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viewpoint

A missed conversation

| Monday, April 11, 2016

When I heard that Wendy Davis was coming to speak on campus, my first instinct was to protest against her. But when I thought about what people have been saying about dialogue, I decided not to. Instead, I went, submitted a question, and listened.

And I was so, so disappointed.

Davis, a former senator, started by talking about the “power of placing ourselves into each other’s shoes.” But then she went on to describe what pro-life politicians do as “the ugliest thing that can happen in the political arena, and … so shameful.” She told us of how she defeated a bill because her supporters “literally screamed with all their might,” so that “the Secretary of the Senate was unable to take the vote due to their noise.”

The students around me, the very students I wanted to engage in a dialogue, clapped and cheered. They applauded cruel and alienating words about their opponents. They applauded the forcible disruption of the democratic process and the silencing of others.

Afterwards, as people were leaving, I and some of my friends stood by the door and handed out pro-life feminist fliers, hoping to spark a conversation. Only two people stopped to talk, and only one of them was a student. Most people said nothing, but many said, “Oh, we don’t want that. That’s the wrong kind of propaganda. We don’t want that. No.” Senator Davis herself refused to make eye contact with me.

So yes, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that Senator Davis chose to use her platform to encourage the people in that auditorium, many of whom I consider my friends, to drown out others’ voices, and to reject conversation and even the proper functioning of democracy. I’m disappointed that what could have been an opportunity to build bridges became another occasion to build walls.

One of my friends — my freshman retreat roommate, in fact — complained about us on social media later, saying that our fliers were “#wastedpaper.” For all of our sakes, I hope not.

Monica Gorman
senior
April 5

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • MC

    Thank you for posting this. That event was disappointing and made no attempt at actually fostering a dialogue and completely disrespected and discredited the other point of view. Extraordinarily unproductive from a group that claimed all they wanted was a productive conversation on abortion issues.

    • Monica

      Thank you!

  • what no really

    The pro-life movement, at its heart, accuses one in three women in this country of essentially being murderers. The dialogue that this movement utilizes drives people to stalk and murder abortion providers. Anti-choice politicians craft legislation designed to make it nearly impossible for women to exercise their Constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. I think you can handle some cruel and alienating words.

    • MG

      This comment from “what no really” illustrates the author’s point in an amazingly powerful way. Not intentionally, of course, but powerfully nonetheless.

      • what no really

        Sure, and it’s a very useless point. “People are being rude!” is not a great counter-argument to “you are calling women murderers, encouraging the murder of abortion providers, and seeking to restrict women’s constitutional rights.”

        • MG

          First, the author wasn’t complaining that people are being “rude”–her comments are different from that, and also they go much farther than that. Second, what she had to say wasn’t being put forward as a “counter-argument” to anyone’s arguments about what pro-lifers are doing. It just wasn’t.

          • what no really

            Well she is now acknowledging that people who get abortions are murderers. Where can a dialogue go from there?

            “You’re a murderer but I would really like to engage in a respectful dialogue about the exact reasons why you’re a murderer.”

          • Monica Gorman

            Please see my clarification below. Abortion is murder, but I don’t blame women. As Feminists for Life proclaims, “Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women deserve better than abortion.”
            I would like, where possible, to engage in a good-faith dialogue about what drives women to abortion, how we can reduce those factors, what alternatives we need, and how this should be reflected in public policy. I would not like to engage in online haranguing.

          • what no really

            Women get abortions because they do not want to be pregnant, for whatever reason. And reducing abortion would largely come from broadening access to contraception. Greater access to contraception correlates directly with fewer unwanted pregnancies. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/06/colorado-larc-experiment_n_7738724.html

          • Monica Gorman

            Would you like to end this conversation? It doesn’t sound like you think it’s productive.

          • what no really

            I’m trying to make the point that a productive conversation is impossible when one side believes the others to be active murderers.

            So your disappointment in the lack of dialogue at the event is misplaced.

          • Monica Gorman

            I don’t think you understand the piece I wrote, or what I’ve said about “murderers.” I’ve had many productive conversations with pro-choice friends, though, so maybe the problem lies elsewhere.

