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Members of Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice rally in 2016 outside of the Oklahoma State Capitol asking Gov. Mary Fallin to veto SB 1552, which she did. (Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice)
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Standing up for bodily autonomy is not extreme. Rather, it is imperative to liberty, freedom and dignity for all people who experience pregnancy. Year after year Oklahoma chips away a little more at one of a person’s most basic freedoms: choice. As such, those discussing the topic should think twice before labeling abortion advocates as “extreme” when we stand up for the core of our autonomy.

In reading a March 5 commentary on NonDoc by James Davenport (Abortion absolutism will cause more harm than good), I found myself agreeing with some of what the author said. However, he lost me when he lumped anti-abortion extremists and abortion advocates together. To me, this feels like an attempt to gaslight readers into believing that legally protecting bodily autonomy is extreme.

The author heavily praises himself and his views only to turn around and throw abortion and abortion advocates under the bus as a means of making his own views look morally superior. I question whether it is easy for the author to feel secure in his “moderate” views due to the fact that he has little at stake. For those of us whose bodies are being debated and who risk losing basic civil rights, the discussion is more imperative. Every day, people across our state suffer from the consequences of oppressive policies and the erosion of quality reproductive health care.

In particular, I found myself completely hung up on how Davenport equates two sides of the abortion debate. Abortion advocates are not stalking and harassing people. We just want basic autonomy and dignity to make decisions about our bodies. We are not committing arson, assassinating abortion doctors, bombing clinics, or using violent tactics to advocate for ourselves and our human rights.

I have come to learn that this kind of “both sides” rhetoric can be almost more dangerous and insidious than that of anti-choice extremists because it changes the definition of “moderate.” Davenport frames his piece as the level-headed approach. The faux benevolence of, “Hey, let’s just control women’s lives but not imprison them,” is dangerous. It insists that people should be ashamed of making a health care decision that is in their best interest. It reinforces the shame and stigma surrounding abortion.

Public supports abortion while lawmakers demean

The core of liberation for pregnant people is to determine if, when and how to have children. Pregnant people are worthy of empathy, dignity, humanity, compassion and respect, but pregnant people have to fight for it in a way others do not. It seems to me that sometimes the respect individuals give themselves is not extended to those who experience pregnancy.

In the 2016 Guttmacher Institute demographic report, those who seek abortion care come from all social, economic and cultural backgrounds. Most are already parents, and more than half identify as religious. In fact, a new landmark study conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine notes that medically-unnecessary, abortion-specific regulations that obstruct access to abortion care actually harm female health. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “All medical matters (and) decisions regarding abortion should be made by patients in consultation with their health care providers and without undue interference by outside parties.”

RELATED COMMENTARY

abortion absolutism

Abortion absolutism will cause more harm than good by James Davenport

As such, public support for abortion has been increasing. According to the Pew Research Center, 58 percent of the public believes abortion should be legal in all or most cases. June 2018 polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 67 percent of the public does not want the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established women’s constitutional right to abortion.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma mandates lying to patients, despite evidence-based recommendations that advise otherwise. What’s even more egregious, is the ravenous appetite of the state Legislature to punish, demean and destroy any sense of dignity for women, pregnant people and their families. Lawmakers waste state time and resources on frivolous and dangerous bills that could be better spent evaluating priorities to help pregnant people have the resources and to carry out their pregnancy and parenting needs.

It’s easy to talk about abortion when you are not the one who is carrying a pregnancy. We don’t know all the circumstances of a person’s life. When people can make decisions that are best for their lives, families thrive and individuals across Oklahoma can build communities where everyone can participate with dignity and equality. Shaming them for having abortions and accessing basic health care does not accomplish this.

When it comes to abortion, remember that we are talking about real people with real stories. “Moderate” views can sound a lot like complacency and are just as dangerous as anti-choice extremists. Framing any abortion restrictions as anything less than extremist is problematic. Supporting abortion restrictions means you tacitly support forcing people to carry pregnancies that they do not want or cannot keep.

As Katie Knutter, the Advocacy Director for Trust Women, an independent abortion provider said, “Providing abortion to people who want it affirms both their humanity and our own. Acting in the way that is kindest to our fellow humans is something to strive for.”

We have nothing to lose by offering humanity and dignity to people seeking abortion care.