The self-righteousness of some Arkansas politicians is "Pharisee-level blasphemy," Gwen Faulkenberry writes. "Christ and the Pharisees," an 1880 watercolor by Lawrence W. Ladd. Smithsonian American Art Museum

One Sunday this past summer after church — Southern Baptist if you’re wondering — my family gathered for lunch at my parents’ house. I saw on Twitter where one of our lawmakers was celebrating that due to recent legislation, Arkansas had been voted the “most pro-life state in the nation.” A family member who was unaware of the legislation said, “Well, that’s good, isn’t it?”

But I had just watched Steve Barnes interview another lawmaker who lamented the legislature’s engaging in culture wars instead of addressing what our people really need. Arkansas is one of the worst states for education, child hunger, broadband access, foster care and many other areas. We are also close to the bottom in COVID-19 vaccinations. We also 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 pretty gross irony.”

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Some Arkansans fail to see this irony. They are the ones 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 not to abort but have their babies and can’t afford to feed them. And certainly not those 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 who is 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 it as Pharisee-level blasphemy.

These folks are now jealous that Texas can usurp our title of most pro-life state with its recently passed “Heartbeat Bill.” This bill outlaws abortion at six weeks gestation, before many women even know they are pregnant. As the legislature reconvenes in Little Rock this week to review proposals for redistricting, word is that some hope to throw in a copy of the Texas bill and make Arkansas the most pro-life again. Or at least tie Texas for the honor. But are we truly pro-life? Have we ever been? And is Texas our role model now?

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Like all good Razorbacks, may I say Pig Phooey to that third question. And although there is much to debate about the Texas law and how it creates vigilantes out of private citizens — which should concern us all whether we care about abortion on not — my purpose here is not to debate that. My purpose is to demand that a pro-life state must reckon with what pro-life means and be truthful about it. Because I do not believe a person or state deserves the title “pro-life” unless that means they are pro all human life. And pro-all-human-lifeness is proven by the fruit that person or state bears.

A pro-whole-life fruit inspector here would have to ask: What are the plans for improving education, child hunger, broadband access and foster care in Arkansas? Why are we close to the bottom in life-saving COVID-19 vaccinations? Where do “pro-life” legislators and voters stand on these issues? Where are the proposals for how to lower the highest rate of teen pregnancy and third highest infant mortality rate in the nation? What is the plan for saving all of the children who will not be aborted under a law like Texas SB-8? Shouldn’t that plan be in place if what we really care about is children? How, honestly, can we call ourselves the most pro-life state in the nation when our state bears such rotten, lifeless fruit?

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I believe many people who identify as pro-life truly are pro-whole-life. The problem is that we’ve allowed ourselves to accept what politicians and some preachers (and some politicians who are preachers) want us to believe: that voting pro-life means we have done our Christian duty toward innocent children. We can check that box and trust everything else to fall into place. The reason we don’t hear the same politicians touting plans for helping those babies once they are born is that they don’t have any. In fact, they are often the ones fighting hardest against measures that care for the least of these, at least after the least of these are born.

This is not what Jesus did. Plain and simple. It’s just not. There is no reading of the gospels that would support Christians making sure babies are born and then washing our hands of them. Instead, we see countless examples of Jesus feeding them, teaching them, healing them. And not just children. Their mothers and fathers, too. Those who don’t want the United States to be a Christian nation don’t have to care what Jesus would do. But for lawmakers whose brand is “Christian,” and Christian people who vote, it matters. We are accountable for how we answer: WWJD?

So my appeal is two-fold. To the legislators out there calling themselves Christians and obsessing about the outlaw of abortion, please look beyond that one issue into what policies you create and support after making sure babies are born. If there’s a disconnect between your passion for the unborn and the born child, ask yourself why. Does your party tell you to put politics over people? Do you think Jesus preferred unborn people to born? Be honest with yourself and your constituents. And to those constituents, do the same. If you vote according to a leader’s stance on that one issue and mostly ignore the rest, why do you do that? Habit? Laziness? Gullibility? Good intentions you didn’t think through? Please, think it through. And take action accordingly. To get better fruit, we need better fruit inspectors in this state.

Gwen Ford Faulkenberry describes herself as a mother, teacher, farmer, writer, seeker and failed politician. The latter remains to be seen. 

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