    • Monica Gorman

      “legislation designed to make it nearly impossible for women to exercise their Constitutional right”
      Well, we think it shouldn’t be considered a Constitutional right. There’s no shame in opposing a SCOTUS decision (*cough*brown v board*cough*). The pro-life movement is overwhelmingly pro-woman, as demonstrated by our rhetoric and our tireless work in funding and running pregnancy resource centers, supporting single mothers, and so on. I’m sorry you’ve encountered such a crummy and unrepresentative sample.
      If you want to call names and alienate people, that’s your prerogative, but I don’t see how you can consider that part of a dialogue, which is the stated goal of BridgeND, the modus operandi of Notre Dames, and the constant justification for events like this. If you want to opt out, that’s your choice. I think you’re missing out.

      • what no really

        Pregnancy resource centers that actively mislead women about their options are not helpful or pro-woman. I’m not sure where the support for single mothers is happening either.

        And it doesn’t matter whether or not you think it is a Constitutional right. Right now, it is. Putting unnecessary burdens on women seeking abortions is unconstitutional. Period. And it’s certainly not “overwhelmingly pro-woman.”

        I mean, just own your position. You think abortion is murder, and therefore women who get them are murderers or complicit in murder. And they shouldn’t be able to get an abortion because it’s murder. This “pro-woman” stuff is so patronizing.

        • Monica Gorman

          Yes, I think it’s murder. I also think it’s bad for women. It causes depression (leading sometimes to suicide), physical injuries, infertility, ….
          Also, committing murder is bad for the murderer. Even J.K. Rowling knows this.
          This isn’t patronizing; it’s a genuine concern for myself and other women. I’m also anti-choice on heroin. Do you consider that patronizing? (Maybe you do, in which case you’re much more individualistic than I.) I’m sorry you’re not aware of everything we do, and misinformed about the rest. There’s not much I can do about that.
          Legislation is part of the process of overturning SCOTUS decisions. As to the specific bill Davis was fighting, it mandated higher safety standards for abortion clinics. Even the most radical pro-choice people ought to support that.

          • what no really

            Oh my god please read something outside of whatever echo chamber you occupy.

            1. It does not cause depression on a scale any larger than literally any other life event.
            2. It doesn’t cause physical injuries or infertility. (Can that ever result?? I suppose? But they can also result from stepping outside your house on a given day).

            Calling women murderers while calling yourself pro-woman is… strange, to say the least.

            And no, they aren’t “higher safety standards.” They’re impossible-for-clinics-to-meet standards that are absolutely 100% unnecessary for abortion clinics. They are called TRAP laws for a reason and are acknowledged as such by the people who draft and pass them. Ugh.

          • Monica Gorman

            I actually didn’t make any comparative claims. (In fact, I don’t know of any reliable statistics comparing the incidence of post-abortion depression with the incidence of depression in other cases–do you?) Echoing the earlier part of Senator Davis’s talk, I ask you to “put yourself in the shoes” of the many, many women who have been hurt by abortion, and to reflect on the fact that one woman hurt by abortion is one too many.
            Dentists’ offices are already held to these or comparable standards.

          • what no really

            How can you make the claim if you’re not aware of any data to support it?? I’m not saying abortion causes depression. I am acknowledging that someone who has an abortion may experience depression because if I didn’t acknowledge that you’d dig up some sob story from an individual who blames her depression on an abortion. And one woman forced to carry a pregnancy to term against her will is fine? What?

            And seriously please read something. Dentist’s office are absolutely not held to those standards. Where are you getting your information?? A dentist’s office can’t operate without having a doctor with admitting privileges at a hospital working at it? A dentist’s office needs hallways large enough to fit two gurnees passing each other?? please, please educate yourself on the actual factual content of these laws before you try to lecture people about them.

          • Monica Gorman

            Sorry, ambulatory surgery centers (which usually includes oral surgeons) http://www.ascassociation.org/advancingsurgicalcare/aboutascs/industryoverview/apositivetrendinhealthcare

          • what no really

            Well that’s not even close to the same thing?

          • Monica Gorman

            I apologize for speaking vaguely.

          • what no really

            It’s literally targeting them! Have you never heard of TRAP laws? That is what the people who draft them call them! Good god almighty I cannot believe you’re a senior.

