Opinion: Pro-choice at Calvin
Since learning about the founding of a new anti-choice group on campus, the Calvin College Students for Life, I have been pondering what the proper response from pro-abortion rights students should be. Calvin College is, of course, aligned with the anti-choice position outlined in the Christian Reformed Church position statements (see crcna.org for more information), but this new organization sharpens the issue. The following article explores principles for what to do and what not to do when agitating for safe and legal abortions.
Argumentation is not likely to change anyone’s mind unless they are already wavering, but persuasive use of evidence and skillful storytelling are both useful tactics in defending abortion. Facts, while indispensable, are not sufficient, and need to be contextualized and used to maximum effectiveness in an argument. These have to be paired with a strong ethical argument as well. For instance, merely citing the fact that countries with more restrictive abortion laws see just as many abortions as more permissive countries is useful, but it is useless by itself if the person opposed to you believes laws should reflect their idea of morality (Sedegh, et al, The Lancet). If you don’t have a framework for criticizing their reasons why abortion is wrong, you won’t be as persuasive.
One common pro-life assertion, that abortion is murder, can be countered by noting that a fetus has no life of its own, but exists only with the permission of the parent, who, while pregnant, might lose their job, suffer complications leading to death or maiming, or face tremendous social pressure. Ultimately, if the pregnant person withdraws consent, the fetus has lost its right to exist. Another important point to make is that, according to Planned Parenthood, a first-trimester abortion procedure can cost up to $900. For someone struggling just to feed themselves and pay rent (which would be even more difficult if they had to support a child), that might be an unbearable cost.
While some organizations, including the local church I attend, do provide money for working class and other poor people who need an abortion, it is still a struggle. If abortions were made illegal, the price would rise even further and illegal procedures, which killed between 5,000 and 10,000 women per year before legalization, would continue to endanger lives (Schwarz, “Septic Abortion”). Pro-choice arguments must emphasize the extraordinary and disproportionate burden restricting legal procedures will have on poorer women, who tend to be people of color. So-called “pro-life morality” is not only sexist, therefore, but also racist and conducive to the interests of the ruling class, who will still be able to afford black market abortions while poorer people will not.
Unfortunately, given the hegemony of anti-choice power in this country, progressives often make the mistake of ceding the terms of the argument to the opposing side in an attempt to reach some imaginary “common ground.” While being sensitive to your context is useful, there are some arguments that do more harm than good. While it is true that over 60 percent of women who get abortions are already mothers (Slate, citing Guttmacher Institute), I often hear this argument used against conservatives when the latter argue that women who get abortions are sexually promiscuous and irresponsible. Someone who is pro-choice should not use this rhetoric because it implicitly divides women into “good” mothers and “bad” women who have casual sex. The reality is that abortion is a social necessity and a right for all women regardless of what they do. Adopting the same regressive morality as our opponents is a grave error. The pro-abortion position is certainly the more moral and correct one, but pro-choice people often have difficulty effectively articulating this fact.
People who support the right of pregnant people to choose their own destinies — to cope with their situations as they see fit — need to stand in solidarity with one another and with those people who need abortions. The climate on campus might be hostile to progressive politics, but there should be efforts both on campus and in the wider community to agitate ceaselessly for the liberation of women from compulsory births and dangerous illegal procedures.
This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily represent the views of Calvin Chimes, Calvin College or the Christian Reformed Church.