According to this Ottawa Citizen op-ed by Amanda Watson, this year’s pro-choice demonstration at the March for Life will be silent and I can’t say I’ll mind that. I was a speaker at the March for Life two years ago and the screaming was distracting. And yes, I was a young, female speaker. Not a middle aged man. (Ms. Watson states that most people on the platform are male.) Anyway.
Ms. Watson was a pro-life young person who attended a Catholic school. As an adult, she states that her eyes were opened to women’s rights issues and she became pro-choice. She now demonstrates with the pro-choice activists at the March. There are a number of points she makes in her article that I would like to address, but I simply don’t have the time to go through all of them so I’ll just note a few.
1. A pro-lifer’s terrible comments
As I scuffed through the grass from Parliament Hill, eyes swelling with tears, I stared at my feet so I would miss the poster displays of mangled fetuses and hordes of chanting students, some waving malicious signs my way. A girl yelled “Slut!” in my direction and tears spilled down my cheeks…
This is an unfortunate incident. Canadian pro-lifers do not view pro-choice activists this way, nor post-abortive women. The movement is holistic in its approach – caring for not only unborn and born children but women and their families and communities as well. I have never met a pro-lifer – and I’ve been engaged for years – who has used this type of language or who has ever characterized pro-choice activists in this way.
But as in any community, there are a small number who might take regrettable and unacceptable actions and those actions don’t accurately reflect the movement as a whole. I’m sure Ms. Watson would also condemn the pro-choice activists who whipped pro-life marchers in the face with condoms at last year’s March.
I had a lovely pro-life graduate student who interned with me last year who returned to the office in shock because she had been hit in the face with condoms. She was shocked because she had been assaulted but also surprised at the choice of means of pro-choice demonstration. Are condoms a good response to the pro-life message? Is violence really an advocacy means that pro-choice activists want to rely upon?
2. Abortion is necessary for gender equality
When I left high school I learned about women’s health, issues of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, and problems with restricted access to abortion and birth control. I learned that reproductive justice is one of the most salient issues affecting women’s health and mobility globally, and access is divided along lines of race, class, and citizenship. I became pro-choice because I came to understand reproductive rights as necessary for any goal of gender equity…
I hate, hate, hate the argument that abortion is needed for gender equality. I’ve written about this in my post ‘Women must change biology in order to fit into society’:
If society is structured in such a way that pregnant women can’t fully participate, or are guaranteed fewer rights or freedoms than men or non-pregnant women, then society needs to change. Not women.
3. Youth speaking for themselves
Their strategy stems from the knowledge that most of the participants in the march are students who are bused to the Hill as a form of religious and political indoctrination.
I attended three Catholic schools growing up and while there was a pro-life atmosphere at each, I didn’t really learn about the issue until I dug into it for myself a few years ago. Now that’s not a critique of Catholic schools – perhaps there was an optional pro-life club where I could have learned more about the issue. I just happened to be editor of the school newspaper and a photographer for the yearbook committee and I was busy horseback riding and hanging out with friends. I quite possibly missed all opportunities to seriously consider the issue.
Like Ms. Watson, it was during my university studies that I investigated the abortion issue for myself. Unlike Ms. Watson, I became pro-life.
As for the youth who participate in the March for Life, they seem to have seriously considered the issue at a much younger age than both Ms. Watson and I did. I’d like to think that rather than being indoctrinated, that they’ve thought the issue through. It’s unlikely these kids live in Catholic bubbles where they only watch Catholic movies and TV, listen to Catholic music and read Catholic magazines. They are exposed to the pro-choice message through all these mediums, yet decide to march for life. That says something.
I’ve done street interviews with the youth who participate in the March for Life. I ask the questions and my colleague mans the camera. We’ve both been floored by the way the kids explain their pro-life position. On the spot, they have thoughtful commentary on the unborn child, human rights and bodily autonomy. These kids learned about the issue and examined their consciences. They speak for themselves.
Even more, the rage and pain of pro-choicers should be respected as we watch a generation of children learn to slut-shame fellow women, particularly via the dozens of women at the front of the march, wearing oversized yellow sandwich boards with the shaming words, “I regret my abortion.”
I dislike the labeling of women’s expression of pain as ‘shaming.’ It minimizes the pain and suffering a certain segment of women live and such a label seeks to alienate them and their experience from the broader discussion of abortion in Canada.
Who better to offer an alternative perspective on the issue and speak to the side effects and consequences of the procedure than women who might have been pro-choice, but became pro-life as a result of undergoing an abortion?
And shouldn’t the pro-choice movement seek out these women? Find out what they lived through, comfort them and offer them resources where appropriate? Shouldn’t it make them want to perhaps include more information about the procedures on their websites and in their resource guides? Shouldn’t they want to figure out “what went wrong”?
Shouldn’t pro-choicers see them as women in pain rather than a tool used by the pro-life movement to advance their cause? These are women. Individuals. They have their own voice. Each has a story that needs to be told. And for some of these women, this type of engagement is part of their post-abortive healing journey.
I’ve heard women share how difficult it is to deal with their post-abortive grief as some parts of society and the pro-choice movement condemn them for regretting their abortions. They are condemned for hurting. They are treated as ‘anti-woman’ for sharing that their abortion wasn’t what they thought it would be. This type of condemnation is insensitive and distasteful.
While I strongly disagree with most of what Ms. Watson said, she sounds like a thoughtful person who cares deeply about women. Perhaps our paths will cross and we’ll have coffee someday. Perhaps we can listen to each other, understand each other and challenge each other.
Anyway, that’s it for me. What did you all think of Ms. Watson’s article?by