          • Monica Gorman

            “Otherwise, you are stripping one in three women in this country of their agency totally and completely, saying they couldn’t possibly choose an abortion if they knew what they were doing, and so the fault is all that of the evil abortionist.”
            No, I’m saying that women’s culpability is frequently greatly reduced, and therefor it’s bad policy and shows a terrible lack of mercy to prosecute them for abortion.

          • Monica Gorman

            “one woman forced to carry a pregnancy to term against her will is fine?” This is why I work to increase awareness of safe, healthy family planning methods and to ensure that women have the support we need to carry our children. I don’t think it’s good when women have to carry children they don’t want, but I don’t think anything is bad enough to warrant killing a child.

          • Monica Gorman

            I should also clarify the “women are murderers” claim. I do think that abortion is murder, but I would not characterize women who seek abortion as murderers, because it’s hurtful and misleading. The lion’s share of the blame lies at the feet of the abortionist. Women are frequently coerced or pressured into choosing abortion, in part by the genuine difficulties of motherhood and in part by a culture that tells us continually that we need abortion to be able to get by. Like the rest of the pro-life movement, I staunchly oppose attempts to punish women for abortion. (Donald Trump is not squad.)

          • Mr. Pockets

            “Calling women murderers while calling yourself pro-woman is… strange, to say the least.”
            Setting aside for a moment that you are using charged language that Monica has clarified on at least two occasions, this particular quote makes no sense. You can absolutely call out the actions of a group without being against the interests of that group. If I call out drug use, does that mean that I am against the interests of those who use drugs? Is it not equally possible that I might think that that behavior is self-injuring?

    • Mr. Pockets

      Just out of curiosity, if we were to accept that one in three members of a group actually WERE murderers, what WOULD be the appropriate way to respond?

      • what no really

        Probably by charging them with murder?

        • Mr. Pockets

          What if the law didn’t allow that?

          (Granted then I guess they wouldn’t technically be murderers, change that to killers if it helps the hypothetical)

          • what no really

            If they aren’t guilty of murder then they would not be charged with murder…? I get you think you’re being clever but this analogy doesn’t go anywhere.

          • Mr. Pockets

            It’s not meant to be clever, it’s meant to be straightforward.

            If you believe that certain people are killers and the law does not agree with that assessment, what should you do?

          • Monica Gorman

            Me personally? Pray like crazy and try hard to get them to stop.

  • Mr. Pockets

    What is #wastedpaper?

    • Monica Gorman

      She meant that our fliers were a waste of paper, in part because people threw them away. I bet a lot of them did, which is sad, and probably in part a result of what Senator Davis said. 🙁

  • MG

    This really is all *very* instructive. Monica thinks that if people have a deep moral disagreement, respectful dialogue is still possible. What No Really seems to think that if people have a deep moral disagreement, respectful dialogue is not possible–perhaps only silence, or invective, or worse. (Quotation from What No Really: “a productive conversation is impossible when one side believes the others to be active murderers.”)

    If Monica is right, then a pluralistic democracy like ours is possible. If What No Really is right, then we won’t have social peace until society is very homogenous. One side will have to somehow eliminate the other side (or maybe one side will just die off).

    Given that we *do* live in a modern, pluralistic democracy, we should all hope that Monica is right. But of course, she might not be. Maybe it’s going to just be hostility or worse until only one side is left. Then we would have arrived at a much more homogenous and uniform society, like medieval Europe.

    • what no really

      “You’re a murderer” qualifies as respectful? I have to reject that premise. And no, saying a woman’s culpability is diminished because of her apparent inability to make her own decision doesn’t make it better.

      • Monica Gorman

        I never said either of those things.

        • what no really

          If abortion is murder, how do you completely absolve a woman who knowingly, willingly, and voluntarily seeks an abortion of any culpability? I think it’s because it doesn’t play well politically. Because there is no other rational reason that I can see.

          • Monica Gorman

            I’ve already explained this, and if you don’t understand I don’t really know how else to explain it. I’ll try one more time: (A) I think that *personal culpability* for grave evil can be partially or totally reduced by circumstances, and that this is frequently the case with abortion. My pro-choice friends who bring up challenging “hard cases” in which women feel that abortion is their only choice confirm this. (B) For many reasons, some of which I’ve explained here, I think that abortion is a case in which it is wrong, cruel, and unmerciful to punish someone *even if they’re guilty*.

