What I Learned From SLU’s Abortion Rally

On Monday November 9, two students vandalized a memorial for aborted fetuses placed by SLU’s Students for Life organization. The phenomenon went viral, catching the attention of politician Ted Cruz  and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, both of whom voiced their anger and dismay towards the action. The next day, SLU’s Students for Life announced via Instagram that in spite of the backlash, the flags will be brought back in continuation of honoring the lives of the unborn. 

The topic of abortion is an incredibly difficult conversation for many. With 50.8 percent of America’s population being female, the issue of reproductive healthcare is no longer a debate for politicians, but one that is personal. Additionally, factors such as race and class add complexity to the abortion debate, underscoring the necessity and importance of holding these conversations and being willing to listen. As many individuals take divided and sometimes extreme stances on the issue, civility and willingness to understand both sides of the argument can become difficult.

I was determined to walk out of the fuming crowds with an answer regarding why there is so much tension and debate surrounding the issue. Putting all anger and personal feelings aside, I pulled out my phone, started a voice memo, and began interviewing people from both sides as I asked four questions.

  1. What is your stance on abortion? 
  2. What is the basis for your beliefs?
  3. If you were in charge, what steps would you take to reduce abortions?
  4. Is the abortion debate the byproduct of differing morals, or one of a public health crisis?

My first interview was with Kennedy McTeague, a junior studying Human Resource Management. Kennedy identified as pro-choice, saying that she believed that it was every woman’s right to decide what was right for her, and that this decision boiled down to an account of respect. “It’s a privilege thing, if you never had to experience it, if you never had to respect anybody for it, then you simply won’t know how to reciprocate it.” As she noted that it was critical to respect everyone’s decisions, she emphasized that at the end of the day, it truly wasn’t anyone’s business what people choose to do with their lives. Her steps to helping reduce abortions were to make sure that every person who is pregnant receives adequate care, support as well as mental health resources. “You are a hypocrite if you say you’re pro-life if you don’t advocate for the lives who are already born and have a heartbeat… this especially affects students of color on SLU’s campus because we are already so underrepresented. There is just no safety, we do not feel comfortable seeking out all of these resources. And once we do, let’s say for pregnancy or other reproductive care concerns, we’re judged and told we’re hellbound.”

I then interviewed junior Kellin Jeffires who is studying English and Art History. Being pro-choice as well, her emphasis circulated around the role abortion plays in social justice in Amerian society. Kellin criticised the pro-life movement for their performative activism. “To say you’re pro-life and not to advocate for Black people, to not advocate for immigrants, to not advocate for poor women, to not advocate for families who are caught in the cycle of poverty while acknowledging their disenfranchisement and how at risk these people are for developing mental health problems does not make you pro-life. It makes you pro-taking-away-women’s-choice and hypocritical.” Like Kennedy, Kellin emphasized the importance of resources, conversations, and education on the matter.

After Kellin came Alex, who didn’t disclose his last name or his year, but is a SLU student studying International Business. Alex was adamantly pro-life, with his basis being that there is a dependent baby growing inside of a pregnant woman. “That baby is a person, it’s a human being.” His proposed solution for helping reduce abortion cases was similar to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s heartbeat law. “If there is a heartbeat detected, that means that the child is alive. If the child is alive, you don’t just get to kill it.

Alex’s friend asked to remain anonymous. Being pro-life as well, his basis for believing that abortion was wrong was out of his Catholic faith and belief that life starts at conception. “Ideally I would love for there to be no abortion, but that is not going to happen anytime soon. With that in mind, I would like the pro-life movement to take gradual steps in order to guarantee that as many lives are saved as possible.” Upon asking him what his proposed solution to minimize abortion would be, he said that a lot of factors need to be taken into consideration. “I’m Catholic, and the Catholic church preaches against contraception. But I am not necessarily against it. Sex education might also help as well. Those are definitely two very important resources, as well as family planning.”

Upon getting their quotes, I asked the two if they considered abortion to be a moral issue, or an issue of a healthcare crisis due to inadequate resources for pregnant people to turn to as alternatives.

The anonymous student said that the problem stemmed from abortion being both a moral and a social issue. “If women need resources to bring a child into this world or start a family, I certainly agree that we should have funding for that. I am definitely open to those types of solutions. However, abortion is also a moral issue for me. I believe there’s a human growing inside of these women, so it’s really no different than murder. But the bottom line is that I believe it’s both a healthcare and a moral issue.” 

Alex shared a different perspective: in his eyes, abortion was decidedly a moral issue. “It’s a matter of literally life and death. It lies in the determination of what we consider life to be. That’s not to say that there are other logistical issues surrounding it, such as inadequate support, but I think the issue of abortion in and of itself presents this core moral problem.” 

