The recent legislation restricting abortion in states such as Alabama and Georgia has sparked a flurry of controversy. To this day I am strongly pro-choice, but two years in the liberty movement has made me rethink my position. Many of my new colleagues, superiors, and followers are adamantly pro-life. Today I see pro-lifers as motivated, passionate, and principled activists just like anyone else. Instead of seeing racist patriarchs trying to restrict women’s rights, I see courageous activists at groups such as Students for Life. Although we have our differences, I am inspired by their passion to protect life. If and when our viewpoints clash on this subject, it is on the basis of specific interpretations of facts and philosophy, not perceived intent or morality. At the end of the discussion, I always know that I cannot change minds on the spot, I might even be wrong, and that’s okay. However, the broader debate around abortion does not seem to be so civil; in fact, I think the manner in which it is conducted is antithetical to our democracy.
My personal view is that abortion is an incredibly intimate and difficult decision, one that should be left to the judgment of the potential mother and their doctor. However, I also know now that my Pro-Life colleagues only seek to affirm the dignity of the unborn as worthy of life, to create a society that respects that dignity. That is also why the argument that most if not all of the developed world allows abortion isn’t a strong point either. Pro-Life activists take a different approach. They cite the possibility of America leading the world in protecting the unborn. This sentiment is also echoed against the common argument that many women will be forced to take to incredibly unsafe abortion methods if they are not given access. Saying it’ll be more dangerous to perform abortions probably won’t inspire somone that doesn’t approve of them to begin with. A better argument can come from appreciating Pro-life concerns and addressing them in meaningful ways. My Pro-Life colleagues offered me a new perspective: we can respect women’s rights, but we can also go further to extend respect to the most vulnerable, the unborn. Personally, I can’t bring myself to criticize the intent or moral character of a person like that.
One of the primary pro-choice arguments I now find detestable is the famous mantra, “men can’t have an opinion on abortion”.I say that as a pro-choice advocate: Not only does it create a toxic atmosphere that is counterproductive, but it also misses key ideas that define a democratic society. The first issue with this argument is that a large percentage of women support abortion restrictions. According to a 2017 Gallup Poll, 43% of women identified as “Pro-Life” alongside 49% of women who view abortion as “morally wrong”, exceeding the 43% who view it as “morally acceptable”. Furthermore, a 2018 Pew Study found that 36% believe abortion should be “illegal in most cases”. Both surveys found men to be almost identical to women by just a few percentage points. Therefore, not only are there plenty of women to represent the Pro-life movement, men statistically are almost in agreement with women on this matter.
Using sex as a criterion for silencing certain voices is not only ignorant of reality, it goes against the foundation of a liberal democracy. Many would be quick to suggest that although the governor of Alabama is a woman, she is controlled by the patriarchy (such as this Mother Jones Article). Although I would love to see more female politicians, this misses the aforementioned point that there are plenty of women who are Pro-Life and certainly more female Pro-life legislators to come as well. However, my greatest concern is the use of gender as a means to censor debate and opposition; to silence men unless they agree, to isolate women who don’t conform. A tactic more rooted in tyranny rather than in justice. As someone who may passionately disagree with Pro-life women, I applaud their courage. Slanderous names such as “social enforcers of the patriarchy” are constantly hurled at these women. This idea may be valid in a sociology paper but it doesn’t hold up in mainstream political discourse. Furthermore, it implies that women are not capable of thinking for themselves. Society is better served if we were courageous enough to engage in substantial arguments rather than simply hiding behind name calling and ad hominin attacks.
If us Pro-Choicers aren’t willing to engage with the “patriarchy”, be it men or women in rational debate, we lose. In a democracy, everyone gets a vote and a voice. Suggesting only some may hold valid opinions is not only polarizing but undermines the very foundation that makes our civilization function: a plurality of perspectives and identities. Declaring that certain people cannot speak because of their sex is antithetical to a free society. Excluding people from representing a minority group due to their political beliefs is not only arbitrary but bigoted. In an interview with Ben Shapiro, former UN Ambassador and Republican Governor of South Carolina Nicki Haley, who is Indian American, stated that she was referred to as a “Conservative with a tan” by a Democrat. Not only is this racist but it demonstrates a broader tactic of leveraging identity to generate political power and discredit viewpoints. A tactic that conveniently seems to privilege one side more than the other. The public policy debate would be better served if we actually discussed matters of policy rather than silencing opposition. Good ideas don’t require force and it seems these aversions to meaningful discussion only serve to demonstrate an insecurity with one’s own arguments.
One thing I believe most Pro-Choicers and Pro-Lifers can agree upon is that abortion isn’t something to glorify. While we discuss the legal limits of abortion we should all be able to accept the Pro-Life stance that the unborn deserve a level of respect, personal responsibility is essential, and that parenthood is a unique gift. What I don’t believe is acceptable is trivializing abortion as some activists have turned to. In a now-deleted YouTube video, a Pro-Choice Activist tells children abortion is like “a crappy dentist appointment”. Comments like this are not only horrific but only serve to discredit the Pro-Choice movement. Abortion should be an option I hope no one has to take, but an option I trust and must be used responsibly.
The ongoing debate around abortion troubles me. A couple years ago I would have held the pro-life movement in contempt. However, today abortion is the topic I sympathize with most when it comes to those that disagree with me. A lot of that is due to many of my new colleagues being ardent defenders of life, born and unborn. Although I do not intend to change my views on abortion, I have certainly changed my perception of the pro-life movement. Sometimes I even wish I could share the same commitment to the unborn as they do. The greatest lesson from this isn’t about abortion. It’s about moving beyond identity politics, engaging meaningfully with the other side, and preserving the spirit of rigorous discussion that makes a free society flourish.