In each of the three states that have rolled out oppressive anti-choice bills over the past week or so, proponents have cited the same rationale for lending their support: They are proudly and fiercely "pro-life."
"This is about protecting life, and we’re willing to fight for it," proclaimed Georgia governor Brian Kemp, about two months before the legislature passed a bill outlawing abortion after as little as six weeks of pregnancy. "Every life is a sacred gift from God," said Alabama governor Kay Ivey after signing the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, which would impose on doctors who perform abortions for rape victims the same maximum sentence imposed on rapists. "Time to make Missouri the most pro-life state in the country," declared Missouri governor Mike Parsons, promising to approve an abortion ban after eight weeks of pregnancy as soon as it reaches his desk.
At the suggestion of religious leaders, opponents of abortion rights adopted the "pro-life" moniker for their political movement soon after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973. A proposed constitutional prohibition on abortion, for example, became the Human Life Amendment. Every year, thousands of people protest Roe at the March for Life in Washington. Founded in 1968, the National Right to Life Committee advertises itself as the nation's oldest, well, pro-life organization.
Yet the "pro-life" movement, as critics often note, isn't focused on life, per se—at least, not beyond preventing legal abortions. Take the trio of Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia, each of which enacted their abortion bans in service of a solemn commitment to the preservation of life. A 2018 analysis found that Georgia has the fifth-highest maternal mortality rate—the rate at which women die from complications resulting from childbirth—in the United States. Missouri is ninth. California, a state to which NARAL Pro-Choice America has awarded its "strongly protected access" designation, has the nation's lowest maternal mortality rate. If you are a mother-to-be, you are more likely to survive childbirth in pro-choice California than you are in pro-life Georgia.
The Center for Disease Control ranks both Alabama and Georgia among the ten states with the highest infant mortality rates—all ten of which fall in NARAL's "severely restricted access" category. Washington—also a "strongly protected access" state—and California, meanwhile, have the second- and third-lowest infant mortality rates. Data compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks Alabama and Missouri fifth and seventh in child and teen death rate. A 2018 study found that Alabama and Georgia have the fourth-lowest and fifth-lowest life expectancies at birth; Missouri is eleventh. None of the ten states with the highest life expectancy, according to NARAL, provide "severely restricted access" to abortion services.
Alabama comes in second in firearm death rate, and Georgia sixth; the Giffords Law Center awards both states an F for their firearms laws. A 2017 Violence Policy Center report placed Alabama and Georgia among the top 15 states in which women are murdered by men. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1976 Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama have ranked fifth, sixth, and seventh in total executions, respectively. On a per capita basis, Alabama has sentenced more prisoners to death than anywhere else in the country. When it comes to gun safety and capital punishment, concerns for the "sanctity of life" apparently go out the window.
What are some other useful indicia of a passion for all things life? Between 2010 and 2014, Missouri, Georgia, and Alabama each saw double-digit increases in the percentage of kids experiencing recurring maltreatment, according to the federal Children's Bureau. During that same period, Alabama saw a 379 percent increase in the number of children experiencing maltreatment while in foster care. The Annie E. Casey Foundation's data shows that a quarter of children in Alabama, and 21 percent in Georgia, and 19 percent in Missouri grow up in poverty. Alabama provides no supplementary funding for meals subsidized by federal school lunch programs. Food may be essential for living, but the same state legislators who just attempted to ban abortion seem unconcerned with ensuring that the children in their state have the best possible access to it.
Politicians in Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri have all declined to expand Medicaid eligibility for constituents under the Affordable Care Act. A 2015 survey found that only two states spend less than Georgia on their residents' health care. Of the ten states with the highest uninsured rates, according to the CDC, nine are among NARAL's "severely restricted access" states. Of the ten states with the lowest uninsured rates, none of them are as virulently anti-abortion.
Imagine if conservative Republican legislators in these states were truly "pro-life"—if their public service raison d'être were to prolong and defend life, in every sphere and at every opportunity. The data shows that there is no shortage of ways for them to go about that task, many of which would have a far more significant impact in their communities than rolling back abortion rights. They could, for example, abolish capital punishment, or enact stricter gun laws, or invest more state dollars in medical care, or simply allow their lower-income residents to access federally funded health insurance.
The myopic focus on preserving this one particular, narrowly defined type of "life," though—once which happens to rob women of their bodily autonomy and deny them equal treatment under the law—suggests that lawmakers in these states are really motivated by something else.
Originally Appeared on GQ