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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Abortion debate masks deeper problems

    Sarah Devlin columnist
    Sarah Devlin

    It’s a billboard for Manhattan Mini-Storage Company in New York City. Superimposed over an image of a hanger is the slogan “”Your closet space is shrinking as fast as her right to choose.”” I saw this ad on a Web site a month ago and was struck not so much by the ad itself as my reaction to it. As someone who is aggressively pro-choice, I was surprised to find myself nodding in agreement with a Washington Times editorial that called the ad, among other things, “”tasteless”” and “”reprehensible.”” I was distressed that I was able to find anything I agreed with in a piece that refers to the left as “”abortionists.”” Why was a pro-choice ad so disturbing? What the hell happened?

    The pro-lifers

    I think we imagine when we come to college that we are just leaving home, studying away from school. Really, though, home begins to leave us.

    have won the media battle. Although the debate over legalization of abortion is far from over, most consider the procedure itself mysterious, gruesome and inherently shameful. The women who actually have abortions are an enigmatic, underrepresented Other.

    The pro-life movement has a monopoly on the vocabulary used to discuss the issue; to be in favor of abortion is literally to be against life. Abortion is presented paradoxically as a tragic Sophie’s Choice made by frivolous, silly women who don’t really know what they’re doing, who are portrayed as flighty, irresponsible child-haters most Americans can’t relate to. So when an ad on the side of an office building aggressively brings abortion into the everyday, and suggests that there is nothing inappropriate about frank discussion of the procedure, it’s a shock.

    Abortion is usually debated in the context of privacy. Gallup poll data from 2005 demonstrates that support for abortion is primarily drawn from a belief in personal responsibility and decision-making, and the right to privacy is the constitutional basis on which Roe v. Wade is based. The trouble with that logic is that by constantly invoking privacy, it’s easy to forget about the real women who undergo the procedure and easy to assume that they don’t want to talk about it. In doing so, they are marginalized in the most well-intentioned of ways. Most people on both sides of the debate who freely discuss abortion have never had one themselves. Although women who have are given ample opportunity to speak, stigmatization prevents many of them from coming forward.

    The negative spin that keeps them silent is not reflective of reality. According to the Guttmacher Institute, almost half of women in America experience accidental pregnancies, and by age 45, 35 percent of American women will have had abortions. Women who receive abortions are spread across all economic and age groups, and 78 percent of women seeking to terminate a pregnancy identify as having a religious affiliation. Despite the fact that abortion is fairly common and not utilized by a homogeneous group of women, it is still viewed largely in hypothetical and clear-cut terms.

    The bottom line is that, disregarding the issue of abortion’s legality, discussing abortion frankly in public is seen as inappropriate and uncomfortable. But there is nothing more harmful to the women who have to make this difficult choice than marginalizing them, and we need to commit to taking them out of the data ghetto. Many college-aged women will have to wrestle with the decision to terminate a pregnancy. How must it have felt to walk past the graphic pro-life poster brigade this spring? Whether one believes abortion should be legal, it’s important to realize that the debate is about peoples’ lives, not just statistics. Women who have had abortions deserve more than phantom status – they shouldn’t be used by either side as a canvas on which they can apply their own moral paradigms while discounting actual human experience, and they shouldn’t be demonized even as relatively tame pro-choice billboards are derided as insensitive.

    The storage ad has made a lot of people uncomfortable, but that discomfort appears to be based in poisonous judgment about the appropriate time to discuss reproductive rights and in our perception of abortion as inherently shameful. Although theoretical discussion is important, it is crucial that women, and not just their fetuses, are accorded some measure of respect for the difficulties they face. That respect can come in the form of support for legal abortion, but it is equally important that we commit to altering our view of the women who seek them. Although it is a defining decision in a woman’s life, it is not reflective of her essence as a human. Women’s experiences should not be hijacked for political gain even as their own voices are silenced. They deserve civility, understanding and empathy. They are people first and statistics second, and it’s about time we let them come out of the closet and tell us their story.

    Sarah Devlin is a sophomore majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at

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