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Stop Debating Abortion
By showing up to defend our humanity, we've already lost
When Roe was set to be overturned, a friend used a word to describe her feelings that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: Humiliating.
It’s humiliating to have to try to convince people of your humanity, to watch as your personhood is debated on the evening news as if it’s simply a political issue and not your actual, literal body that they’re talking about.
Now that we’re nearly six months into a post-Roe America, that feeling has only gotten worse. In part because of the constant stream of horror stories—women nearly dying of sepsis, raped children being shuttled from state to state for care—but also because we’re somehow still debating.
And we shouldn’t be. We already know that America is a pro-choice nation—despite the mainstream media narrative that paints abortion as a polarizing issue, restrictions and bans are being enacted against the wishes of most voters. So why talk about abortion rights as something people need to be convinced of? Why play into the idea that there is anything up for debate other than the notion that a powerful minority of politicians shouldn’t get to steamroll over what their constituents really want?
There is no ‘debating’ a person who wants to force a 10 year-old into childbirth; there’s no discussion to be had with a legislator who wants to fine-tune just how close a woman needs to be to death before she qualifies for an abortion. This will never be time well-spent or energy well-used. Instead, it will be exactly what it feels like: An exercise in degradation.
Because every time we engage in a conversation about the morality of abortion, we are accepting a premise that says our humanity is up for debate. By showing up, we have already lost.
I watched a series of TikToks recently of a young woman, a medical student, who agreed to have a debate with a well-known conservative pundit about abortion. She was calm, well-spoken, informed, and clearly smarter than the smirking man she sat across from. But I can’t help but feel as if this YouTuber got exactly what he wanted—validation that he was worth talking to, and the ability to feign that he’s willing to ‘hear the other side’, even as he barely contained his eye-rolls.
There’s a reason that ‘debate me’ has become the calling card of so many young conservative personalities—they know that they are nothing without a foil. And it doesn’t matter how much more knowledgeable their opponent is; men like this are not interested in listening or learning. They just want to have a living, breathing embodiment of all that they hate in front of them, so that they can use said person as a springboard for their own bullshit and a target for their audience.
Our very presence in such discussions lends credence to those who don’t otherwise have any. After all, what kind of credibility does the anti-abortion movement have? They don’t have science or popular opinion on their side—nor do they have the moral high ground, despite their best efforts to claim as much. The only thing that they have is us, continually showing up to defend ourselves as if our beliefs and humanity need defending.
None of this is to say that we stop trying to change hearts and minds—of course we do. But that doesn’t happen by ‘debating’ or engaging with bad-faith actors. It happens by talking about our lives and experiences with those truly willing to listen. Studies show that people are more likely to vote pro-choice if they know someone who has had an abortion, for example, and abortion storytellers have been stressing the effectiveness and importance of talking about abortion for years.
That’s why conservatives want to waste our time by constantly putting us on the defensive—they know that the more we’re reacting to their lies and extremist rhetoric, the less we’re having real, in-depth conversations about abortion that make a meaningful difference.
There’s no need to lower ourselves, or to feed into the humiliation that comes along with living in a country that sees you as fundamentally less than. If they want to debate our humanity, let them do it alone.
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