The authors of this op-ed are Co-Presidents of Stanford Students for Life.
On Monday, October 28th a number of Stanford student organizations hosted an evening talk at the Black Community Services Center with Loretta Ross, self-described professional feminist and creator of the term reproductive justice. One of the co-founders of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Ross spoke compellingly about the importance of human rights and the need for young activists to, as she described it, fight against oppression.
Their efforts are of paramount importance for the preservation of human rights, Ross stressed, because everyone is entitled to these rights by virtue of being human. “No one gets to vote on whether you’re human or not,” she stated emphatically. “I am a human being. We’re all human beings.”
With this premise Ross laid the foundation for her talk, which gradually evolved into a natural dialogue with the audience as she encouraged everyone to chime in with their questions. After recounting her journey to active involvement in the feminist and other related movements, Ross elaborated on the event’s advertised discussion topics: reproductive justice, population control, and white supremacy.
Ross argues that our society today is witnessing an assault against women, embodied first and foremost in the movement to restrict – and ultimately outlaw – abortion. However, she does not take issue solely with those who seek stricter legal limits on abortion. Rather, Ross believes that abortion as it exists today in the United States is being misused to promote the causes of population control and white supremacy. There exists, Ross claims, an effort to increase the number of “white babies”, while at the same decrease the number of “babies of color”. Ross maintains that this simultaneously oppresses women of color and uses white women as the means to realize the reprehensible goal of white supremacy. While it isn’t entirely evident to us how Ross argues this claim, one thing is clear: the supposed use of abortion for the goal of white supremacy – and in fact, abortion itself – does disrespect women, and totally ignores the dignity they deserve as human beings.
So what kind of respect do women deserve as human beings? According to Ross, the inalienable rights of women are: 1) the right of a woman to decide if and when she will have a child, as well as the conditions of delivery; 2) the right of a woman to decide that she will not have a child, along with access to the means to prevent or end a pregnancy; and 3) the right of a woman to parent her already existing children with the necessary and reasonable support from society.
We at Stanford Students for Life (SSFL) agree with Ross – almost.
Ross speaks truth when she affirms the need to protect all humans’ rights, particularly those of women, who have historically faced centuries of oppression. The rights of a person are never something to be undervalued. And it is absolutely unjust to deny a woman any of her rights because she is a woman. Which is why it’s time for those who believe in the dignity of life to step back and realize that we cannot simply advocate on behalf of the child in the womb – we must also advocate on behalf of the mother. This means ensuring that she has the resources she needs to actually make a choice about her baby’s future, including, but not limited to: the necessary financial and emotional support before, during and after the pregnancy; a plausible means of continuing and finishing her education; maternity leave; and feasible adoption options.
Though abortion is often championed as providing women with a choice, the fact that abortion exists at all, or that it is viewed by many as an “answer,” is not a sign of progress for women or society. Many pro-choice advocates, such as President Obama and Hillary Clinton have expressed their desire to make abortion “safe, legal and rare”. The fact that abortion exists means that we, as a society, have failed women. We have failed to give them the opportunities, resources, and love that they need in order to make informed choices. According to a 2004 study done by the Guttmacher Institute, the most cited reason for obtaining an abortion is that having a baby would interfere with the woman’s education, work, or ability to care for other dependents (74%). This fear is closely followed by that of the woman feeling she is unable to afford a baby (73%).
Those of us who consider ourselves to be “pro-life” or “anti-abortion” need to contemplate the implications of what it actually means to be such. We cannot throw around phrases like “respect life” and “all life is precious” and “women deserve better” if we don’t actually act as if we believe in what we are saying. If every life has dignity, then we cannot stop caring for the fate of a child once that child is delivered from his or her mother’s womb. And, likewise, if we cannot stop caring for the fate of a child, then we cannot stop caring for the fate of the mother.
In her talk, Ross stressed that when a woman gets pregnant, all sorts of questions race through her mind: What do I do? What happens to my education? My job? What will my friends say? My boyfriend? My parents? Ross argues that these are questions that need to have already been answered before a woman realizes that she is pregnant, because if these questions arise only at the moment that the pregnancy test reads “positive,” then it is “already too late.”
We at SSFL support this. SSFL’s current mission is to find, promote and create on-campus pregnancy resources for Stanford students. When we investigated what resources were currently available for a student who found she was pregnant, we did not discover fair, balanced answers that included all possible options; rather, we were constantly redirected to an abortion clinic, or offered emergency contraception.
This should not be the case. We at SSFL believe the ability to carry a child to term should be a legitimate option for women on campus. Women have a right to make informed choices without fear of a lack of resources, fear of what people will say, or fear of not being supported both pragmatically and emotionally by their Stanford community.
SSFL aims to create a society in which women do not have to fear social pressure, a lack of support, and the judgment of others. We believe we should strive for a community in which women are supported at all times – before, during, and after pregnancy – such that they do not even have to consider abortion as an answer to their problems. We believe women should be empowered to make good decisions.
And what is a good decision? A good decision is one that is made when all human rights are protected. As Loretta Ross emphatically declared in her talk, “no one gets to vote on whether you are a human or not.” SSFL would argue that this applies even to those humans who do not have a voice yet – specifically the child that is being formed in a mother’s womb.
The question is not about whether a human being is present to claim his or her rights. It’s about protecting those rights because a human being is a human being, and by virtue of such is entitled to the human rights that Ross herself is so committed to defending.
So let’s work together to make abortion irrelevant. Because the truth is, women deserve better than abortion.