When both sides balk: A conversation on abortion
BridgeND | Wednesday, February 27, 2019
The LaFun ballroom echoed with chatter, punctuated by the passionate gesticulations of people engaged in lively debate. One table, however, had a mood better echoed by the somber evening — twilight spreading in from the western windows. A pro-life senior and her pro-choice classmate were engaged in an intense quest to understand each other. Mati Sarosi and I had covered scores of traditional abortion questions, ranging from “When does life begin?” to “Does the right to life outweigh the right to choose?” But we had reached a point in our conversation that meant the gloves had to come off: with completely different philosophies, could we reach common ground?
Mati smoothed her fluffy blonde curls over one shoulder, spread her hands flat on the table and said, “Imagine this: any possible circumstance that could cause a woman to abort has been eliminated. She and the baby are healthy, race and socioeconomic issues are nonexistent, and she’s under no emotional or mental duress. The world is perfect.” The skin around her eyes crinkled with sincerity. “Do you outlaw abortion then?”
Being pro-choice, I wanted to say that every woman should have the right to decide what happens in her body at any time, no matter the reasons, even if they were reasons I couldn’t understand. Imagine my shock when the silence between us grew, and my lips were heavy with an answer I did not give.
“I — I don’t … ” I frowned. “I don’t know. I don’t want her to abort, but I don’t know if I could outlaw it, even then.” My eyes unfocused as the gears in my head turned. Why can’t I agree with her? This seems so reasonable. Why am I made uncomfortable by the idea that I might still allow an abortion in this situation? Or am I made uncomfortable by the idea that I might not?
With indecision still behind my expression, I looked back at Mati and countered, “Okay, that ideal world is a lofty goal, but let’s bring it down to reality. In our non-ideal world, there are thousands of reasons why a woman might not want to have a child.” I paused. “Does your stance change if the mother has a very high likelihood of dying while carrying the child to term?” This scenario, I knew, would challenge Mati. As a believer in radical equality of life, she holds that both mother and baby have equal rights to life — an ideal I admired and had not encountered until I met her. If the mother had an equal right to life as her baby, which won out? Mati was still for a second, and then she broke into a flurry of nervous motion.
“I — I don’t … ” She frowned. “I don’t know.” She quickly put her hands up to her face and then removed them an instant later, stuttering slightly. “I’d — I’d have to do more research. For instance, if she needed chemo and I — I don’t know.” We looked at each other in silence, lost for the words we thought we surely had.
Whether pro-life or pro-choice, this feeling of disbelief is relatable. She and I just presented each other with the one argument that should win us over, the one situation where we will surely defect — and yet, silence follows. And we seem equally perplexed that we can’t provide each other the answers we were looking for.
This was a moment of deep vulnerability, where Mati and I, convinced as we were in our stances, realized we still had more to learn about our philosophies. It was a moment that acknowledged just how difficult the conversation was, where we allowed each other to see that we are still figuring some things out.
The abortion debate is representative of a raging conversation (or lack thereof) happening all over our country today. How do we find common ground if we fundamentally disagree? Some argue we can’t, but Mati and I proved a fruitful, relatable dialogue could be had. Maybe she and I couldn’t relinquish our positions, but we could understand each other more fully. Maybe we couldn’t find a legislative solution in 65 minutes, but perhaps two other people could, if only they would engage in the way that we did. It was less about abortion and more about the moments of vulnerability and self-examination that we encountered. And in those moments, we saw each other not as pro-life or pro-choice, but as two people finding their way in the world together.
Many thanks to senior Mati Sarosi for the incredible dialogue we had, and for her permission to be included in this column.
Olivia de Sonne Ammaccapane is a senior from Long Island majoring in industrial design with interests ranging from politics to astrophysics. When she’s not desperately questing for the “moral truth,” you can probably find her covered in sawdust in Riley Hall, or eating too many wings at Brothers. The viewpoints expressed in this column are those of the individual and not necessarily those of BridgeND as an organization.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.