VOX panels talks abortion rights, reproductive justice

0
312
COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

Thursday, Oct. 29, the College of William and Mary’s Voices for Planned Parenthood — (VOX) — hosted a virtual panel for speakers to discuss why they support abortion rights.

VOX is a student organization that aims to raise awareness about reproductive rights and feminism or the feminist movement. This panel follows the recent controversy regarding anti-abortion rhetoric posted on the chalkboard outside of the Integrated Science Center by Tribe for Life.

“It’s essential to hear directly from members of our community on why they personally are pro-choice, and what that title means to them,” said VOX President Willa Moffatt ’21.

The panelists were Caitlin Dolt ’22, government and gender, sexuality and women’s studies professor Claire McKinney of the William and Mary Wesley Foundation’s campus minister Max Blalock. The panel discussion was followed by a question-and-answer period.

Dolt launched the discussion by sharing her experience as an abortion rights advocate born and raised in Texas.

“The first thing that I want to raise is every single Planned Parenthood that I know of has protesters and scary people with guns and cowboy hats in front of them all the time,” Dolt said. “That’s just [the] reality of the situation … My sex education when I was in elementary school … was about 15 minutes. A medical professional — my school nurse — came in and told us that kissing gets you pregnant, that if you’ve got an STD, you will die, and we watched a live childbirth video.”

“The first thing that I want to raise is every single Planned Parenthood that I know of has protesters and scary people with guns and cowboy hats in front of them all the time,” Dolt said. “That’s just [the] reality of the situation … My sex education when I was in elementary school … was about 15 minutes. A medical professional — my school nurse — came in and told us that kissing gets you pregnant, that if you’ve got an STD, you will die, and we watched a live childbirth video.”

Recognizing the feeling of being “the rogue feminist in a large Catholic family”  McKinney took the spotlight to discuss her perspective on abortions as a scholar and political theorist. While brainstorming her master’s thesis, McKinney became intrigued by the moral arguments over abortions and their role in feminist politics.

“Given how vested political conversations are on the status of women, it really came to the fore to me that advocacy on the part of abortion access is as much about a broader dedication to gender equity and gender freedom and not just a kind of question of one’s access to reproductive health care,” McKinney said.

Following McKinney, Moffatt read an anonymous student submission that detailed how the student helped a high school friend obtain an abortion to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

  “Long story short … I took her to get an abortion,” Moffatt said.  “We told no one where we had been. I was sworn to secrecy, and for the rest of her life, this girl must live with undue guilt for making the right choice for herself. She bravely defied what she had been taught, what her mother told her was a sin and what her father called an abomination, and she was able to do it because of safe access to abortion and women’s health services.”

“Long story short … I took her to get an abortion,” Moffatt said.  “We told no one where we had been. I was sworn to secrecy, and for the rest of her life, this girl must live with undue guilt for making the right choice for herself. She bravely defied what she had been taught, what her mother told her was a sin and what her father called an abomination, and she was able to do it because of safe access to abortion and women’s health services.”

Blalock shared his views on reproductive rights from a Christian standpoint.

“From my perspective as simply a person and as a Christian, the most important thing is that it’s about trusting women, it’s about trusting women and doctors to make decisions that are in their best interest,” Blalock said.

He went on to detail some historical background to emphasize that the abortion debate today is largely a recent invention.

“This melding between right-wing Christianity and the pro-life movement is directly a result of the rise of the religious right in the late 70’s and early 80’s,” Blalock said. “And that coincided with Jerry Falwell Sr. and the rise of the ‘moral majority.’ But historically, the Christian stance has been that life begins at birth. I want to remind you that this is really a political stance … folks can pick and choose different verses that they say, you know, proves [their standpoint], but it’s not there.”

Following the speakers’ remarks, attendees asked questions centered on having more productive conversations with anti-abortion groups. The panelists dissected the most common anti-abortion arguments and analyzed their basic premises, offering advice on when to engage. They also talked about the pro-life chalkboard tactic and efficacy of certain protest measures.

Suzanne Cole ’22, who attended the event, shared her thoughts on the speakers and topics covered. Cole appreciated the inclusion of speakers from traditionally conservative states whose experiences contrasted with her upbringing in northern Virginia, which she categorized as relatively liberal.

“It can be easy for me to fall into that trap of assuming the rest of the country is just like where I live, and hearing Caitlin speak about the belligerent protesters outside Planned Parenthood in Texas was sobering to me,” Cole said.

Audience member Sam Cooksey ’22 also reflected on the panel and his takeaways.

“Contrary to stereotypes that sometimes portray people advocating for social justice as insular, uncomplicated or talking-point driven, this event was full of substance and lived experiences,” Cooksey said. “There was a lot of discussion, not just of the issue of abortion, but also issues related to it, such as domestic abuse and the economic hardship that an unwanted child can [bring to] a family.”