After reading Mallory Carr’s recent piece in The Hoya titled “Engage in a Relevant Pro-Life Discussion” on H*yas for Choice and the Annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life (The Hoya, A3, Jan. 30, 2015), I feel compelled to engage in “relevant discussion.” But in order to do this, it is first necessary to define what it means to engage, discuss, converse, and so on.

It seems that Carr fails to understand that protest is a form — arguably one of the highest — of engagement and discussion. Protest constitutes one of the many tools of nonviolent direct action, a powerful political philosophy that the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi have used as a way of life.

In fact, H*yas for Choice’s very existence is a form of protest. Georgetown University does not want us to exist, and therefore, does not officially recognize us. We do not receive any funds from the university — not a single dime. If the non-profit organization Citizens United has taught us anything, it’s that money is speech, and therefore the lack of university recognition directly suppresses pro-choice voices on campus. Even more clearly, H*yas for Choice faces harassment on a regular basis, whether it’s the ripping down of condom envelopes from dorm room doors, the unfounded removal of H*yas for Choice from public property, or the random individuals who come up to our table and throw condoms in our faces — just to name a few.

So, yes, pro-choice voices are suppressed on campus in a very real way, something that might be difficult for a pro-life supporter to understand as fully and meaningfully as an actual member of H*yas for Choice, such as myself.

Yet, despite all of this, we continue to exist. We continue to exist because we provide vital reproductive health services that our community needs and deserves to have access to, no matter what their religious views may be. At the same time, our existence also forces the overwhelmingly dominant and institutionally supported pro-life narrative on campus to reexamine its values. At the very least, our existence challenges the status quo. If that doesn’t count as jumpstarting important dialogue, then I don’t know what does.

We do more than “just exist” in a hostile environment. We do more than provide vital reproductive health services. We also blog and write opinion pieces. If writing doesn’t count as sparking purposeful conversation, then I don’t know what does.

To reduce all of H*yas for Choice’s methods of action as “name-calling” therefore is just incorrect at best, and offensive at worst.

Furthermore, I would like to examine what it means to engage in “relevant” discussion. It appears that Carr lacks an understanding of intersectionality, an impressive analytical tool taught in women’s and gender studies courses. Intersectionality looks at how different forms and systems of oppression interact with one another. These oppressive institutions include, but are not limited to, sexism, homophobia, racism, ableism, xenophobia, and classism. In fact, reproductive justice recognizes the intersectional nature of issues pertaining to female bodily autonomy, sexuality, and reproduction. When dissecting the pro-life narrative through this intersectional lens, it becomes strikingly evident that abortion is not just about when life begins. It is especially imperative to scrutinize abortion debates in an intersectional manner so as to take into account these power structures and imbalances present in society.

A topic of conversation may not be in line with a certain type of opinion, may not sanctioned by the university, and therefore may be controversial and antagonistic. But this does not mean the topic of conversation is not relevant. Instead of chastising H*yas for Choice members for allegedly not attending the conference, Carr would do well to read the pieces posted on the H*yas for Choice blog closely, carefully, and in full, so as to develop a better understanding of intersectionality and what it means to engage in relevant discussion with respect to reproductive health.

Zoe Dobkin is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. 

7 Comments

  1. Concerned student says:

    Wanna talk about harassment, Zoe? Let’s talk about the way your group treated guests of the O’Connor Conference.

    • We should probably first talk about how members of the pro-life movement treat the people who go to Planned Parenthood clinics.

  2. Here we go . . .

    ” . . . the lack of university recognition directly suppresses pro-choice voices on campus.”

    Ummmm, no. The above sentence demonstrates the leaps of logic H*ya’s for Choice is prone to in conversations at Georgetown. Suppress means actively resist, force down, or subdue something you are opposed to; it is not passive behavior. In the case of GU not recognizing H4C, they are not “suppressing,” but rather, behaving passively in ignoring the club by not giving recognition or funds.

    Words mean things, folks.

