Since talking to The Daily about the anti-choice display in White Plaza on Monday, and reading the article covering the occasion, I have been doing a lot of thinking regarding abortion rights and the state of reproductive self-determination more broadly. “Feminist” is one of the first words I will use to describe myself, without hesitation, and I am certainly pro-choice. Yet, abortion is an issue about which I am exceedingly complacent. There are few people in my immediate circle who have had abortions, and those that have done so have been able to secure access to adequate health services quickly and effectively.
But the history of abortion rights nationally is not such a smooth one. Since the historic decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, anti-choice agents have used almost every tactic imaginable to undo the progress that we have made in terms of reproductive freedom. (I am oversimplifying legal history here, because obviously the recommendations of Roe were not carried out in full in most parts of the country for years, and some regions still struggle in this regard.) These individuals’ tactics have ranged from mundane to absurd and from peaceful to illegally violent. They have developed an anti-woman rhetoric that grounds itself in Puritanical values and in demonizing modern medical procedures with terms like “partial-birth abortions” or “neonatal pain perception.” Some who are anti-choice are passively so, and I contend that they are not dangerous. Rather, I believe the greatest threat to reproductive justice in this country is activists like me who are lulled into a sense of entitlement and security.
Think of the Stanford bubble phenomenon–only expand it to nearly every somewhat liberal social circle in the United States, and throw in an issue that affects lives, not just intellectualism. As health care reform was being so hotly debated in the legislature in November, several of my peers were following the dialog very closely. Those who identify as Democrats or leftists seemed relieved at the passage of the bill in the House–Facebook statuses and tweets abounded with exclamation points and joy. Yet, very few stopped to question the cost of the compromises that had been made to effect this shift. The Stupak Amendment, which passed along with the bill, essentially denied abortion coverage to anyone lacking the resources to pay for the services. Access to reproductive health services–already harshly delineated by race, class, age and geography–will become even harder to come by. The Democrats made a compromise on women’s lives. I know there are the moderates who will see this as a necessary middle ground, but I cannot see the value of a middle ground that strips the rights of a disadvantaged group.
Seeing the display in White Plaza made me more aware of my thoughtless state and how I had unwittingly allowed anti-choice messages to disseminate unchecked. I am not hoping to change the minds of the students involved in setting up the display, or those who are otherwise part of Stanford Students for Life. Instead, I wonder what it will take to shock those among us who support reproductive freedom to stand up and speak for those who cannot. Does it really take the rape or exploitation of our loved ones, lack of access to non-abortive emergency contraception in urgent situations or the deaths of young women who must seek back-alley abortions to save their own lives?
I ask that we use our powers of sympathetic imagination and think about the history of abortion that was memorialized Monday. I will let go, for the moment, of the fact that Stanford Students for Life placed the label of “victim” on the abortions that have been performed since 1973, for in countless arguments with anti-choice individuals I have found the personhood debate largely useless. Rather, let us think about the history of abortion and access to it as one of rape, violence and abuse, but whose future can be one of equality–provided that we stop taking for granted reproductive freedom and continue working for our rights with the knowledge that any concession in this regard is a threat to social justice.
Class of 2012