The first thing I need to say is I’m a man.
I know I can’t speak on women’s rights the same way a woman can. When it comes to abortions and Proposal 3, the Reproductive Freedom for All Initiative, I’m not the one being directly affected, and therefore my opinions should hold little weight on their own. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case in legislative and legal proceedings. Far too often, men — typically older, white men — determine how much autonomy women have over their bodies.
On Tuesday Nov. 8, however, that decision is no longer only theirs to make. Every vote counts, a politician’s as much as mine, mine as much as yours — each person regardless of gender has the same amount of power. Still, we are all voting on an issue of female reproductive rights. So as someone who understands that I do not have the experiences, the perspective and the insight to give my sole opinion on the matter but believes in its importance, I reached out to someone who has more authority to speak on it.
I did so to educate myself, but also to educate others through this column.
After Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh spoke out against abortion at a pro-life rally, I realized that people within the Wolverines’ athletic department were going to share their opinions on abortion in the post-Roe world.
It, of course, was a white man that openly shared his opinions first after the monumental June decision, but just like everyone else, he has the right to those viewpoints. And he has the right to share them. But so do the women in the department.
When I reached out to women in the athletic department, many were cautious about speaking their views publicly on such a delicate topic like Harbaugh did — and that’s completely understandable. In the public position they are in, speaking on reproductive rights can put them in jeopardy of backlash from all angles, no matter the side they stand on, and can influence their ability to conduct their jobs.
Hutchins, though, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and women’s athletics, was willing to speak. And the first thing she wanted me — wanted everyone — to know, was what kind of issue this is.
“The issue that is on the table is about a woman’s right to choose their own health care,” Hutchins told The Daily. “Their right to choose when they want to have a family and to be able to navigate that. That is what’s on the table — period. It’s really that simple.”
Hutchins emphasized it’s about a woman’s right to “choose.” Choice is the key phrase. Many people, when they hear “the right to choose,” “pro choice,” or anything of that nature, take that as choosing to have an abortion. But that isn’t what Hutchins is saying. It means women deserve the right to choose, regardless of the outcome of that choice.
And that’s just as important.
Near the beginning of our conversation, Hutchins requested I look at the history of abortion and women’s rights rulings in the United States, specifically a case that’s far overlooked. Coming just three years before the ever-mentioned Roe v. Wade, Struck v. Secretary of Defense nearly set the precedent for reproductive freedoms.
“I think it’s very interesting, as I become more of a history buff in my older years, that the first case argued, and it was on its way to the Supreme Court, was Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Struck case,” Hutchins said. “(It) argued because the military was going to force one of its own women … to terminate her pregnancy or be discharged. Ruth Bader Ginsburg took on that case so that the woman could have the right to choose because (the woman) chose to continue the pregnancy. It was about the right to make the choice for yourself, for your life.”
Air Force Capt. Susan Struck was Catholic, and based on her religious views, she refused to have an abortion. At the time, however, the Air Force did not allow women in the military to be mothers. If she wanted to have the child, she would have to leave or be discharged, and if she wanted to stay, she would have to have an abortion.
Ginsburg argued that, because only select people can get pregnant, this was unequal treatment under the law. Again, not just an abortion issue, a women’s rights issue. But, just before the United States Supreme Court could hear the case, the Air Force changed the law to accommodate Struck and the case was never heard. Ginsburg has been recorded saying that she wishes the Struck case was heard rather than Roe because it better defined the issue to the Supreme Court. It made it clear it was about reproductive rights, about choice, not just about having abortions.
And that’s exactly what people need to understand.
One of the main arguments in the case was Struck’s right to freely exercise her religion. Struck, a Catholic, did not want to have an abortion. She should have every right to feel that way because it’s her religion, and she has the right to choose to follow her beliefs in making her decision.
The problem arises when people try to apply their own religion onto others, stripping them of the right to follow their own beliefs. That’s what Harbaugh did when pedaling his religious-backed opinion that there should be a right to “let the unborn be born.”
