Calling Out Anti-Abortion Hypocrisy During “Respect Life” Month

As a practicing pediatrician, I care for children from birth until adulthood—focusing on their health, happiness and safety throughout their young lives. My focus is always on the child, and how we can help them to thrive and succeed. But according to the anti-abortion movement and the Trump administration, this makes me neither “pro-life” or “pro-family.”

Just last month, the Trump administration declared that the topics of sexual and reproductive health and rights are “ambiguous terms and expressions,” and said that supporting these concepts can “undermine the critical role of the family.” On behalf of only 19 other nations, out of a total of more than 75, the current administration doubled down on its anti-choice stance and took the position that “there is no international right to an abortion” but that “the family is the foundational institution of society and thus should be supported and strengthened.” 

In the current political climate, a woman’s right to have an elective abortion here in the U.S. is also threatened regularly. In just the last year alone, states like Georgia, Ohio, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi have passed extreme abortion bans, and at least five more are considering them.

For too long, the public has been told that believing in choice means not believing in family. To mark “Respect Life” Month this October, I’m speaking out—because my career is a testament to the fact that this is not true. 

(Nasty Women Portraits / Creative Commons)

Anti-abortion forces claim that banning abortion saves lives. But restricting reproductive freedom and forcing every pregnancy to result in a baby isn’t “pro-life,” and forcing a family to grow in size doesn’t equate to supporting or strengthening it. 

In fact, a groundbreaking  five-year longitudinal study found that the women denied abortions who gave birth had increased rates of poverty six months after the fact, compared with patients who were able to access care. These “turnaways,” as researchers called them, were also much more likely to be living in poverty four years later. Furthermore, the previous children of turnaways were three times as likely to be living in poverty, and they lagged behind their peers in achieving key developmental milestones.

If the most strict “anti-abortion” laws are enacted, it could result in more than 800,000 new lives each year in the United States. The families of these children would most likely be forced further into poverty, and face increased health and developmental needs. But lawmakers demanding that of them are also demanding an end to the societal supports that reduce their barriers for success. 

I care for families stressed by lack of resources and lack of control over their lives. The added stress of uncertain development and trajectory for their children is an unfair addition to the existing complexity of their lives. Yet the same people who side with revoking a woman’s right to choose abortion tend to restrict access to resources and support for families in need. In just the last few years, lawmakers have pushed legislation that would leave children hungry, cut public education funding and limit access to good health care for children and people with disabilities. 

Just this summer, the Trump administration took aim at SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps. In FY 2017, approximately 42.1 million people living in 20.8 million households received SNAP benefits in an average month, and 44 percent of SNAP participants were children.  If enacted, the president’s rule would deprive millions SNAP benefits—and end access to free school meals for 500,000 children.

The administration’s 12 percent cut in the Education Department spending in the 2020 budget will further target vulnerable low-income children, and so have their attacks on programs like Medicaid and CHIP. The rate of uninsured children had been declining since 2008, but has increased in the last two years. Nearly a half million more kids were uninsured in 2018 than in the prior year, and the rate of uninsured children under six, likely our most vulnerable age group, increased the most.

The Trump administration’s push to limit the discussion of reproductive health should not and can not be confused with genuine attempts to support families. It is time we reframe the dialogue. No one should be considered “pro-life” that does not care for a child’s well-being or that of their family. 


Rashmi Narayan, MD is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. She is a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project.