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OPINION | GWEN FORD FAULKENBERRY: Defining an actual pro-life state


In this political climate, issues like abortion are forced into soundbites and regurgitated on the far left and right ad infinitum, as if opposite ends are the only parts of the spectrum that matter. But a failed politician such as myself doesn't have to squeeze into a size 4 suit or a soundbite.

As Walker Percy said about this subject: I'm pretty sure my view includes something to offend everybody.

Sunday after church my family gathered for lunch. I saw on Twitter where Jason Rapert celebrated that Arkansas had been voted the "most pro-life state in the nation." A family member unaware of recent legislation said, "That's good, isn't it?"

In a recent interview, Jim Hendren lamented the Legislature's engagement in culture wars while ignoring what our people really need. He said Arkansas is one of the worst states for education, child hunger, broadband, and foster care. We are also at the bottom in covid-19 vaccinations and have the highest rate of teen pregnancy and third highest infant mortality rate in the country.

Being the nag I've become in my family regarding politics, I proclaimed these facts. "'Most pro-life state' seems like a gross irony."

That will no doubt offend people like Rapert, who demonstrate--by the people and policies they support--that being pro-life applies almost exclusively to the unborn. Certainly not the women who choose to have their babies but can't afford to feed them. Nor babies who post-womb need access to good medical care and public schools funded well enough to meet their educational needs.

For the loudest pro-lifers there's no mercy for anyone no longer a fetus: The buck stops at birth. They advertise this stance as part of a crusade for Christ, though a quick read of the gospels reveals that is Pharisee-level blasphemy.

Lest I offend only one side: another story. In my campaign for state representative, a group that supports progressive women candidates asked me about abortion. "I'm pro-whole life," I said. "That means I'm for all human life. We can care for both unborn children and mothers. I want to work on that: free and easy access to contraception, ways to hold fathers accountable, health care for the mother and child, support for raising the child, education ..."

They withheld support. I guess caring for both unborn and born people is not progressive enough for some. The desire to help people "from the womb to the tomb," as Beth Moore says, is seen by both fringes as weak.

I'm not naïve enough to think I can resolve this conflict here, but I feel strongly about abortion. The late Paul Greenberg's analysis makes perfect sense to me: The right to life must come first or all the others can never take root, much less flourish. As in the Declaration of Independence's order of certain unalienable rights, among them "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" ... a society that can abrogate the right to life can abrogate any right ... if we don't have a right to life, we have no rights whatsoever.

I majored in biology and learned it is disingenuous to describe a fetus as anything but human life. That group of cells is not just another part of a woman's body. Like mothers of kittens or puppies, a pregnant female carries a new life of her species. First trimester ultrasounds show tiny individuals with fingers, toes, eyelids, and ears. Those things, just like the beating heart, don't belong to the mother. They are different from her liver or lungs or lips.

And while I don't believe that means the baby human's life should take precedence over the mother human's life, it's self-deceiving, evasive, and hypocritical to cheapen human life by saying it's not human life.

This same strategy was used to justify slavery. Jefferson didn't include enslaved people in the Declaration of Independence. Further, describing them as "property, 3/5 of a person, chattel," etc., made it much easier for slavery to continue. Once "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and slave memoirs like "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" and Frederick Douglass' "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" were widely read, it became much harder to pretend enslaved humans were not human. Abraham Lincoln saw the truth and declared "if slavery is not wrong, nothing is."

In her brilliant article in The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan argues for abortion, but after viewing a 3-D ultrasound of a fetus in utero admits these images are "one thing only: baby pictures." And notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who inspired so many of us, called the right to abortion--though fundamental to women's equality--the "right of a woman to take the life within her life." Although I reject the conclusion, I appreciate the honesty of the premise.

When I start from that premise there is no other place to end other than to be anti-abortion. I cannot "get over [my] love affair with the fetus," as Dr. Joycelyn Elders advised, any more than I can get over loving other humans who are most vulnerable like the immuno-compromised, terminally ill, elderly, or disabled. An actual pro-life state would be as passionate about saving hungry children, foster children, and pregnant teenage girls as we are the unborn, however.

If abortion isn't wrong, nothing is. That's how it looks from my narrow window. I have no expertise. People I respect disagree with me. Which leads me to a broader purpose than sharing my view on abortion. I want to hear others. I want to bring people together, moving public discourse closer to the middle. While running for office taught me how difficult that is, I also experienced the magic possible when we are brave enough to do the hard work of finding common ground.

Prompted by a mutual friend, I reached out to an old-guard Arkansas Democrat with deep political ties. He quizzed me about issues and we clashed on abortion. Neither of us changed positions, yet we persisted. This kindhearted man became one of my fiercest advocates, and introduced me to more folks with the good sense to work together regardless of differences.

What we have in common is bigger than ourselves: We love Arkansas. We see that Arkansas is stronger when the center holds--when we meet there and hold on to each other even as we differ.

Let's hold on to one another as if life depended on it. Because it does. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Arkansans depend on us working together.

Ozark native Gwen Ford Faulkenberry is a mother, teacher and author.

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