These religious beliefs should not be forced upon anyone else. They are Struck’s religious beliefs, Harbaugh’s religious beliefs. They aren’t necessarily mine, yours or your neighbor’s. And people, constitutionally, have the right to practice the religion they believe in.
“I think all people should honor their religious beliefs,” Hutchins said. “They should honor their own religious beliefs.”
So let people honor what they want to honor, and let them make their own choices. And let places that limit those choices face the consequences.
Limitations on those choices affect more aspects of life than we realize and can even change things that may seem to have no connection. Athletics, for example, are further intertwined with reproductive rights than many might understand.
“There’s been discussions about both student athletes making decisions based on how prohibitive certain states are,” Hutchins said. “And there’s been discussions about people who, when they’re looking to take jobs and move into different states, whether or not they will be limited in their right to regulate their own personal decisions in life. That’s all real stuff.”
It’s real, and it’s here. In Hutchins’ very own world of softball, the implications are mounting. Just this summer, it came into question what NCAA Softball would do, if anything, about Oklahoma’s abortion law. Will Oklahoma City, the site of the Women’s College World Series, remain the host of softball’s most prestigious competition? We don’t know. But the laws matter to people, and they concern many.
This is just one example, but the implications extend far beyond sports. So Hutchins, though entrenched in women’s athletics for nearly her entire life, doesn’t even want to think of it in that way.
“I don’t think this is a women’s athletics issue,” Hutchins said. “It is a women’s rights issue, which of course would affect women athletes.”
Obviously, a women’s rights issue affects women athletes. But some people don’t want to see it that way. They want to cheer on Naz Hillmon, Lexie Blair and Natalie Wojcik — some of Michigan’s best current and former athletes — but they don’t want to vote for those women’s rights. They care about a female athlete’s health when she’s out with a knee injury, but they don’t when she needs contraceptives.
The only difference is how it appears to affect you. Both circumstances affect the athlete.
And it affects your friends, your cousins, your sisters and your very own mother. So why in the hell wouldn’t you care?
And really, it affects you — man, woman or otherwise — too.
“It’s a societal issue in our country, and it involves all of us,” Hutchins said. “Women bear the larger part of the responsibility. But definitely, I would hope men would care and would want to see the right decisions made and be involved in helping and be involved in that.”
Because men are part of it. They shouldn’t have control over a woman’s health decisions, but they should care. Almost every occasion of pregnancy — especially the ones that are debated in the law — involves a man. How else are women getting pregnant?
For every “reckless” one night stand that we pin on a woman, there was an equally, if not more, reckless man. Planned or not, a man is involved. So men not only need to be held accountable, they need to care.
“It is a men’s issue because men are involved, and what we need to understand is that women are not solely responsible,” Hutchins said. “… So the best way to handle this is we need to eliminate unwanted pregnancies. That needs to be the focus, and that would require both men and women to be involved. Eliminate unwanted pregnancies and involve men.”
Usually the sentiment is the opposite: Remove men from the process of a woman’s reproductive choice. But, ironically, to remove men’s decision-making power over women’s health, men, because of their position atop the societal hierarchy, will have to make a decision — the decision to give women that choice.
“Women bear the burden of the finality of a choice that may not be theirs,” Hutchins said. “They will bear the lifetime responsibilities that go with it.”
That’s the crux of it all. Women must bear the burden, men share the responsibility for that burden, and women are simply asking for the power to choose what they do with that burden.
That’s what’s on the ballot. That’s what we’re voting for.
“I think it’s important to vote (in) every election, and (for) people to vote with good knowledge … and to know what they’re voting for,” Hutchins said. “And just to be knowledgeable, because these are our communities. This is the world we live in.”
Tuesday, we all have the opportunity to shape this very world we live in.
Vote for women’s rights. Vote for women’s health.
Vote “Yes” on Proposal 3.
Managing Sports Editor Nicholas Stoll can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @nkstoll