Next came junior Cameron Tucker, an Economics major who helped organize the counter-protest which took place in the afternoon hours of Tuesday, November 9. Tucker, who is pro-choice, said that her basis for supporting the stance was one out of bodily autonomy. “The state does not control my body. There could be a case in which there is a person who desperately needs a kidney transplant, and I have that perfect kidney for them. But unless I consent to giving up my kidney, nobody can tell me what to do with it. The same goes for pregnancy. The state cannot force me to carry out a pregnancy against my will. That’s not how it works.” Upon asking her what her perceived solution for reducing abortion was, Cameron said she didn’t necessarily believe that abortion is an “issue” to begin with, but her proposed factors that would help reduce the quantity of abortions were access to affordable healthcare, contraception, sex education and other reproductive resources. To my question of whether abortion is an issue of morality or inadequate support, Tucker said that both play a large role in the abortion debate, but that at the end of the day, it was of utmost importance to guide women towards the resources that they needed while giving them adequate support during their pregnancies, regardless of what their decision is. 

My final interview was with Nicholas Baker, a junior studying Business. Baker, who holds a position on SLU’s Students for Life board, said his beliefs on abortion stem from his Catholic faith. Upon asking him what can be done to lessen abortion cases, he explained that the club meets regularly to plan fundraisers and do volunteer work for pregnancy crisis centers in the St. Louis area. “In the crisis centers, we help guide women in need towards any desired resources they may need, and in some cases we even give them funding.” Upon asking Baker his stance on abortion being an issue of morality or society not giving women better alternatives, Nick agreed that both play a significant role in the abortion conversation.

Upon interviewing the six students, I privately interviewed Lucy Gonzalez, the Regional Coordinator for Students for Life in the states of Missouri and Arkansas. I expressed my concern for the nature of the presentation of the protest. I highlighted how many perceived the flags as a guilt trip rather than being educational or constructive, hence the hostile and angry attitudes towards the pro-life demonstrators. Gonzalez was understanding towards my dismay, saying she would take steps to be more mindful of future presentations of the organization’s mission, while emphasizing that it was never anyone’s intention to hurt or offend anyone. To our surprise, the remainder of our conversation circulated around points of agreement rather than disagreement. We ended our conversation with the shared notion that the United States is failing women and childbearing individuals left and right due to inadequate resources, funding and care going into the physical, mental and financial well-being of those expecting. Because of the lack of basic pre-natal support, many are left thinking that abortion is the only option. We agreed that the best solution was approaching the issue from an educational stance while making sure that all parents are having their mental, physical and financial needs secured. 

As I walked home that evening, I acquired a newfound sense of humility as the reality of how difficult it is to talk about abortion weighed on me. Everybody has their own perspectives regarding why they are for or against abortion, but because this issue directly affects so many of us, it can be immensely difficult to stay civil in these conversations and not let personal feelings take over. Because the line is so blurred between people believing abortion being an issue of morality or one of society failing childbearing individuals, it is nearly impossible to come up with a unanimous agreement regarding how to go about solving the crisis. I understood that it takes much more than “understanding” everyone and where they’re coming from: it takes empathy. No matter how extreme one’s arguments are, there is still validity behind them because these arguments are deeply personal. I understood that there is no true “solution” for abortion debate as everybody has their own standard of what the “appropriate” course of action is. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Fundamental disagreements regarding abortion were never the problem. The real problem lies in our desire for the moral high ground and control. If one truly had the best intentions for others, they would take an open-minded and tolerant approach towards the issue. They would understand that it is improbable to convince an entire generation of human beings with different moral, religious and personal backgrounds that abortion is inherently right or wrong. Because not one human experience is the same, the standards for viewing abortion and whether or not it is acceptable will vary drastically. A point that I brought up to Gonzalez was had the pro-life organization put up signs saying that America needed policy change regarding paid parental leave, improved sex education, and better access to birth control– things that arguably help reduce abortion rates–the reactions of bystanders would have been much different. If the majority of people I interviewed said that they support legislation which would encourage these agendas, regardless of their stance on the issue, one could imagine the productivity and constructivism of the conversations that would’ve taken place. Nobody would see half the anger and rage that took place Tuesday night. As the age-old saying goes: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. 

 But perhaps the biggest lesson that I learned that night was that coexistence is essential. Controlling others and trying to change their minds won’t create anything but hatred and hostility towards others. But through accepting the beauty of heterogeneity, we can create peace, tolerance and harmony within one another. Coexisting won’t solve our disagreements on abortion. But it will make us more loving, empathetic and understanding of one another. It is extremely easy to get caught up in opinions and feelings, ultimately dehumanizing the issue of unplanned pregnancies, abortion and who it affects. But the reality is that this issue deals with real-life human beings. Regardless of whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, it is our moral obligation to do what we can to protect and support expecting people during the most raw and vulnerable moments of their lives, and we must put our personal feelings aside to do so.