For me, the anti-abortion fervor of the last couple months has been surreal. I keep asking myself questions like, “How can these states be de-funding Planned Parenthood when the investigations found the organization to be compliant with all state laws?” and “How can Carly Fiorina lie about images she’d seen in videos on live television in a serious political debate?” But since the Republican base has long relied on the evangelical Christian population for political support, I guess this response is to be expected.
What I wasn’t expecting, though, was the introduction of a new character in the national abortion debate: the apologetic ally. As Planned Parenthood was under siege, I wanted my legislators to stick up for me and my bodily autonomy. I wanted every Democratic congressman on the news, at rallies, on the Senate floor passionately defending abortion as a woman’s right and a positive public good.
What I got instead was a lot of conciliation. Bernie Sanders told students at Liberty University that abortion is “a very painful and difficult choice that many women feel they have to make.” Elizabeth Warren pointed out all the services that Planned Parenthood provides that are not abortion — Pap tests, STI treatment, pregnancy tests, breast exams and prenatal referrals. These are our crusaders. These so-called heroes of the pro-choice movement are afraid to say that, for many women, Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider. And they are afraid to say that the majority of women walk out of abortion clinics relieved that they made the best choice for them.
The apologetic side of pro-choice rhetoric is likely an attempt to be nonpartisan. With an issue so polarizing, I imagine Democrats in Congress are willing to make some concessions in order to facilitate reasonable discussions, especially in more conservative spaces like Liberty University.
But the language we use to talk about abortion rights matters. It frames debates that determine what legislation is introduced and which policies are put in place. For goodness’ sake, even though the American Psychological Association has repeatedly refuted the claim that women experience trauma from abortions, Bernie Sanders talks about the procedure as if women who choose it cry themselves to sleep every night. When people on the left mimic the right’s anti-choice rhetoric, it only fuels dangerous misconceptions about abortion. Far from undermining right-wing extremism, such rhetorical compromises encourage it.
This is the new normal in reproductive rights debates — and, it’s working alarmingly well in favor of the anti-choice movement. Everyday, federal and state legislatures pass restrictions on abortion that make it more expensive, embarrassing, time-consuming and, in some cases, impossible to access.
When the pro-choice movement adopts an apologetic tone to appease extremists, it silences and shames the numerous women who have had abortions. When we talk about sex on this campus, we work hard to break down stigma associated with sexuality, STIs, and other “taboo” topics. But these efforts have not reached pregnancy. Have you ever heard of a Yale College woman getting pregnant? Probably not, but of course women on this campus do get pregnant. Yet, we don’t talk about them, and we certainly do not talk about what they choose to do with their pregnancies.
That is because women at Yale do not feel safe sharing their experiences with pregnancy. We live in a culture that shames women into feeling like they have to be sorry, not just for having an abortion, but for getting pregnant in the first place, even if they ultimately decide to keep the baby.
I’m tired of apologizing for abortion. Millions of women in our communities are grateful they can end a pregnancy so that they can go back to their jobs, finish college, take care of their other children or anything else that living, breathing women may prioritize over having a child. If tomorrow I found out I were pregnant, I would call the Planned Parenthood office in New Haven and make an appointment for an abortion. I am not ashamed of this, I am not embarrassed about it and I challenge all pro-choice Yalies to join me and refuse to feel guilty about your right to choose.
Cassie Lignelli is a sophomore in Davenport College. She is the political action coordinator at the Yale Women’s Center.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .