Recent developments in pro-abortion legislation in New York, Virginia and several other states have begun to showcase the real problem within the pro-choice versus pro-life debate — the polarization of topics which should be common ground. Both political camps refuse to cover the stories truthfully, leaving lay people like myself and millions of others in limbo on both the power and range of the laws at stake. This polarization has resulted in a sharp divide between “pro-lifers” and “pro-choicers,” preventing dialogue and leading each to assume malintent or sheer apathy of the other side.
Speaking from a pro-life perspective, I can heartily affirm this reality. As the women’s rights movement and the pro-choice movement become inseparable, people begin to assume that pro-lifers do not support goals of the women’s movement such as equal pay, a workplace free of sexual harassment and equal educational opportunities for women, when they in fact do. It becomes difficult to simultaneously be a part of the women’s movement while still distancing oneself from the ranks of Planned Parenthood, Linda Sarsour and a bevy of other controversial abortion activists. It seems to be one cause or the other — but it shouldn’t have to be that way. What results in the midst of this reality is “fetus tunnel vision.”
When an abortion dialogue ensues, we as pro-lifers tend to focus solely on the unborn, sometimes not recognizing the immense pressures and struggles that a pregnant woman faces because of her pregnancy. We do not ignore her per se, but we feel the tendency to frame the debate as the unborn versus the woman. This is a serious vice — the solution to which is listening to women, deeply and carefully. We should be seriously considering the initiatives coming from women across the country and align our support with those that affirm femininity, womanhood and equality where it is lacking. I want to be very clear — I am not suggesting that pro-lifers should change their mind on policy issues solely for the sake of common ground — that would be insincere. What I am suggesting is a consideration of the real consequences of our pro-life position. Being pro-life should not just be about the unborn; it should be about supporting and respecting the dignity of every human being. A conversation needs to be had about how to best grow life-affirming adoption services, maternity homes and support networks for women who have experienced abortion. Pro-lifers should be willing to offer support to the mother whenever she needs it, regardless of the choice she makes. After all, her struggle is not confined to the choice she makes.
With that said, this is a two-sided coin. I think the pro-choice movement has also developed its own version of tunnel vision. Their focus is not on the unborn or women, but on the political initiatives like the Reproductive Health Care Act in New York. Consider this: Does the woman going into Planned Parenthood feel like she is exercising a right? Buying a house is exciting; exercising our right to protest is energizing; but, does having a third-trimester abortion cause any sort of joy? Women who have had abortions, when describing their experience, usually do not comment on abortion laws, or even on their right to choose. It’s personal. It’s serious. It’s not black and white. Women often feel unsupported, sometimes feeling as if abortion is their only option. They feel emotionally frustrated and physically powerless. While laws impact women, the bigger question is whether these laws support women.
On both sides, we have lost sight of what we both care about: the well-being of women going through the miracle of pregnancy and supporting them throughout the process — regardless of what choice they make. The conversation seems to stop when a woman makes her choice. Sometimes, it feels as if pro-lifers focus too little on the woman and the reality of her circumstances, leading to a lack of support for mothers, while pro-choicers avoid discussing the real emotional and physical impact abortions have on women, leading to radical third-trimester laws like those of New York.
As secretary of Choose Life at Yale, I’m proud that our group attempts to push past tunnel vision by volunteering at St. Gianna’s Pregnancy Resource Center. This spring, we will also be hosting the Vita Conference on alternatives to abortion and how we can support the women considering abortion. In the spirit of dialogue, I can only hope that these initiatives will spark dialogue not only among the two sides, but between them. It is time to depoliticize abortion and rehumanize the people abortion affects. If progress is to be made, we must first recognize who it is for, laying aside our tunnel vision so that we can first, listen.
Carson Macik is a first year in Saybrook College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .