As the administrator of an abortion clinic, my days are filled with music.
I hear the confident ditties of patients secure and supported in their decisions.
I hear the heavy hymns of individuals who can barely afford to eat dinner this week, let alone provide for a child.
I hear the powerful, moving ballads of people exercising their right to bodily autonomy to escape the cycles of abuse.
I listen to the trilling arias of teenagers venting their anger after resorting to ineffective, risky contraceptive practices because they couldn’t afford birth control.
I listen to the shaky quatrains of parents struggling with the idea their children are sexually active despite their young age and, in some cases, low maturity.
Every day in my clinics, and in clinics across the country, Americans sing these refrains. These are songs of hard reality, and they have become America’s soundtrack. Patients sing of the herculean struggle of economic mobility. Of the illogical difficulties of accessing affordable health care. Of the incredibly toxic culture surrounding sexuality and image. Of violence’s toxic saturation in our communities.
These 'pro-life' anthems have been radically and unfortunately misnomered.
But another, more distracting chorus breaks through the clinic’s daily bustle. The plaster and wood of the walls muffle the lyrics, but the persistent droning remains a constant presence. These choruses ― with their heavily religious imagery, oppressive patriarchal tones, and overbearing infantilization of women and minorities alike ― have snuck into American culture and latched onto religious and conservative groups like a starving parasite, manipulating and leeching from their source.
I hear it in the chanting of “sidewalk counselors” pleading with patients and families to rethink their options yet again. In the pen scratches of certain lawmakers creatively interpreting religious texts as legal grounds to insert themselves into the personal decisions of others. In the voices of complete strangers harassing and intimidating others to prevent them from providing and accessing abortion care. I can even hear it in the uncomfortable silence of our peers who observe the pain these hymns inflict but don’t speak out against them.
These “pro-life” anthems, however loudly sung or creatively presented, have been radically and unfortunately misnomered.
There is nothing “pro-life” about forcing women to give birth in a country that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.
There is nothing “pro-life” about lawmakers proposing oppressive and archaic laws that aim to penalize those seeking abortion care while stripping the budgets of life-saving government programs and pushing plans that will do nothing but increase national debt.
We live in a country that boasts of its individual freedoms, but reality falls far short of expectation. Every day, protesters line the sidewalk in front of abortion clinics and loudly proselytize their anti-choice beliefs. These individuals violate sound ordinances, try to block patients from entering clinics, attempt to confuse patients by presenting themselves as medical professionals and, when all else fails, aim to frighten and demean patients and staff alike.
It’s clear these protesters’ right to free speech is infringing on others’ rights to privacy, safety and access to health care. The First Amendment protects the freedom to voice your personal opinion and peacefully assemble. It does not protect the freedom to use a sound system to force unwilling participants to listen to your ideas. It does not protect the freedom to host street-closing parades in front of health care facilities. It does not protect the freedom to harass, threaten or attack those who do not agree with your views. We cannot accept the forceful manipulation of another individual for personal or religious reasons as “pro-life.” The possibility of an infant’s birth should not outweigh the health and safety of those already living.
Identifying anti-choice rhetoric as “pro-life” cheapens the very meaning of life. Millions of families across the world are fighting for their “right to life” already. It’s time to compose a new soundtrack. To fill the air with the dulcet tones of equality. To acknowledge personal privilege by providing a quiet but ever-steady beat to which others can build movements. To take time to understand and appreciate our peers’ lyrics.
We can reclaim the moniker of “pro-life,” not by imposing our personal beliefs on others but by supporting the varied symphony that exists in this country. These are the lives that need our help, our support and our voices now more than ever.
Calla Hales is an administrator for A Preferred Women’s Health Center ― a group of independent abortion clinics in the southeast United States ― and a board member of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.