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Teenagers Are Reclaiming What It *Really* Means To Be Pro-Life

On February 14, 2018, 17 lives were lost after a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire with an assault weapon. Seventeen living, breathing human lives. Not zygotes, a few days from developing into blastocysts. Not embryos, weeks away from turning into fetuses. Actual people. And yet the "pro-life" community has stood by as children across the country walk out of their classrooms and into legislative offices, on-camera interviews, and 60 Minute specials, silently looking on from the far side of the partisan divide. The "March For Our Lives," not to be confused with the "March For Life," is taking place in 800 towns and cities across the globe, and has allowed our kids to reclaim the pro-life mantle. Never has the hypocrisy of the "pro-life" — or anti-choice — movement been so stark, as we witness our country's failure to protect actual lives by erroneously focusing on theoretical ones. "Any way you cut it," Parkland student Emma Gonzáles wrote in Teen Vogue, "one of the biggest threats to life as a teen in the U.S. today is being shot."

More Americans identify as "pro-choice" than "pro-life," per Gallup — terminology that is inherently biased — and yet the anti-choice movement has dedicated itself to rolling back women's rights across the country, with outsized success. Their tactics have ranged from harassment to setting up fraudulent medical practices, to actual murder — all in the name of protecting life. As a woman who has not only had an abortion but has dedicated much of her professional career to advocating for safe, affordable, on-demand abortion access and reproductive freedom, I didn't need our nation's teenagers — rightfully fed up with the increased possibility that they'll be shot and killed in their history classes — to highlight the fraudulent rhetoric of anti-choice proponents. As the Parkland students wrote in a guest editorial for The Guardian, "It is hypocritical to rally people to protect the second amendment, while remaining silent on the ways that blocking research violates one of our most basic constitutional freedoms."

Pro-life politics often overlap with a pro-death position, whether by prioritizing a fetus' life over that of the mother, supporting the death penalty, or championing pro-gun policies. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a 2017 Gallup Poll found that 55 percent of Americans are in "favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder." In 2015, a Gallup Poll found that 50 percent of Americans identify as "pro-life." Kevin D. Williamson, a writer for the National Review and so-called pro-life conservative, said on Twitter that he believes all women who've had abortions should be put to death by hanging. In 2011, then-Governor of Texas Rick Perry bragged about overseeing the executions of 234 people. He's also "pro-life." President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, released two days before the shooting at Parkland, presented a $25 million cut in funds for school safety activities, and suggested the elimination of a $400 million grant program for bullying prevention and mental-health assistance. Trump, who has now positioned himself as a pro-life conservative and has been hailed as the "most pro-life president in U.S. history," later called the shooter a "savage sicko," claimed mental health problems need to be addressed but proposed no plan on how to do so, and blamed Parkland students for not warning people about the shooter earlier.

Pro-life politicians failed to protect the lives of our children after 13 people died at Columbine High School. Pro-life activists didn't march after 20 kindergarteners were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Pro-life picketers chose to line up outside Planned Parenthoods with graphic pictures of fetuses on placards, instead of outside the NRA headquarters.
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Pro-life politicians have an infuriating history of voting against gun-control legislation that could keep children safe, while simultaneously enacting anti-abortion laws that put women and children in danger. According to a 2017 report released by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health, the states with the harshest abortion restrictions measure poorly on key benchmarks of child and maternal health. Terri-Ann Thompson, associate at Ibis Reproductive Health, and one of the report’s authors, told Rewire, "Among states with 10 or more abortion restrictions, we see higher rates of maternal mortality, pre-term births, and low birth weight infants as compared with the national average." An estimated 100,000 to 240,000 women of reproductive age in Texas have attempted a self-induced abortion, as a result of the state's anti-abortion laws. According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, 68,000 women die of unsafe abortion annually, making it one of the leading causes of maternal mortality. "Pro-life" politics are bad for children, bad for families, and bad for life.

But it's the current unwillingness of so-called "pro-life" politicians to even consider hearing legislations aimed at enacting common sense gun laws — laws that would protect students in schools, concert-goers enjoying music festivals, clubbers living the night life, and teens out at the movies — that is arguably changing what it really means to be "pro-life."

Pro-life politicians failed to protect the lives of our children after 13 people died at Columbine High School. Pro-life activists didn't march after 20 kindergarteners were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Pro-life picketers chose to line up outside Planned Parenthoods with graphic pictures of fetuses on placards, instead of outside the NRA headquarters, when 32 people were gunned down at Virginia Tech.

