Last week, just as I had settled into my spring break-induced state of sedation, a New York Times article jolted me into a panic that I thought I wouldn’t see until finals.
The article, entitled “To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case,” explained that Georgia Right to Life, Georgia’s largest anti-abortion organization, is undergoing a campaign across the state to attract black people to the anti-abortion movement and reduce the disproportionate number of black women who have abortions. The organization has hired a black woman as their minority outreach staff member, whose responsibilities include traveling to black churches and colleges, spreading the message “that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill off blacks.”
As a part of the campaign to increase support for their organization among the black community, the group has paid for 80 billboards throughout Atlanta that read “Black children are an endangered species,” and feature the link to their website.
The recruiting tactics of this organization exemplify the absence of rationality — and even morality — from the motivating forces behind the anti-abortion movement. This campaign in Georgia is rooted in a fundamentally religious conviction that a woman’s reproductive capacity to bring potential human life to fruition is more sacred than her rights as a person of moral agency to control whether or not she utilizes this capacity.
In order to generate enough support to make policy consistent with this religious conviction, anti-abortion activists (who are primarily white) are using to their advantage the exceptional and inexcusable instances where abortion has been regarded as a means to achieve the racist ideal of a smaller black population.
The impact these anti-abortionists have had on Markita Eddy, a Morris Brown College sophomore who was quoted in the Times article as saying she was pro-choice until she watched “Maafa 21” — a documentary that supports the idea that abortion is a racist conspiracy — has instilled in me a sense of urgency to communicate the truth of the pro-choice argument.
Those fighting for the criminalization of abortion seem to be much more energized and vocal than those who believe the issue of abortion should stay as it is — a matter of choice. I, as someone who identifies with the latter group, fear that if we don’t begin to engage the opposition, our silence will imply a lack of argument or a lack of certainty.
The argument is this: the female biological capacity to reproduce does not legally (nor, in my opinion, morally) commit any woman to reproducing.
The killing of an innocent person is wrong. However, abortion is not the killing of an innocent person because, although an embryo does mark the beginning of biological human life, it is not yet a person.
Mary Anne Warren, a philosopher most noted for her work on the question of abortion, created a rough list of criteria to determine personhood — or what about “human life” constitutes its belonging to the moral community. She said that a person must have at least some of these five criteria: consciousness and the capacity to feel pain, reasoning, voluntary activity, the capacity to communicate (in any way) and self-awareness.
A fetus, in the first trimester, has none of these.
One might argue that a first-trimester fetus would eventually become a person, in the moral sense, if left alone. However, in order to develop, that fetus cannot be left alone — it must receive support and nourishment from the woman carrying it.
Until a fetus develops to a point of personhood, it only represents potential — the same potential that exists virtually everywhere and only sometimes results in the emergence of a person. Abortion, contraception, and my failure to have sex with every virile man I encounter are all the same denial of potential personhood.
All women, from puberty to menopause, have the potential for the development of personhood. However, our worth and our rights, as people, extend beyond our reproductive function. A woman is more than her uterus and deserves to be regarded by the government as more.
I fear that if supporters of the pro-choice movement remain reluctant to challenge anti-abortionists for fear of offending their religious beliefs or failing to change their minds, campaigns like the one in Georgia will successfully distort the reality of the abortion debate and make the impermissible seem permissible. I urge the majority of the country, which is made up of people who believe abortion should be legal in all, some or a few cases, to make its voice heard — beginning here in Ann Arbor.
If my framing of the pro-choice argument (as I understand it) has resonated with you, talk to your friends about it. As University students living and learning in a community that values the pursuit of truth, we have a responsibility to engage in sometimes uncomfortable dialogue — even if it interrupts your vacation.
Libby Ashton can be reached at email@example.com.