Means a lot of things to a lot of people; it’s one of the third rails of our political landscape. I think that’s particularly evident in the wake of the DCCC’s announcement they might fund “pro-life” candidates in order to win back the House in 2018. There’s been a tsunami of pushback, which isn’t surprising in the least. The fact the DCCC seems so flabbergasted by the intensity of that is sigh-inducing, at best.
Their rationale is that, well, if we want to compete in these bright-red districts, then we need to find candidates that’ll be able to relate to the folks there, and clearly that means finding folks who love progressive economic and social values, but are somehow okay with making abortion illegal.
That’s complete BS.
But I will give them this- if we want to talk about using the term “pro-life” as a litmus test for candidates, we do need to delineate that it does mean different things to different people, and we absolutely need to take that into consideration as we go forward.
I can give you first-hand experience with that.
To me, “pro-life” conjures up images of people like my opponent in my Virginia House of Delegates race, a guy whose genial smile, polite demeanor, and moderate countenance belie an incredible number of issues where he’s nothing of the sort- this being one of the most prominent.
There was a number of things that drove me to run for public office this year, but there’s one that sticks hard in my craw even still. On election day, a family member of mine- one I love very dearly- found the need to post on their choice of Presidential candidate, and rationale behind it. She said, simply:
“We’re voting for the only issue that matters, and the true pro-life candidate on the ballot! Trump/Pence 2016!”
Even now, that curls my toes involuntarily to read. My teeth clench. There’s literally nowhere to start on that phrase. And if I tried, I’d almost certainly cause more strife than good. The Republican party (to their “credit”, insofar as such things go) have done a marvelous job of redefining the term “pro-life” from what it actually means- outlawing abortion and shaming women– to get people like my relative there to believe it means something far less sinister.
Which is exactly how they’ve been able to convince otherwise reasonable people that, for instance, TRAP laws are benign; I mean, what’s unreasonable about those? Look, it’s just that these liberals want to murder babies. That’s the only reason they’d be against them. You don’t want to be associated with a bunch of murderers… do you?
When I decided to jump off the cliff to pursue my run for state legislature here in Virginia, this was one of the things I was going to revel in pushing back directly against my opponent. You want pro-life? Well, guess what- you can’t be pro-life and be anti-refugee, anti-birth control (no matter how much they wish, contraception is NOT abortion), anti-funding adoption, foster care, SCHIP, pre-K, counseling, at-risk nutrition programs, etc, etc, the list goes on and on. Listen here, pal, I imagined saying to him, going “make abortion illegal” and pushing for a “transvaginal ultrasound” law, voting for a “Day of Tears” amendment to shame women by legislative fiat, as the official position of the Commonwealth of Virginia… is. NOT. PRO. LIFE.
Their position is all built on lies and stereotypes; you know what I mean, right? The stereotype? The “poor” woman, who’s not really poor; heck, she makes more than you do with all that free government money! Usually “urban” or “immigrant”, the old standby of dog whistles. Just can’t be bothered with birth control, right? BC is easy to get for everyone, everywhere— and really shouldn’t she just be able to keep her legs shut? “Choice”? They’re too stupid and lazy to be given “choice!” Really it’s just better if the government chooses for them. So forth and so on.
But I’m a nurse; nurses know better. We see the actual folks affected by these policies they push. We see the real people caught up in their “morality”. We see those stupid stereotypes they try to push destroyed by reality every single day.
Like the unmarried twenty-three year old who came in with excruciating pelvic pain, from one of the most rural parts of our district. It’s a primary care desert where she lives- rural primary care providers are becoming more rare every single day. She was on a LARC (long acting contraceptive), but hadn’t had a checkup in forever, because she made enough money to not qualify for Medicaid in our state- and since the legislature couldn’t be bothered to expand Medicaid here, and since primary care options were a forever drive away… why would she go see one? She’s young and healthy. Meh.
Chance put her in the literally, like, .5% of failure rate of her LARC- so sure enough, she had an ectopic pregnancy. For patients who present with an unstable pregnancy, we give them methotrexate. This is technically a chemotherapy drug, which means that it requires a nurse who’s been chemotherapy trained to administer it, and preferably one that’s not a woman of child-bearing age.
As a male nurse that’s a relief unit coordinator and supervised in part by the clinical educator for our department… that’s me. And let me tell you- it’s not fun. It’s not a fun process at all, for anyone involved
This time was no different; first of all, it took the patient a couple hours to come to terms with what we were explaining. I certainly understand that. We explained to her that her pregnancy wasn’t viable; that it threatened her life absolutely and directly without intervention. But she kept asking… are you sure? I mean, maybe we could wait, right? This would mean waiting it out until we could do an emergency c-section, which would feasibly be first at 26 weeks or so- months away. We told her, no, she didn’t have days or possibly even hours at this point.
Not that she thought we were lying to her, or anything, but she couldn’t wrap her head around it. But that’s a helluva thing to have sprung on you. I don’t blame her for being gobsmacked by it. We told her that it was up to her; all medical procedures are done at the patient’s choice, and no one else’s. Period- end of story. We laid out the stakes, the consequences, as best we could… but she had to make the call.
So she did. Crying, the whole time. I had to come in, with a female chaperone, decked out in our chemotherapy garb (which always reminds me of the Ebola suits we used to have to practice in), with an inch-and-a-half long 18-gauge needle, to give her a shot right in the gluteus maximus. But just as I was cleaning her skin with a cholorhexadine prep swab, she looked at me, and asked me- “Are you sure?”
I got what she meant; nurses are asked this a lot. The doctors leave the room, and they look immediately at us, to validate what the doctor told them. It’s a unique role that nurses occupy, because we’re the most-trusted profession in the country. And it’s not something we take lightly. Yeah, I’m a medical professional, and my knowledge is extensive- but I’m a nurse, not a doctor. I’m not allowed to give medical advice.
But she wasn’t asking for medical advice… she was asking my advice. From me, personally. What would I do? If I were in her shoes, or if it was my wife, what would I do? Would I do the same thing? Was she making the right choice? I was a nurse, so, she trusted me. Her family wasn’t there; her friends weren’t there; her significant other wasn’t there. So she was asking me.
I looked at her evenly, and without hesitation, said: “Yeah.”
That was… tough to handle. But I’ve seen even worse than that. What happens when the government, via TRAP laws (targeted laws aimed only at organizations like Planned Parenthood) and letting crisis pregnancy centers run unfettered, restrict the choice and access for women who live in underserved areas- like most of my rural district.
I’m not afraid to admit here, that insofar as abortion issues went, I was pretty much at a “meh” level for a long time. Yeah, sure, abortion shouldn’t be illegal, Roe versus Wade shouldn’t be overturned, but I don’t get all of these people up in arms about it. Sheesh. Yawn.
But then I saw the result of that axiom- “Making abortion illegal only makes safe abortion illegal”- in real life.
In graphic detail.
And that. THAT is why there is such an uproar about funding candidate who’re pro-life. Because if they’re like Senator Kaine, Catholics, and other folks who view this from a religious frame, that’s fine. They understand, like I do, that this is about keeping the government out of dictating to women what they do with their bodies; and that if you want to reduce abortion rates, the best way to do it is by making sure women have the choice and access to high-quality reproductive and OB/GYN care. By providing the most robust education we can, not just in a high school health class, but overall, because the biggest indicator of both positive health outcomes for every single women’s health issue, not just in reducing abortion levels, is education.
You want to challenge these Red districts? Find candidates out there who can sit down, talk, and relate real stories to “pro-life” voters, and make them understand where we’re coming from. Show them that the Republican party has been manipulating their emotions for years, with no intent or desire to ever actually address this issue.
Like the lady who asked me how I felt about Planned Parenthood, since they “only do abortions.” I told her, well, my daughter’s mother’s first pregnancy “well baby” checkup was at a Planned Parenthood because her mother and I were as poor as church mice at the time, and we somehow escaped- miraculously!– without being forced or pressured to have an abortion! All we got was good advice and new-parent literature!
This was something she hadn’t considered before. I explained to her a few more of the reasons why progressive values on this issue would do more to counter abortion rates than making it illegal or kneecapping it via TRAP laws would ever do, and she did agree with me on several points, including making LARCs available for as cheap as possible and over the counter. “Kids aren’t going to stop having sex!” she said to me; sage advice the Republican party apparently hasn’t yet picked up on. Or doesn’t care to, as my friend Sarah Smith just got the Republican candidate for Governor here in Virginia to admit he wants to defund Planned Parenthood.
I’m not sure she’ll end up voting for me, but at least I made her stop and consider all the things she’s been told about abortion and Democrats. Things that nobody has bothered to come out into this district and challenge in almost a decade. And if nobody goes out and challenges those misconceptions… then what the hell do we expect people to believe?
That young lady above? She was “pro-life”; she told us so. But since the Republican party has weaponized that term, and nobody has gone out in our neck of the woods to try and subvert that narrative, well… Much in the same way I personally watched dozens of people refuse to fill out an advanced directive thanks to Sarah Palin’s “death panel” nonsense, this divisive and dangerous rhetoric affects and hurts real people.
My story here is far from unique. There are plenty of people out there who can speak on this issue just as well, or even far better than I can, and relate those experiences to voters- and that’s exactly why I refuse to conscience the DCCC agreeing to fund any candidates who agree even slightly that making abortion illegal, legitimizing TRAP laws, or not wanting to fight for choice and access for women.
If the DCCC can’t find any candidates who can stand up for progressive values without selling women down the road, then maybe the DCCC is the organization we need to be finding new candidates to chair. And maybe we need some women in these leadership positions helping make these decisions.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse from Barboursville, Virginia, running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 58th District this fall. Donate to, volunteer for, or get the word out about our people-powered campaign today!