Written By Victoria Stracci, Red & Black Contributor
FEB. 23, 2023 – One thing that editor Akansha Das and I share is a passion for the field of women’s* healthcare and understanding its surrounding politics. When she approached me about writing a piece on the Symposium on Democracy’s Breakout Panel on Abortion & Reproductive Healthcare, I jumped at the opportunity to share my thoughts.
Upon my arrival, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout; the classroom was packed! Dr. Mary Ryan, the panel leader, informed the attendees that the rest of the panel was unable to attend due to Wisconsin’s approaching primary elections and precarious reproductive healthcare situation. The panel was quickly converted to a participant-led discussion. Dr. Ryan gave attendees the choice to leave and attend a different breakout session due to the last-minute change, but very few did. I assume that, like myself, they were eager to hear their peers’ candid thoughts on this pressing issue. After a period of uncomfortable silence, the discussion launched with students sharing their thoughts on whether reproductive healthcare should be regulated at the state or federal level. Students in support of protection at the federal level expressed concern about the impact this decision has on those in states that implemented abortion bans immediately. I believe it is important to remember that socioeconomically disadvantaged women, particularly Black women and women of color, do not have the privilege to travel out of state and access the healthcare they need, a point that was frequently mentioned among students.
We also discussed precedence in the Supreme Court, with some students pointing out that the overturning of a long-standing case like Roe v. Wade may cause concern for other previously protected rights. I would encourage those who doubt this to read Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion on the decision in which he mentions same sex marriage and contraception could be next to go.
As students gained confidence, it was refreshing to watch the chamber turn from icy, awkward silence to passionate, heated discussion. I believe that it is a good thing to bring a little heat to the floor. If an issue is important to you, as I suspect was the case for most women in the room, why not speak from the heart? As the discussion became more polarized, it became apparent that the climate of opinion was overwhelmingly pro-choice. However, Dr. Ryan made an admirable effort to encourage opinions from various perspectives.
"As students gained confidence, it was refreshing to watch the chamber turn from icy, awkward silence to passionate, heated discussion."
There is an inherent difficulty in navigating conversations about abortion with those who are strongly opposed. We discussed how many pro-life arguments have roots in religion, given the Christian belief that life begins at conception. As someone who was raised Roman Catholic and grew up with the notion that abortion is murder, I understand that pro-lifers struggle with seeing the pro-choice perspective. However, as many students pointed out, we have a separation of church and state in this country. I find it unacceptable for Christians to regulate the choices of those who do not share their beliefs, and concerns about creating policy based on religious beliefs were shared among students in the room.
An interesting point of conversation was that public opinion polls reflect that most Americans (61 percent, according to Pew Research Center) do not support the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. While we typically think of Democrats as pro-choice and Republicans as pro-life, this issue does not seem to be as partisan as we might imagine. This gives me hope that regardless of our political affiliations, we can find common ground.
"As someone who was raised Roman Catholic and grew up with the notion that abortion is murder, I understand that pro-lifers struggle with seeing the pro-choice perspective. However, as many students pointed out, we have a separation of church and state in this country."
To conclude the breakout, Dr. Ryan encouraged us to brainstorm ways we might support each other in a world without Roe v. Wade. Sex education, another current issue, was brought up
frequently. The consensus seemed to be that teaching teenagers how to prevent pregnancy would, you guessed it, prevent teen pregnancy. There is contraception available at the W&J Student Health & Counseling Center today! We discussed how sex education is severely lacking in most areas of the country, particularly in those that implemented abortion bans. We also spoke about other issues related to abortion, such as improving the foster care system and mental health support for mothers. I believe that if states move to ban abortion, then they must also take responsibility by putting adequate child-support systems in place.
While the event may not have gone as planned, I still found it to be a valuable and productive use of time. The first step to solving any issue is raising awareness, and I think that having open, honest conversations about these difficult topics is progress.
*Author’s note: The term “women” is used throughout the article for simplicity’s sake. I acknowledge and emphasize the fact that not all those who identify as women can become pregnant, and not all who can become pregnant identify as women.
Please Note: The following article is an Opinions piece that contains opinions of the writer. Opinions pieces are not necessarily representative of the Red & Black Student Newspaper as a whole.