The ideological extremism of the pro-life movement — which has used pictures of fetal tissue as a promotional tool — has benefited from a relative willingness to discard the sanctity of life when harassing women considering an abortion. If those of us who treasure the lives we have brought to term could stomach those tactics, maybe a fair conversation could be had. As Gawker's Alex Pareene argued, "Gun control advocates hoist signs with pictures of smiling cherubic kids, taken before their lives were cut short. Anti-abortion activists put up billboards with graphic photos of blood and fetal tissue. There will need to be graphic photographs of bullet-riddled corpses" to move the gun conversation forward.

Theirs are the the lives the pro-life moment claims to fight so hard for when they're in the womb, but has systematically dismissed, disregarded, and disdained now that they're outside of it.

But our kids, reared in the post-9/11 dome of fear that arguably enabled the rate of mass shootings to triple, have found their voices. They are marching and picketing and holding legislators' feet to the proverbial fire. As González wrote in Teen Vogue, "We have grown up in this country and watched violence unfold to no resolution. We have watched people with the power and authority to make changes fail to do so." González praised fellow teen gun-control leaders, including Natalie Barden, a 16-year-old who lost her younger brother, Daniel, in the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting. There is no better response to the insincere mission of so-called "pro-life" activists than the voices of babies who have grown into teenagers, and are now protesting the threat on their lives.

The children who grew up in a country shaped by pro-life politics are right to ask why their friends, brothers, mothers, sisters, and teachers are dead. Thanks to the inaction of those in positions of power, most of which make up the pro-life majority in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, our children have become perfect candidates to answer back to the hypocritical pro-life, overwhelming Republican moment. After all, theirs are the the lives the pro-life moment claims to fight so hard for when they're in the womb, but has systematically dismissed, disregarded, and disdained now that they're outside of it.

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Marco Rubio, the Republican Senator representing Florida, received $90,205 in campaign donations from gun rights groups during the 2015-2016 campaign cycle, and $3,303,355 over the course of his political career, according to The New York Daily News. In advance of the 44th Annual March For Life in Washington, Rubio said via a released statement, "I believe there is no human right more fundamental and more sacred than the right to life, and that every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws." Yes, you're encouraged to read that again.

Every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws.

Forget for a moment the original readings of the second amendment that contort protections for a regulated 18th-century militia into protections for hobbiests who shoot off AR-15s for fun, and recall that the "inalienable rights" that supersede any constitutional amendment include the "preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." That is why Parkland students are calling for, among other measures, a ban on assault weapons.

After the shooting in Parkland, Rubio claimed gun restrictions wouldn't have prevented the tragedy. "If we do something, it should be something that works. And the struggle up to this point has been that most of the proposals that have been offered would not have prevented, not just yesterday's tragedy, but any of those in recent history." Rubio made similar remarks after the shooting at Pulse Nightclub, where 49 innocent people lost their lives. In 2013, Rubio voted against a law banning high capacity magazines. In 2016, Rubio voted against legislation that would've banned known or suspected terrorists from buying guns. The Pulse shooter had previously been placed on a terrorist watch list in 2013. He was investigated by the FBI, but never charged and later removed from the list.

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Senator Rubio, my daughter, running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was shot in the back with an assault weapon.

During a CNN Town Hall, Parkland survivors had the opportunity to confront Rubio about his NRA campaign donations and anti-gun control voting record. And after a grieving father, who lost his daughter in the shooting, called Rubio's post-shooting comments "pathetically weak," Rubio, once again, claimed gun laws wouldn't have prevented the tragedy. "Now, I think what you're asking about is the assault weapons ban, "Rubio said. "Yes sir," replied the father. "Now, let me be honest with you about that one. If I believe that that law would have prevented this from happening, I would support it."

"Senator Rubio, my daughter, running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was shot in the back with an assault weapon," the father replied. "The weapon of choice. It's too easy to get. It's a weapon of war. The fact that you can't stand with everybody in this building and say that, I'm sorry."

Every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws.

The pharisaicalness of the pro-life moment and those who join it is well documented. But, sadly, that documentation hasn't kept insincere, two-faced politicians from being elected to office. The current movement perpetuated, sustained, and led by the students of Parkland, however, is the first conceivable chance in recent memory this nation has seen at enacting real change when it comes to ending systemic gun violence. And with that change comes, perhaps, a re-branding of the label "pro-life." As the next generation argues that their actual lives have more value than the potential lives of fertilized eggs, fighting for the "sanctity of life" can now mean you're pro-safe schools, pro-gun regulations, pro-access to mental health care, and, yes, pro-abortion access to people who need and want it. After all, the majority of teenagers are not only pro-common sense gun laws, they're also pro-access to safe, legal, affordable abortion services.

According to WTOP, an estimated 50,000 pro-life activists attended the March For Life in 2018, the largest "pro-life" march in the country. According to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, an estimated 500,000 true pro-life activists are expected to attend the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C.

Every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws.

Thanks to the next generation, there's a chance those words will no longer remain empty.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.