A new student organization, Penn for Reproductive Justice, launched its reproductive rights advocacy platform on Thursday.
Members chalked Locust Walk in opposition to the reinstatement of the global gag rule — which blocks U.S. federal funding from organizations that provide abortion services — and highlighted the effects they say the law will have on women’s health over the next four years.
College junior and PFRJ co-founder Esther Cohen said PFRJ distinguishes itself from being labeled as pro-choice, instead opting for the label of reproductive rights advocates, in order to remain “inclusive and lead to more activism.”
“We’d be more productive if we were [a group] for reproductive justice in general,” she said. “Abortion is…not just a women’s issue, it’s an issue for people with wombs, which becomes conflated with being a woman.”
Additionally, Cohen wants to raise awareness for other reproductive rights aside from obtaining an abortion, including a women’s right to decide whether or not she wants to have a child—a cause that she says is excluded by the label of “pro-choice.”
Cohen was inspired to create the group after a student pro-life group, Quakers for Life, started last semester. She said she also wants the group to combat the “anti-choice” initiatives that she feels “disenfranchize women” across the nation and on Penn’s campus.
“I don’t use the term pro-life, I use anti-choice, which is an important reframing of the rhetoric,” Cohen said.
Cohen intends for the club to be a “mobilizing” medium for Penn students to oppose and speak out against policies and actions that target reproductive rights, including access to women’s health care and the right to choose an abortion. Cohen also intends for the group to educate and advocate for services that protect the health of women and children after birth, such as paid maternity leave and access to quality medical care.
College junior and the other co-founding member of PFRJ Haley Weiss was motivated to start a reproductive rights club on campus in light of the rhetoric of the Trump administration and the national political climate surrounding women’s health.
Both Cohen and Weiss reiterated that PFRJ, as per its mission statement, was started by “two people with divergent views based on the same pro-choice principles.”
Initially, Weiss said she was wary of the club “veer[ing] into hyper-aggressive feminism” due to Penn’s political climate. “We’re walking the fine line because we are on a very liberal college campus,” Weiss said.
Instead of creating a group to continuously demonstrate against Quakers for Life, Weiss wanted to establish PFRJ “as a space and a platform for speaking up and pushback” that is accessible to people of all genders and political affiliations.
While Cohen intends for the group to be “in direct opposition to the pro-life group on campus,” Weiss has a more “diplomatic” view on the club’s relationship with Quakers for Life. Cohen echoed Weiss’s sentiment of using PFRJ as a reactionary, rather than antagonistic, force on campus.
Quakers for Life has no plans to be “primarily focused on any people in particular” or to directly respond to the launch of PFRJ, the club’s founder and president, Wharton sophomore Eric Hoover, said. Hoover said he looks forward to a “robust dialogue” on campus over his view of abortion as a human’s rights issue, which he says he thinks is often lost among students.
While Hoover said Quakers for Life is “in 100 percent support of women’s health care,” he and the club applauded Trump’s “pro-life agenda” and enforcement of the global gag rule.
Hoover said he hopes that the federal funds that would normally go towards Planned Parenthood will be allocated to institutions that fund health care, but not abortions.
“[Trump] has been pretty straightforward with his pro-life agenda,” Hoover said. “I hope he follows through on all of his promises.”
In response to recent policies such as the reinstatement of the global gag rule, Hoover looks to schedule forums for public discourse or formal debates throughout the semester.
Cohen reiterated that the existence of Quakers for Life prompted the formation of PFRJ. “There is a pro-life group on this campus, but we [at PFRJ] know that that is not the opinion of the majority of campus,” Cohen said. “There should be a group that actually reflects the thoughts of the student body.”
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