For decades, abortion has been one of the most polarizing issues across the country. Yet, for many at Penn, it may be hard to recognize views opposing abortion, considering Philadelphia’s and the University’s stance on abortion. There are three local centers within five miles of campus. Penn Medicine itself offers abortion services. Philadelphia was given a four out of five on a local reproductive freedom index. All of this combines to make exposure to anti-abortion and pro-life views less likely. Thus, it may be easy for some Penn students to view anti-abortion individuals as a small minority not worth understanding. This is a trap we must avoid.
I’m not attempting to argue the validity or morality of abortion, but rather to show that at Penn we are largely sheltered from the anti-abortion perspective. At Penn and many college campuses across the country, those who view abortion in an unfavorable light are often vilified as sexist and against women’s rights. If this were true, then why is favorability on abortion not clearly split between gender?
It is time to recognize the 40% of Americans who think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases not as villains, but as fellow Americans who have a different opinion. If you want to convince them otherwise, do so without attacking them as people.
Those opposed to abortion come from a variety of gender, racial, and age demographics. For example, gender differences in views on abortion are small, with men and women generally holding similar views on the issue. In fact, one study found that women are slightly more likely than men to describe themselves as pro-life.
Additionally, around 38% of people 18 to 29 years old identify as pro-life. To put that into perspective, there are about 54 million Americans between 18-29. Assuming this number accurately reflects the general population, around 20 million young adults identify as anti-abortion. Brushing off 20 million young men and women as evil and sexist does nobody any favors. The numbers became even more drastic when Americans were asked the question about the morality of abortion, with almost half of Americans saying it is morally wrong.
I am not arguing about or stating an opinion on abortion, but rather the attitude at Penn surrounding the issue. My intent is to try to create a more constructive atmosphere around the issue. My problem lies with the attitude toward discussion that many people in the abortion debate show. To be clear, this vilification happens both ways. Pro-abortion rights individuals also are capable of demonizing anti-abortion individuals. However, for the purposes of this column, I am focusing on college campuses, where hatred is more often directed at pro-lifers.
Arguing with people against abortion would be significantly more successful if those who are in favor of abortion rights focused their arguments on attacking the anti-abortion view rather than the people. Too often do those in favor of abortion label anti-abortionists as misogynist, which furthers tensions between the two sides rather than creating valuable dialogue. Instead, attack the anti-abortion argument, but refrain from attacking the people themselves. You can label the view sexist, just avoid labeling the person that. If people against abortion were a small, homogeneous group that could easily be condensed, then the labels wouldn’t be so troublesome. The generalization becomes less accurate with more diversity.
Again, I am not here to lecture Penn students about abortion. Nor do I claim to have the answer to solving the heated political debate. I merely want to remind our community that perspective is necessary when looking at issues as polarizing as abortion. This is not to prevent people from campaigning for what you believe in, but rather doing so in a constructive manner that refrains from attacking a person's being. It is incumbent upon individuals in favor of abortion rights on campus to recognize that a large portion of the United States disagrees with their perspective, and that they aren’t bad people for doing so.
Issues as morally complex as abortion are not black and white. While stances on abortion have become driven apart by partisan politics, we shouldn’t forget the basic foundations of political debate. If you disagree with someone, vilifying them and labeling them as sexist is not a good way to convince them of your point. Have a civil discussion, use rhetoric and logic to explain your opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and most certainly the respect of those who disagree with them.
OTTO PIASECKI is a College freshman from New York, N.Y. His email address is email@example.com