

Whenever the topic of abortion comes up, I think of my mother. When she was in her sixties, around the time of the Roe v. Wade decision, she arrived at her weekly bowling group to find one of her friends circulating a petition to make abortion illegal. The petition came to her, and she passed it along without signing.

“Aren’t you going to sign this?” the incredulous activist asked.
My mother said no.

“Mary, you’re a Catholic. How can you not sign it?”

My mother, a mother of six, a Catholic, a good Catholic, who had found herself unexpectedly pregnant more than once and borne two children when she was in her early forties, looked this woman in the eye, “Yes, I’m a Catholic.” she said. “What’s that got to do with anything? Who am I to judge another woman’s desperation?”

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for the past week: Who am I to judge another woman’s desperation? Who are those whose names are on the SBL list? Who is Mike Pence?