January 22, marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide. Even before Roe the terms pro-choice and pro-life were used to politically frame a point of view regarding abortion rights. In the last 40 years, however, those who believe that abortion is a purely moral issue have distorted these labels. For many of us who support a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, this distortion is troubling. Where once pro-life meant the opposition to legalized abortion, it now seems to encompass anyone who, for personal reasons, disagrees with the concept of abortion. This transformation is clearly demonstrated by the fact that while a majority of young Americans label themselves as pro-life, two-thirds of the same group agree with the decision of Roe v. Wade. While these statistics appear contradictory, they actually reveal that somewhere in the last forty years the pro-choice movement got lost. Rather than being associated with individual freedom and trust in the decisions of our fellow Americans, the pro-choice movement has come to be viewed as radical and marginalized. I refuse to accept this misguided transformation of what it means to be pro-choice.
As a result of the aforementioned statistics and the increasingly distorted meaning of pro-choice, many organizations and individuals have decided to abandon the label and move towards a name-less gray area. This shift represents a seeming lack of conviction that this movement, given the countless attacks it has undergone in the last few years, simply cannot tolerate. Not only does renouncing pro-choice appear to be a concession on the issue, but it also gives the impression that those who are anti-choice, those who oppose legal abortion, have succeeded in seizing the movement and redefining it on their own terms.
Instead of deserting pro-choice we must reclaim it. While there are those who argue that the labels pro-life and pro-choice are too black and white, this is simply not the case. In actuality, pro-choice is the gray area, because it allows individuals to practice their own beliefs, without imposing those beliefs on others. Pro-choice means that, regardless of personal values, moral or otherwise, we trust in the right of men and women to make decisions for themselves and for their bodies without unnecessary outside imposition or restriction. Pro-choice means that we respect the situations and circumstances of other individuals. Pro-choice means that we not only recognize a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion, but also her right to make that decision independently or with the help of those she trusts.
In addition, it is incredibly important to recognize, especially here at Georgetown, that, while pro-choice includes the issue of abortion, it encompasses many more decisions that both men and women make throughout their lives. These include, but are certainly not limited to: the decision to have sex, the decision to use contraception, the decision to be tested for STIs and many more.
However, Reclaiming pro-choice here at Georgetown is no easy task. There is a stigma that is attached pro-choice, and many other women’s issues, across this campus. This stigma silences students, rather than promoting “serious and sustained discourse among people of different faiths, cultures, and beliefs” as the Georgetown Mission Statement advocates. To reclaim pro-choice at Georgetown we must reclaim this university as a space where diversity of opinion is valued, where students, faculty and staff are encouraged to speak up and not be censored, where we engage “Cura Personalis” by holding a “distinct respect for [one’s] unique circumstances and concerns,” and where the pro-choice label is something to be proud of, not something to shy away from out of confusion or fear.
This article originally appeared in The Hoya.