          • what no really

            Sure! But a lot of women just get abortions because they want them. They’re aware of their options. They’re not destitute. They just don’t want to be pregnant. What of them?

          • Monica Gorman

            That’s terrible. But abortion hurts them too, and punishing them wouldn’t change that much, so it’s not worth the risk of punishing someone who feels trapped.

          • what no really

            How do you know abortion hurts them? And what if they don’t feel trapped? A lot of women get abortions and are not upset about it and don’t feel trapped. You have to acknowledge their existence. I understand your stance does not make a ton of sense when these women are considered, but perhaps that is because your stance does not make a ton of sense to begin with.

          • Monica Gorman

            I think you misunderstood what I meant–some women abort because they feel trapped, and some women abort casually, under no pressure. Punishing a woman who was driven to abortion by other people or by her circumstances is so, so terrible that it’s better not to punish any of them at all. This on top of the fact that I don’t think punishing the women who abort casually would do them good.

  • NDaniels

    The fact that an anti Christian message was being condoned and promoted at The University of Notre Dame with no official response from Our Lady’s University, is enough evidence to demonstrate that the University of Notre Dame has decided it is more important to debate The Truth than to Witness tq The Truth.

    “Formal cooperation involves actually intending an evil purpose, regardless of the extent of physical participation in executing the act, e.g., advising, counseling, promoting, or condoning an evil act – all constitute formal cooperation.”

  • An-Liang

    Hi what no really,

    It’s true that many people discussing abortion basically engage at the level of “You’re murderers!” on one side, and “You’re women-hating bigots!” on the other – or, toned down a notch, “You have no respect for human life!” vs. “You have no respect for women’s rights!” So respectful dialogue can feel like an impossible dream. Do you think it has to be that way, though?

    Certainly there are people on both sides of the issue who deal primarily in contempt and accusations, but in my experience there are also many thoughtful people of integrity on both sides: pro-choice advocates who have a deep respect for human life, and feel abortion is never a decision to be made lightly, but who believe passionately that each woman has the right to make that decision for herself; and pro-life advocates who believe strongly in women’s rights and self-determination, but draw the line at including abortion among those rights, because they believe passionately that a fetus in the womb has the same right to life as a month-old baby. I believe that respectful dialogue IS possible among these latter groups.

    If I’ve understood you correctly, you feel that someone who believes abortion is murder is by definition saying “You’re a murderer” to anyone who’s had an abortion, and that this opening line, so to speak, precludes respectful dialogue. I can see how this belief and this accusation could feel like the exact same thing to you. I see things differently, though. By way of analogy: I myself believe that some common practices in factory farming amount to torturing animals. But if I wanted to have a conversation about factory farming with a friend who eats factory-farmed chicken, I wouldn’t open that conversation by saying “You support animal torture!” Or, to give another example, I believe that Catholic teaching on same-sex relationships is homophobic (and this is profoundly painful for me on a personal level). But if I was having a conversation on this topic with a friend who agreed with those teachings, I wouldn’t lead with “You’re a homophobe!” And this isn’t just because I feel it wouldn’t be useful or constructive to call my friends homophobes or supporters of animal torture. It’s also because this isn’t actually how I think of them. These friends are people of integrity; they’re complex and nuanced people; they may be better people than me in many ways. And while I may believe that some of the choices they make cause harm and suffering to other creatures (including myself in some cases), it wouldn’t sit right with me to hurl accusations at them or sum up their identity with one sweeping judgment.

    So, if you were one of these friends, I hope that you’d feel it was possible to have a respectful dialogue with me – one in which neither one of us felt attacked, and one in which each of us tried hard to listen to the other. And if you think
    that would be possible, please consider that the same thing might be possible with the author of this piece or other pro-life advocates, despite the stark differences in your beliefs. Probably neither one of you would change your minds as a result of this dialogue, but that’s by no means the only measure of progress. You might reach greater understanding of each other’s perspective; and you might discover common ground in other, related areas – for instance, you might find out you both supported increased access to affordable child care, or something of that kind. Who knows? Given the harsh polarization of so many conversations on abortion, reaching greater understanding and finding even a small area of common ground could be seen as one of the most radical forms of progress around.

