Last month, January 2020, tens of thousands of people took to the frigid streets of Washington, D.C. Some were there on the 18th to attend the 4th annual Women’s March, and even more came out the following weekend to attend the 47th annual March for Life. The consecutive timing of these events was no coincidence, but rather the result of a society that has hyper-polarized the controversial and pressing issue of the legality of abortions into a question that the current environment tells us has only two answers.
The March for Life was first held in 1974 in protest of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling of Roe v Wade which legalized abortions in the United States. Decades later, in 2017, the first Women’s March was hosted in response to a growing movement that threatened this court ruling as well as the growing #MeToo movement, in addition to President Donald Trump’s inauguration just the day before. These two consecutive weekends of marches each January highlight the stark contrast between two parties – those who prioritize the survival of the fetus and those who prioritize the choice of the woman.
It is worth noting that when forming official mission statements, each organization has extended its focus beyond simply the issue of abortion in order to soften the current hyper-focus on the issue and perhaps widen their appeal to incorporate other things that the public audience would be drawn to. March for Life, for example, aims to “defend the beauty and dignity of every human person and to celebrate and value everybody – from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death, and every moment in between,” thus broadening the respect for life beyond just unborn babies to every life at all stages. They have also emphasized the fact that they are not inherently against the rights of women through their official theme of 2020 – Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman – arguing that women instrumental to the early suffragist movement, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, opposed abortion themselves.
Similarly, the Women’s March organization has also expanded its focus beyond abortion; their mission includes “harnessing the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change” as well as ending violence against women and fighting for immigrant and LGBTQ+ rights.
However, I believe that the attempts of each organization to mask the glaring issue of abortion by taking on other causes have failed. This is obvious through the polarization of today’s society with regard to opinions on abortions. These back-to-back weekend marches have turned into two groups of people, not listening to each other, but rather screaming at each other: “Yes! No! I’m right! You’re wrong!”
We have forgotten that not everything in society is black and white. We have forgotten that between the two points on a line exists a spectrum of everything in-between. We have polarized this issue so much that a middle ground is virtually nonexistent.
What we have come to is an atmosphere that discourages conversation and empathy. We have come to a world where one side of the room screams “you’re murdering babies!” while the other side retorts with “you’re abusing women!”
America, I ask you: do politics need to be so mutually exclusive that it becomes impossible to empathize with the message of the opponent? Even the titles “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are polarizing themselves. I am frustrated by the stigmas and judgments that have developed and refuse to use either of these labels that come with unwanted connotations and assumed agendas. “Pro-choice” does not mean someone does not respect human life. Similarly, “pro-life” does not mean a person does not respect the rights of women. Why are we being told that we can only value one – the dignity of life, or the choice of a woman?
Nobody rejoices in the thought of abortion. Ending a life that could have been is not a cheerful decision for anyone. It is not done with pleasure and ease, but it is sometimes the difficult place where women find themselves for various reasons – maybe they were raped, maybe medical factors endangered their own life, or maybe they felt physically, financially, or emotionally unprepared to bring a life into the world. Yes, we can go back and forth over the morality of carrying out an abortion at this point and probably get nowhere – or we can try to understand.
Everyone comes to their own beliefs for a reason, a combination of life experience, personal morals, maybe religious teachings, and societal pressures or influences. We might disagree with others, but we need to understand where they are coming from. A religious elder who shames girls having abortions might not be coming from a place of hatred but from the viewpoint of feeling hopeless during what they might consider a genocide. Similarly, a doctor at an abortion clinic might not view their work as immoral but rather as a way of granting young women who have been assaulted a chance to put their best foot forward and live out their lives to the fullest capacity.
You may disagree with me, say there is absolutely no grey area regarding this issue, believe that compromise is not feasible. This results in a fundamental divide and an incredibly fragile nation. America, we have already been through this. Two centuries ago, the nation was similarly split on the issue of slavery; half the country viewed it as necessary, half the country viewed it as evil, and there was virtually no in-between. Through decades of people fighting and dying for what is ethical, eventually, one side of the argument was chosen over the other and we were able to emerge on the right side of history. Although the consequences of centuries of slavery still reverberate through our society today and there are still many reparations to be made, we have thankfully reached a point where the vast majority of us can acknowledge the disgusting evils of slavery. However, choosing one side over the other is not a point we have reached with the issue of abortion. There seems to be no clear answer – is it evil to end the life of fetuses or is it evil to deny women control over their bodies and lives? Maybe in another two hundred years, the answer will be obvious.
For now, if we wish to keep our nation together, we must build bridges to unite. Every day, lawmakers are moving further and further in opposite directions. In May of 2019, the Alabama Senate criminalized nearly all abortions, starting from a point before a woman would know she was pregnant, with exceptions only for fetal abnormality or lethal risk to the woman’s survival. The following month, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Illinois Reproductive Health Act into law, making Illinois “the most progressive state in the nation for women’s reproductive rights” and establishing the procedure as a “fundamental right for women.” This dichotomization is only deepening the divide.
America, we have been split before. We need to learn from our past and stop this atmosphere of separation and hatred before it gets to the point that we saw two centuries ago. There will be sacrifices, there will be compromises, but to get past this, we need to move forward. Together.