“Pro-Life Week” & Restrictions on Reproductive Justice

by Sofia Dadap, FCLC ’18

“Did you know that there are 2,900 abortions every day in the United States? Come remember those affected by abortion, both the unborn and post-abortive individuals. It is of paramount importance that we speak out for the victims of abortion, particularly as the pre-born are not able to speak out for themselves. The pre-born cannot protest, vote, or say anything at all, and so we are compelled by our sense of justice and human solidarity to advocate on their behalf and represent post-abortive individuals.”
– 2015 Facebook Event Page description for “Memorial of the Innocents” by Fordham’s “Respect for Life” Club

The emotionally manipulative rhetoric of anti-choice advocates is exemplified by the Fordham University “Respect for Life” group’s language in their description of last year’s “Memorial of the Innocents” display. There are a great variety of ideologies that espouse anti-choice beliefs, from religious fundamentalists who have no problem admitting their misogyny to the students in this club who believe that their pro-life activism is borne of their strong sense of “justice” and a value for human lives, despite the reality that anti-choicers would deny others their bodily autonomy and diminish the fundamental human rights of women and all people who get pregnant. Rather than indulge their disingenuous and falsely positive façade through the label “pro-life,” I will term them appropriately.

This quote by the Respect for Life club in this transparently biased article last year exemplifies the thorough delusion of anti-choice people:

“The event is not at all designed to shame women who have had abortions in the past, but to spark dialogue and express solidarity with both victims of abortion — the pre-born victims — and the women who must bear the trauma of abortion and need healing.”

Their assertion that such a display is somehow helpful to those who have made the difficult decision to end their pregnancies for an infinite variety of valid reasons, and that the display is an expression of care for human life and dignity, is hard to believe. I wish I could say that I had enough faith in my fellow students that I could trust that their rationalization of their beliefs is earnest. I believe there are those with a genuine belief that they are acting out of regard for human lives and “standing up for those with no voice” despite their disregard for the real life voices of people who have a right to bodily autonomy. However, their alignment with anti-choice policy-makers, religious leaders and other misogynists nevertheless contribute to the material conditions of the oppression of people who are capable of pregnancy, among others.

A precedent of centuries of control over bodies classed as female is what renders any argument about the intentions of anti-choicers totally insignificant. The anti-choice individuals who truly believe they are on the side of “justice” are still participating in the usurpation of reproductive rights. The group purports to be standing up for the “victims of abortion.” To say nothing of the value one should or not should not place on a fetus, the so-called advocacy that these people do on behalf of fetuses comes at the cost of all people who have ended or will end their pregnancies. The past year’s display of white flags in the shape of the cross tied the group to those so-called moral authorities that represent the church while contributing to state control over people’s bodies—this year’s display is in the shape of a heart. Despite its palatable presentation the symbolism of the presentation can be very disturbing to those who have ended their pregnancies. To anyone who has had an abortion or ever might in the future (because of the plethora of circumstances in which people have them), this is an unwanted and unwelcome reminder of a deeply personal and difficult decision. It is trivializing, paternalistic, and reductive to homogenize the experiences of millions of people who have sought and had abortions, who deserve privacy and dignity as living human beings.

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The moral rationalizations used to deny others of their human rights are arguments that have absolutely no place in a university setting—particularly in one like Fordham’s that refuses to acknowledge the occurrence of sex on campus, one that refuses birth control and contraception to its undergraduate students, one that provides no sexual health resources whatsoever in regards to women’s and transgender/gender non-conforming/non-binary health needs, one that provides no assistance or even basic accommodations to any students who become pregnant while living on campus. Fordham’s history and present-day continuation of institution-level misogyny and hypocrisy in regards to granting “free speech” is what allows the members of this club to express their patronizing “concern” for people who have had abortions in a way that upsets and triggers them. We know this is disingenuous because of the club’s history: a cemetery full of white flags (previously gravestones) representing people’s aborted fetuses could never seriously be perceived as standing in solidarity with anyone who has had an abortion and has also been subject to a society that consistently demonizes anyone who has an abortion.

If Respect for Life cared about people who have had abortions they would listen to their voices rather than speaking for them. Still they choose to inaccurately portray abortion-havers as “victims” rather than people who made important decisions about their reproductive health and about the timeline of their lives, which would never be denied to someone with full access to personhood. The club describes those people as “bearing the trauma of abortion and need[ing] healing” which is truly a gross misrepresentation of people who have had abortions. The existence of people with regrets about abortions is irrelevant to the so-called morality of abortion, does not in any way invalidate the necessity of access to safe and legal abortion, and should not affect policy-making decisions on reproductive health. Respect for Life’s claim to care about people who have had abortions and their claim to ignorance of the harm they cause are equally ludicrous. Their deceptively positive-worded rhetoric is rendered invalid by their actions.

The greater truth of the display, whether one believes abortion is immoral or not, is that it has a great potential to create a damaging impact on students, faculty, staff, parents, visitors, and prospective students. It is disturbing and yet unsurprising that this is allowed to happen, particularly when students in past years have clearly expressed that they have been rightfully upset by the display. Respect for Life stated that “the event is not at all designed to shame women who have had abortions.” Whether or not that was their intention when they initially put on the display, the two facts remaining are that it does shame women who have had abortions, and that after being told that it does, they actively chose to put it on anyway, knowing that what they were doing was hurtful to people year after year.

It is difficult to take seriously the students and administrators who defend the club’s “right to constitutional freedom of speech” and “freedom of expression” as this is indicative of a collective, fundamental misunderstanding of state censorship as well as validation of selective enforcement. On campus, Fordham Public Safety attempts to intimidate students for speaking out against institutional racism, misogyny and anti-LGBTQ bigotry, yet the spread of these students’ misinformative rhetoric is not only allowed but also upheld as something perfectly characteristic of “Jesuit values.” Their right to express thinly veiled misogyny is defended fiercely and unequivocally and proponents of reproductive rights and basic agency are ignored.

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To allow this group to continue their shameful displays unchallenged is to say to all women and people who are able to get pregnant that their lives and voices are expendable and their needs and wants are superfluous. The display is sending no message of support to any individuals who have had abortions, and instead prioritizes people who do not exist. The display boldly refuses to acknowledge its complicity in the larger system that invariably restricts and attaches shame to certain bodies. The display undermines the personhood of students who come to Fordham trusting that they would be safe and supported. Students are instead met with cruel shaming tactics and moral judgments over personal and private bodily decisions.

I urge anyone who feels strongly about the restriction of reproductive rights to speak out against the hypocrisy and paternalism of this event and all of those who organized and will facilitate it. Moreover I implore everyone to show support for the people who are targeted and shamed by this display on the lawn outside McGinley from 12-4pm on Wednesday, 4/20/16, to recognize the failings of the system to prioritize students’ total health and to stand up for reproductive justice.

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