By Jillian Altizer, Former Community Organizer
[ Ed. Note — This post uses the term “pro-life” throughout. While normally we would use the term “anti-choice” to characterize opponents to reproductive rights, we are using the term “pro-life” in this piece, because it’s literally what Jillian hears at the door and it’s what she’s responding to in this piece. In this case, many folks who describe themselves as “personally pro-life” are actually pro-choice. ]
In my ten months of organizing for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, I’ve loved the experience of reaching out to perfect strangers and making space for the issue of choice. Our canvass has knocked on doors as far north as Bellingham and as far south as Vancouver. The times we journey outside of the Seattle area we find more anti-choice views, but so far I have never been anywhere in Washington where the pro-choice values were a minority.
When I knock on a door, introduce myself and NARAL, and declare that we are fighting for abortion access, I occasionally meet a few people who genuinely struggle about what their beliefs are. Even in 2014, the word “abortion” carries stigma, despite the fact that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion before age 45. Many people have never heard a woman share her story and without that context, there is often a lack of understanding. I feel so touched when a woman shares her story with me and thanks me for the work I do.
The temptation to delve into a discussion with someone who disagrees with me can be strong, but I smile and wish them a lovely evening because minds don’t change in a matter of minutes and I need to find and engage my supporters. But the myriad of responses I hear give me a lot to consider about what it means to be pro-choice. For me it comes down to freedom and not judging others.
Here are some comments I occasionally hear from people on the fence:
“I’m pro-life but I don’t think abortion should be made illegal.”
Guess what? You’re pro-choice. Someone who chooses to never have an abortion isn’t pro-life unless they want to impose their personal choice on everyone else. The pro-choice movement values all women having freedom to do what’s best for them, whether that choice is motherhood, adoption, or abortion. I’ve met more than one woman carrying a baby in her arms with another kid hanging onto her leg who has enthusiastically signed down and donated to protect the choices of other women.
“I’m pro-choice but____________.”
- …women shouldn’t use abortion as birth control.
- …only in cases of rape or incest.
- …not after the third trimester.
When you say you’re pro-choice, you are saying that you trust women to make decisions about their own lives and bodies without judgment. No exceptions. There are many myths and misconceptions created by the anti-choice movement to make limiting abortion access seem reasonable, but these restrictions are based on an assumption that women cannot be trusted to make the right choice. The choice to have an abortion is a deeply personal decision between a woman, her doctor and her family, not the rest of the world acting as the morality police.
I am inspired every day to see how many people of different sexes, ethnicities, orientations and economic classes support choice. Every stereotype I subconsciously held has been shattered on this journey. One man I assumed would be conservative raised his fist and declared he was a feminist who “put it all on the line” to end the Vietnam War back in the day. After countless strangers have invited me into their homes, offered me food or water, and shared a bit of their lives with me, I can’t help but be confident in the goodness in humanity. My hope is that more people struggling with the issue of abortion access will realize that the kind and loving thing to do is let others be free to make our own private health decisions.
Jillian Altizer was a community organizer at NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and loved the unique and passionate conversations that happened in the field. She now works in vegetable production for an organic farm in Auburn. She enjoys writing, painting, gardening, and plotting how to live to at least 105 years old. By that time, she hopes to see the invention of the perfect birth control and a federal ban on abortion restrictions.