    Best wishes,
    An-Liang

    • what no really

      I appreciate the time taken here, but I’ve never said or implied that I can’t understand a personal opposition to abortion. I do! And I respect every individual’s right to make that decision for herself. I have, several times now, offered an olive branch to the author in the form of shared goals of reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies by ensuring widespread availability of contraception. That’s been ignored.

  • Sam Buchanan

    “I’m disappointed that Senator Davis chose to use her platform to encourage the people in that auditorium, many of whom I consider my friends, to drown out others’ voices, and to reject conversation and even the proper functioning of democracy.” Part of “the proper functioning of democracy” is allowing those with whom you disagree an equal platform to speak and share their beliefs. Allowing Wendy to speak is in no way drowning out the voices of those who control the majority here. Just because a minority is being allowed to speak does not mean the majority is being threatened or oppressed in any way. It was a privilege to meet Wendy, shake her hand, and hear her speak the truth I’ve long admired her for having no fear of sharing. You don’t have to like her, and you don’t have to like what she represents. But the world does not exist in a Catholic safe space, and part of living in a “proper functioning democracy” is learning how to deal with those you disagree with.

    • Monica Gorman

      I’m confused by your comment–I certainly never meant to imply that Davis should not have been given a platform on campus, nor that pro-life views were being “threatened or oppressed” by her presence or her speech.

  • Charles Barbour

    She did not disrupt the democratic process, she used it. Like it or not, the filibuster is a part of our legislative rules. Using that mechanism no more drowns out the voices of others than voting does.

    • Monica Gorman

      I totally agree! I was referring specifically to the screaming (after her filibuster ended) that prevented the Secretary of the Senate from taking a vote–i.e. literally drowning out all other sounds in the building but also metaphorically drowning out the voices of the legislators, who are there to represent the people.

  • Josephine Schmo

    Why does Notre Dame get the left of the left to speak time AND time again? IS IT FOR PENANCE? To absolve themselves of guilt as the local clergy dare to preach at people as to the ins and outs of what’s moral/immoral?
    OR, are the institutions of the church given the go ahead to be the change agents that parish priests are NOT free to be?
    Is it just me, or does saying Vagina Monologues, Father Jenkins supporter of Vagina Monologues & Notre Dame in the same sentence seem odd (not the words, so much as the message to women preached. Certainly one doesn’t need to see lesbianism as the answer to embracing womanhood or the natural result for speaking out against assault/abuse/rape and finding solace having done so! [By the by, lesbians rape too! Oh yes they do! But I don’t think the monologues address that nor is it likely the message would be to run to the heteros as the answer if lesbian rape was discussed …])
    Onward: why was Bishop Darcy seen as an obstructionist for opposing the invitation to have Obama, supporter of abortion at any stage, speak to ND graduates, but Father Jenkins lauded as a hero (Hesburgh’s puppet) FOR the invite? Jenkins was considered/IS considered the hero so much so that Father Hesburgh made sure the pain Bishop Darcy forced upon wee Jenkins was groused about from the grave via the reflection Jenkins read at the Basilica service!
    Certainly when any of us die were we to insist that those who speak on our behalf go after those we yet had issues with would leave the visitors feeling a bit odd & likely the deceased would not be seen as godly, but rather small and bitter.
    Yet, when Father Jenkins did so about Father Hesburgh’s unresolved feelings about the Obama invite, and waaayyy, way further back his ire over ALL things President Nixon, eye roll, it was an old coot’s dream eulogy making for a truly memorable memorial, judging from the laughter.
    While speaking of the topics spoken of at the memorial seems like a rabbit trail, what the eulogies,to me ( eulogies plural as the topics were revisited), made clear is why yearly the liberal’s liberals are invited to ND: envy! Father Hesburgh likely had loathed that Ivy League school graduates, and the schools themselves, have the type of respect he coveted for ND. And if the way to that notoriety is the path Harvard and Yale took to be seen as more than schools of divinity, then by golly it would work for ND.
    That’s why from speakers, to guest lecturers to the professors themselves (isn’t a “white privilege” class being taught at ND?), at both Boston College AND ND, they reflect less and less what one might hear from a parish priest but more and more from the likes of a Wendy Davis.