An Open Letter to "Students 4 Life"

Dear Students 4 Life,

I want to talk to you about your chalk messages.

Several students, including myself, have noticed your slogans peppered across sidewalks near Dexter Lawn and the library, areas on campus with some of the heaviest foot traffic. Most of them condemn abortion, with small quips such as “protect rights inside and outside the womb!” The majority were smudged out within a few days, showing that they upset others besides myself. By now, the rain has washed away the remains of the chalk, but this has not been the first time I’ve seen such messages on campus, and I doubt it will be the last. However, it is my hope that this letter will discourage you from writing similar messages in the future.

It is not my goal to censor you, or to change your stance regarding abortion. Although I support women’s right to access safe abortion procedures, I agree that a decline in the number of abortions would be a good thing. However, writing messages about when a fetus’s heartbeat begins or how “a person is a person, no matter how small” (a quote which is most likely not about fetuses) is not going to deter a woman who has already weighed all of the options and decided abortion is the best one for her. If you’re trying to convince people to vote for anti-abortion policies, you won’t be successful there either. People have strong opinions on this issue, much like you do, and a few chalk drawings on the sidewalk aren’t going to change their minds.

The main reason that I’m writing this is because I fear the potential damage your rhetoric can inflict on members of our campus community. Our culture already frowns upon abortion, and by writing your messages on our campus you are marking Cal Poly as a community that is hostile towards those considering abortion and those who have already chosen it. You have no idea what these women have gone through, and you are actively contributing to the stigma that shames women who choose abortion. I saw one message in particular that said “adoption is an option!” which highlights the reductionist approach you are taking to this complex issue. Not only does it assume that women don’t carefully consider every option they have before aborting, but it also ignores the economic, physical and emotional strain a nine-month pregnancy can have on a woman – all of which are exacerbated for young women pursuing degrees.

There are other routes you can pursue to reduce abortion rates – ones that don’t shame women and their choices. I’ve listed only a few of them in hopes that you pursue these alternatives and abandon your current strategy:

Educate

I’ve noticed on the Students for Life website that one of your major goals is to defund Planned Parenthood. THIS IS A BAD IDEA. I can go on about how abortion constitutes only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services, or about how federal funds are only used for abortion under specific circumstances – but that would be besides the point. You should consider Planned Parenthood as an ally instead of your foe because of the widespread efforts they make towards sex education and training. Why should you care, you may ask? Because sex education has a correlation with reduced teen pregnancy, which leads to fewer abortions. The United States has an ongoing problem with teen pregnancy, especially in areas which solely offer abstinence-only education. Knowledge of what types of contraceptives are available, where to find them and how to use them is essential for preventing unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Cal Poly is fortunate enough to have resources such as PULSE and the Health Center to provide students with comprehensive sex education, but other areas aren’t so lucky. If you’re so concerned about preventing abortions, promote sex education for all students so that unintended pregnancy doesn’t happen in the first place. Or, if you want to stay local, advertise PULSE’s services to new students who might not be aware of the resources available to them.

Advocate for Women’s Issues

When most people think of “feminist issues,” abortion always seems to be on the top of the docket. But feminism is a broad subject, with several approaches and priorities. One of the major concerns of feminism is the lack of support available to mothers. I’ve already briefly touched on how expensive pregnancy is in the United States, but our country is also notorious for not requiring employers to provide paid maternity leave. Furthermore, our patriarchal slut-shaming society is more likely to judge a mother who does not adhere to the stereotypical “wife” role. This makes parenting more difficult for single mothers, working mothers, unmarried mothers and non-heterosexual mothers. All of these factors make motherhood less appealing and even unfeasible for women, especially those with lower incomes. In order to reduce abortion rates, I suggest you tackle these feminist issues and help make motherhood an available option for more women.

Donate to Charities Supporting Mothers

Women who have fewer financial resources or weak support networks are far more likely to get an abortion than those who are financially stable or belong to a strong community. Although systemic issues like poverty aren’t going to be resolved anytime soon, there are charities specifically for underprivileged mothers you can contribute time and money to. Every Mother Counts is an organization which spreads aid and education around the world to provide prenatal care and safe deliveries. Single Parent Advocate provides resources and education to single parents to give them support and confidence in their daunting roles. Both of these organizations accept donations and have opportunities for volunteers to get involved. If you are interested in something more local, San Luis Obispo County Womenade is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide the residents of SLO County with items which fulfill their essential needs. They have an especially high demand for childcare items, such as diapers and newborn clothing. Another local charity, Pregnancy & Parenting Support of San Luis Obispo County (PPSSLO), specifically provides assistance to families from pregnancy to their second year, providing them with classes, support groups and supplies. These local charities accept donations and encourage volunteers to join their causes.

Notice that none of the options I’ve provided involve reducing or removing access to abortion. That is because historically, when there are no safe abortion options, women turn to dangerous back-alley procedures to terminate their pregnancies (there is a reason many pro-choice advocates adopt coat hangers as their symbol). Barring women from a safe, legal abortion won’t do much to reduce abortion rates, but it can, and will, kill women.

I know that we don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, and I doubt that we ever will. That’s why I haven’t wasted my time trying to convince you that a fetus isn’t equal to a human life, or that war and poverty should be higher priorities for the pro-life agenda due to their exorbitant death tolls. I’m not so optimistic or confident in my rhetorical skills to believe that I can change your mind on these issues. But, if I have convinced you that your chalk messages aren’t conducive to your goals and are tainting our community, then I feel like I’ve done my job. I have enough faith in you to believe that you don’t only care about the unborn fetuses still in utero, but also about the women who carry them. That’s why I urge you to stop shaming women and engage in alternative methods to pursue your mission.

Thank you for reading,

Emily O'Brien