    Also, if you put condoms in envelops on doors with the hope that students will take the condoms at 4AM (because they’re too drunk H4C claims to be responsible enough to get them on their own ahead of time or from someone down the hall), then you can except a couple envelops to be taken by those students or get loose and drop. My guess is the envelopes thing is another one of those fake events that are meant to show harassment or an oppressive atmosphere (ala Rolling Stone’s fake rape article last semester).

    • With respect to your comments about suppression, in this case I was actually talking about institutional forms of oppression. Furthermore, it can be argued that not doing something is still an action in it of itself. The decision to act passively is still a choice that is made proactively and with intent.

  3. Questions for the author or anyone else, really: When does life begin? If abortion occurs after life begins, what justifies the taking of life?

    I’m not asking with an agenda. I legitimately want to hear someone articulate responses.

  4. “At the same time, our existence also forces the overwhelmingly dominant and institutionally supported pro-life narrative on campus to reexamine its values.”

    I’m not sure about the overwhelmingly dominant part here – it seems to me that most students are either ambivalent to the issue or generally support HfC, with only a medium-sized group of largely Catholic students providing any sort of dissenting debate. So please, get rid of the victimhood narrative.

    Also, did you really just compare your movement to the noble movements of Dr. King and Gandhi? While yes, you technically are engaging in nonviolent action like they were, the comparison ends there. While I’m sure that you’d like to believe your signs “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” and the like match the rhetorical brilliance of “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, I’ve got news for you – your brand of protest is nothing more than attention-seeking. Real movements get attention, but they also do it with respect. Yours is not respectful in any way.

    Finally, protest is not the highest form of engagement and discussion. Discussion is, and it requires two parties. But when one party is quick to brand the other party as sexist, homophobic, racist, and the like, there is no chance for debate. The pro-life side here would love to sit down and talk to the pro-choice side, but we fear that any discussion would result in us being branded as “offensive”, rather than our ideas being heard unemotionally and analytically, as we do with yours.

  5. Burr hit the nail on the head in explaining how “not funding your organization” is totally different from “actively suppressing and oppressing your organization.” Simply because you don’t get university funding does not mean that you are being oppressed or silenced; it means that you get your funding from other sources, as do many other student groups on this campus in whole or in part.

    Furthermore, if you want to talk about institutions being against you and an “overwhelmingly dominant” pro-life narrative on campus, why don’t we consider for a moment the tremendous support HFC enjoys in campus media (including in this very publication, which rarely goes an issue without an update concerning HFC activities) as well as in campus politics? Every single GUSA campaign has free speech issues as a primary focal point, in no small part because of the overwhelming *support* (or at least mildly positive indifference) HFC enjoys throughout most of the student body and degree of outrage we all displayed after you were illegally removed from your protests in the spring and especially the fall. Though you may believe yourselves severely outnumbered, I assure you this is not the case: the (mostly Catholic) student groups who support pro-life policies are certainly a minority.

    In accusing Ms. Carr of being uninformed regarding the issue of “intersectionality,” you assert opinion as fact. While “intersectionality” may be a reasonable lens through which to view social issues (perhaps including abortion), its existence as a theory in sociology does not make it a concrete fact of which Ms. Carr is ignorant. If you want to make the case that “power structures and imbalances present in society” justify abortion, then do so; but do not expect Ms. Carr and the rest of us to agree with you simply because you assert this to be true. Perhaps “abortion is not just about when life begins” (though many reasonable people would argue that, if life does begin prior to abortion, that ought to settle the argument in itself), but if you believe there are other complicating factors that might override one’s right to life (assuming such a right exists – a question which you dismiss out of hand as being irrelevant in the context of these greater societal ills and “power structures”), then enunciate those and make that case.

    Until then, I am not convinced – either that your organization is “systematically oppressed” or that the abortion debate is settled at “power structures.” Perhaps you would do well to consider the power structure in which a fetus is effectively powerless relative to its mother and the societal imbalance that has given rise to this issue in the first place.

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