What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Abortion

I’m a Law Students for Reproductive Justice member at the University of Washington, and last year at this time I went to a conference on abortion at Princeton that aimed to discover common ground between abortion-rights proponents and anti-abortion activists.

Many of my RJ friends found the conference frustrating and unsatisfying, but I had a totally different reaction. I made interesting connections with some of the “pro-life” students I met there, who didn’t think the way I’d assumed they did. I began to think that finding “common ground” in this sense is possible. What’s more, I began to suspect that it might be essential to achieving many reproductive-justice and feminist goals. Similarly, I started to think that the “worldview” of folks identifying as pro-life Catholics isn’t actually as alien as secular RJ activists might assume. But finding common ground with those who oppose abortion isn’t as easy as just thinking of things that they MIGHT find appealing — like suggesting ”let’s work to reduce abortions!” and throwing those ideas out there.We have to actually get to know them first; and they should actually get to know us, and what we think – rather than caricaturing who we are and what we think.

What I argue, in a series that I’m doing this week with a Catholic theologian on a blog called Catholic Moral Theology, is that before we can begin to think about what ”common ground” is or what the real arguments are about, we need to undertake this project of getting to know each other. I would be honored if Feministing readers were to check out my series with Catholic Ethics professor Charles Camosy over at the Catholic Moral Theology website. I would be especially thrilled to hear your comments on our exchange. Here is a link to the series so far – check back each day this week. It’s in reverse chronological order, so see my post below.

Here is an excerpt from my first post:

“When we talk about abortion – and by “we” I mean anyone, but especially people who think about abortion a lot – namely activists on either “side”  — we are talking about a lot more than abortion, without saying so. We’re talking about pregnancy, sex, inequality, gender, consent, metaphysics, human rights, theories of justice, theories of the state (probably also about theology and ontology – the question of ‘where do people come from?’). For example, when I talk about abortion, I’m really talking about a theory of gender equality, and I assume that people from my movement understand that. People from outside the movement may not understand the extent to which my views on abortion arise out of a theory of gender justice, rather than out of a neoliberal fetishizing of ‘choice.’  Similarly, when people with a more ‘pro-life’ view talk about abortion, they are often relying on a theory about consent to sexual behavior about which unfamiliar listeners may not be aware.

Our background assumptions need to become explicit if we’re ever going to be able to work together, because working together requires that we first understand each other.”

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Join the Conversation