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Miscarriage is Not a Pro-Life Issue

Kathleen Reeves

A chemical that’s damaging to reproductive health is everyone’s concern.

In speaking to Iowans about the dangers of farm chemicals, Sandra Steingraber focuses on the effect of these chemicals on reproductive health. What’s troubling is that she’s decided to tailor this message to pro-lifers.

The risk she’s discussing is miscarriage, which isn’t analogous to abortion. A chemical that’s damaging to reproductive health is everyone’s concern. The pro-life movement, on the other hand, is not concerned with the ability of women to have children, but rather with interfering with a woman’s choice not to. Steingraber’s assumption that pro-lifers are also those most concerned with maternal health muddies the issue troublingly. Does this concern travel both ways? If I’m angry about the connection between my inability to get pregnant and the chemicals I’ve been exposed to, does that mean I should also be angry when a woman I don’t know chooses to end her pregnancy?

And are pro-lifers really committed, in any visible way, to maternal health? Many of them oppose abortion even when the mother’s health may be at risk. The supposedly supportive Crisis Pregnancy Centers, where many frightened women end up, are not committed to maternal health, but rather to coercing women to carry the pregnancy to term by feeding them lies (examples: abortion causes breast cancer; abortion leads to post-abortion syndrome, comparable to the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder of war veterans). Why would Steingraber target pro-lifers in her appeal for reproductive health?

What’s more, these chemicals lead to a lot more than miscarriages. They are carcinogenic, toxic to the nervous system, and they’re often passed on during gestation. So even if you don’t live “downstream,” but your parents did, you’re at risk.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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I suppose Steingraber is trying to appeal to her audience. It’s hard to talk to farmers when you’re arguing against the chemicals that are, at present, crucial to their work. On the other hand, many of these farmers may be against abortion, at least judging by the anti-abortion billboards dotting Iowa’s farmland (as Steingraber points out):

“Sometimes you can drive in rural areas and see a big pro-life sign and right behind it will be a farmer spraying chemicals that might very well be linked to reproductive problems,” she said.

Steingraber should be commended for her efforts to wake Midwesterners up to the dangers of farm chemicals. And she’s wise to point out the irony of the lack of local food systems in the Midwest. But her association of maternal health and fertility with the anti-abortion camp is offensive. Infertility, cancer, birth defects, and the deterioration of the nervous system are human concerns that don’t belong to any faction.