By Rachel Smith
Abortion should not be used simply as a tool to promote dialogue for the sake of what can only be described as the College’s tokenizing of a woman-centered issue. This is especially true at a college like our own that consistently cites “student safety” concerns when implementing policy after policy.
As abortion restrictions on gestation and procedure make their way to the Supreme Court, which is now predominantly conservative, the national conversation about abortion has moved far past the philosophical question of when life begins.
One may wonder why the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has suddenly taken an interest in highlighting abortion for a Lion’s Hour discussion on Nov. 8 titled “Pro-life vs. Pro-Choice.”
As president of the Women’s Center and a women’s, gender, and sexuality studies major, I had not seen a Lion’s Hour dialogue centered on reproductive issues prior to this meeting. Although it is possible gender and reproductive rights may have come up more generally at the dialogues, they have never been formally set as a topic before now.
It may be more influential for the office to be proactive in engaging discussion on gendered issues, not just in response to public forums depicting one side of the argument. These instances of opposition include the “Graveyard of Innocents” display that represented aborted fetuses in New Jersey, misleading Crisis Pregnancy Center postcards being left in the Women’s Center office, and most recently a controversial speaker discussing the supposed lies that pro-choice politicians tell.
These groups often advocate for their side in ways that can potentially traumatize other students. It is the college’s responsibility to ensure that freedom of speech doesn’t place an undue burden on individual students or other student organizations.
According to its campus posting policy, the Office of Student Involvement, which approved of the “Graveyard of Innocents” display last semester, reserves the right to deny posting requests that “endanger the health or safety of an individual or group, utilize sexually explicit or obscene material (and) violate the New Jersey Criminal Statute on Harassment.”
Not only are the definitions of these terms subjective, but they are left up to the Office of Student Involvement to define. As such, its members have failed to protect the safety and well-being of students put at the forefront of this debate.
The reality is that students at the College have had abortions. This I know to be personally true, and it should not be expected of these students to vocalize their personal life decisions as a reason for pro-choice representation, especially in a country where an estimated one in four women will have an abortion by the age of 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
I have never personally had an abortion, but I am unapologetically pro-choice. However, my personal opinion doesn’t really matter, and neither does the opinion of students who are pro-life.
All students are entitled to their personal beliefs, but the fact of the matter is that some students have had an abortion and just want to get to class without facing a “Graveyard of Innocents” display lining their walkways.
These students are not trying to take a political stance, and it should not be expected of them to identify themselves in order for their safety and well-being to be considered. If the College saw this topic as a personal matter, rather than just a difference of opinion to find a common ground, the response would be completely different. For instance, it is unlikely a Lion’s Hour dialogue on the merits of gun control would be created if the College knew there were a substantial amount of students who survived a school-shooting.
Regardless of the intent of the organization that sponsors these abortion-shaming events, the result of shining a consistent negative light on abortion is likely to have a negative effect on students who have had one.
The mental health and well-being of students should never be an oversight, especially at an institution that has faced continued backlash concerning the availability of health services on campus.
Not only does the campus not have the means to serve students’ mental health demands (something that can be easily argued due to recent issues with Counseling and Psychological Services, the TCNJ Clinic and the fact that the replacement clinic doesn’t accept Medicaid,) but abortion is neither offered on campus, nor is there any support offered to help students acquire one should they need it.
This only creates an environment unsupportive of students who are forced off campus to acquire an abortion, faced with consistent and vocal hostility toward their choice and offered limited mental health services to cope with that stress.
The solution is not to restrict freedom of speech at this campus, but rather to ensure that the institution truly is fostering universal inclusion and sees these topics as deeply personal and not just as a tool to find a form of common ground.
Students share opinions around campus
“Should abortion rights be a discussion on campus?”
“If it’s going to be an essential part of the elections then we should talk about it.”
“Yes, I think it’s a really important issue that should be discussed in a respectful manner.”