Last Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide.  Even before Roe, the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” were used to politically frame points of view regarding abortion rights. In the past 40 years, however, those who believe that abortion is a purely moral issue have distorted these labels. For many of us who support a woman’s right to make decisions about her body, this distortion is troubling. Where once pro-life meant the opposition to legalized abortion, it now seems to encompass anyone who, for personal reasons, disagrees with the concept of abortion.

That a majority of young Americans label themselves as pro-life while two-thirds of the same group agrees with the decision of Roe v. Wade demonstrates this transformation in meaning. Though these statistics appear contradictory, they actually reveal that, somewhere in the past 40 years, the pro-choice movement got lost. Rather than being associated with individual freedom and trust in the decisions of our fellow Americans, the pro-choice movement has come to be viewed as radical and marginalized. I refuse to accept this misguided transformation of what it means to be pro-choice.

As a result of the aforementioned statistics and the increasingly warped meaning of pro-choice, many organizations and individuals have decided to abandon the label and move towards a nameless gray area. This shift represents a seeming lack of conviction that this movement — given the countless attacks it has undergone in the last few years — simply cannot tolerate. Not only does renouncing the pro-choice label appear to be a concession on the issue,  but it also gives the impression that those who are anti-choice — those who oppose legal abortion — have succeeded in seizing the movement and redefining it on their own terms.
Instead of deserting pro-choice we must reclaim it. While there are those who argue that the labels “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are too black and white, this is simply not the case. In reality, pro-choice is the term that encompasses this, because it allows individuals to practice their own beliefs without imposing those beliefs on others. Pro-choice means regardless of personal values — moral or otherwise — we trust in the right of men and women to make decisions for themselves and for their bodies without outside imposition or restriction. Pro-choice means we respect the situations and circumstances of other individuals. Pro-choice means we not only recognize a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion but also her right to make that decision independently or with the help of those she trusts.

In addition, it is very important to recognize — especially here at Georgetown — that, while pro-choice includes the issue of abortion, it encompasses many more decisions that both men and women make throughout their lives. These include, but are certainly not limited to, the decision to have sex, the decision to use contraception and the decision to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

However, reclaiming pro-choice here at Georgetown is no easy task. There is a stigma attached to pro-choice and many other women’s issues across this campus. This stigma silences students and fails to promote the “serious and sustained discourse among people of different faiths, cultures and beliefs” that Georgetown’s mission statement urges. To reclaim pro-choice at Georgetown, we must reclaim this university as a space where diversity of opinion is valued, where students, faculty and staff are encouraged to speak up without fear of censorship, where we engage cura personalis by having “distinct respect for [one’s] unique circumstances and concerns,” and where the pro-choice label is something to be proud of, not something to shy away from out of confusion or fear.

Haylie Jacobson is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. She is vice president of H*yas for Choice.

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