Five years ago, I was marching in Washington D.C. in a very different kind of women’s march. I was a self-described social conservative and evangelical Christian then, joining other young, conservative interns to participate in the March for Life to “protect” the rights of the unborn and “save” future generations of women from the “scourge” of abortion and Planned Parenthood.
Fast-forward five years. I am standing in front of a Hobby Lobby along with over a thousand other men and women to defend women’s rights – including the right to an abortion – from the regressive policies of the incoming Trump administration.
What changed? Me.
Since that time, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to dialogue with men and women from very different walks of life, many of whom bore the label “liberal” not as a dirty word, but as a badge of honor. In quiet contemplation, I soon found that many of their views resonated more with my own intrinsic values of equality and social justice.
After college, in D.C., I participated in several internships with widely recognized politically conservative policy think tanks. I read extensively what constituted mainstream conservative philosophy on various social and fiscal issues and found myself disagreeing profoundly with policy material. My internal dialogue clashed, perhaps most markedly, with Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative and my internal conflicts grew with every page of the text. I found myself turning instead to bold liberal voices like Elizabeth Warren, whose political positions I found most compelling.
Almost simultaneously, I also experienced a deep theological shift in my faith. And after much introspection and research, I embarked on a new spiritual path, one that was not at odds with my growing social consciousness and that viewed my pursuit of justice and social activism as a mitzvah, or commandment.
It was not a matter of whether abortion was “good” or “bad” for women, but whether women should have the right to make that most important of decisions for themselves.
I also entered law school. There, I was responsible for reading and analyzing hundreds of cases, including family-planning Supreme Court cases like Griswold v. Connecticut, Eisenstadt v. Baird, the “infamous” Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. I began to see more clearly the discrepancy with a philosophy that valued the life of the unborn more than the life of the mother who would be required to carry it to term. Still, recalling the harrowing abortion accounts and gruesome images from within the pro-life movement, I struggled to reconcile them with the belief that abortion should be protected under the law. I struggled with what it meant to be a feminist who believed in equal work for equal pay, in standing up to rape culture and violence against women, that women could be CEOs and even President of our country, yet who still debated whether the government should have the power to compel a woman to endure the pains of labor for a child she has decided she does not want to carry – all in the name of “protecting life.” I did a lot of listening. I scrutinized the thought processes and legal analyses of the justices in their landmark Supreme Court opinions.
“If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 at 453 (1972).
“Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code. The underlying constitutional issue is whether the State can resolve these philosophic questions in such a definitive way that a woman lacks all choice in the matter . . .” Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 at 850 (1992).
“The mother who carries a child to full term is subject to anxieties, to physical constraints, to pain that only she must bear. That these sacrifices have from the beginning of the human race been endured by woman with a pride that ennobles her in the eyes of others and gives to the infant a bond of love cannot alone be grounds for the State to insist she make the sacrifice. Her suffering is too intimate and personal for the State to insist, without more, upon its own vision of the woman’s role, however dominant that vision has been in the course of our history and our culture. The destiny of the woman must be shaped to a large extent on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.” Id. at 852.
One day, something just clicked. I began to realize that the issue, far from being black or white, was riddled with nuance. It was not a matter of whether abortion was “good” or “bad” for women, but whether women should have the right to make that most important of decisions for themselves. And for me, as it was for millions of other women across the country, that answer became a resounding yes. No one else – not politicians, clergy, or even well-meaning friends or family – has the right to make decisions that affect another person’s body or life path, when he or she will not have to live with the consequences.
Moreover, a government that has the power to force a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term essentially reduces her to an incubator, valuing the life in utero – still dependent upon the mother for life – over the one that is already living autonomously. Further, for our government to compel a woman to endure the pains of labor, the morning sickness and the anxieties of pregnancy, despite her wishes, is no different from a government like China’s, which compels a woman to abort due to overpopulation. Both ends of the spectrum remove decisions concerning family planning from the mother and elevates the government to a paternalistic role, dictating what is best to adult women, and forcing itself upon them by removing the autonomy that is rightfully theirs.
For the record, I still do not “like” abortion. Then again, I don’t know any pro-choice women who do. It is a heartbreaking decision for a woman to climb on to an abortion table. Nobody “likes” that reality. What we like is choice. If faced with the prospect of an unplanned pregnancy, my choice would likely not be abortion. But that is my choice. Another may choose otherwise for a myriad of reasons. Some women are not physically able to deliver without complications, others are not in a financial position to adequately provide for a child, and still others are not psychologically at a place where they have the capacity to invest in and extensively nurture a child.
“But what about adoption?” many like myself have asked clinically. To be sure, adoption is a valid option, which sometimes facilitates wonderful outcomes. But many times, it does not. There are many good and honorable women who, by their choice, do not want to go that route for compelling reasons. They do not want their children growing up as wards of the state and being shuffled around through the already overcrowded foster care system. They do not want to go through life with the unsettling knowledge and lack of closure that lifetime separation from a child could bring. Much like parents who have had a missing child, there is often an unquenchable yearning to know what has happened to the child they gave birth to. Again, it is about choice. A choice that the highest Court in our land already determined 44 years ago to be a right inherent in a woman’s autonomy and dignity.
And so, five years into this transformative journey, I stand along with my fellow sisters across the country and across the world in solidarity.
For my pro-life friends who identify as “feminists” and who didn’t understand why they weren’t invited to the Women’s March, I write this also for you. Feminism, in its most basic sense, means advocating for equality for women. A woman can never be truly equal if she does not have full autonomy over one of the most personal decisions affecting her life and her body.
Moreover, overturning Roe will not effectively end abortion in our country. It is illogical to think that outlawing guns will not stop gun violence, yet think that outlawing abortion will stop women from terminating unwanted pregnancies. Endangering women through coat hanger abortions and in the shadowy back alleys of illegal abortion clinics is not the answer. Ending abortion must incorporate supporting women before pregnancy. They need access to affordable birth control. They need help to fight the stigma and fear of rejection associated with unwed motherhood, even within their own families. They need representation that addresses the realities of income inequality and poverty associated with a non-living wage so that they do not have to choose between caring for a new baby and their own survival. Help them fight against rape culture, so that they never have to carry their rapist’s child. Ultimately, it is about empowering women to make choices in meaningful ways that encourage not just birth, but life to come forth – and thrive.