It would have been much easier to just sit back with some low-fat frozen yogurt and observe the mess as we made self-righteous, snide, and furious comments. This attitude would have been intellectually lazy and cowardly, and the editors realized we could not be silent.
What is interesting and ironic is that many of the social issues that our society violently quarrels over involve “statements of values” that will touch vanishingly few Americans in their daily lives — very few people, for instance, will ever have to decide whether to bake a cake or take the photos for a same-sex wedding. Yet these values, which are philosophical in nature, will continue to drive real-life bans on abortion at the state level. What is worse is that with the overturn of Roe vs. Wade, these values may also introduce significant restrictions or even legal prohibitions on the type of people we are allowed to love, who can have the right to vote, or how we determine what religion to practice (if any). In essence, we may end up fighting another more dangerous cultural war with more widely felt consequences.
Abortion was part of the explosive complex of issues that shifted the axis of American politics during the 1960s and 1970s. During the first decades after World War II, the main dividing line in the electorate was economic: but starting in the mid-1960s with civil rights and voting rights for African Americans — and then continuing with fierce debates over crime, welfare, and changing attitudes about family, sex and the role of women in American life — the dividing line between people began to shift. Abortion contributed to that fiercely debated shift when the Supreme Court, in its January 22, 1973, Roe vs. Wade decision, established a constitutional right to abortion in every state. And now, a highly conservative Supreme Court has overturned this decision and opened the way for even more debate, anger, and irrational behavior amongst ourselves.
Regarding this article, it is important to note that we will not address the arcane intellectual speculation of when “life” starts. This question immediately erupts into fierce arguments and, at times, intensely crude accusations of hate from all sides of the debate. The decision to have or not have an abortion is a personal choice, and this is the critical point. Can or should a minority of people, or worse yet, a government decide for anyone else? This question was once constrained by a privacy right which resolved the whole agony into a matter of personal choice, individual freedom, and respect for boundaries. But not anymore.
In no other country or culture has the struggle of “choice” versus “life” been fought so hard or for so long. This isn’t surprising when you reflect that simultaneously the United States is the birthplace of the modern feminist movement and one of the most secular and religious societies. To top it all off, we also salivate at the idea of individualism. It is a cauldron of swirling emotions and beliefs that never seems to calm down.
Nonetheless, it is direly important to talk about the personal right to abortion since once we lose that right as a society, we need to ask ourselves what is next to be lost.
IT’S ABOUT PERSONAL CHOICE
Mena Lombard: As a woman, I believe education is one of humanity’s most powerful tools. And I say this “as a woman” because it has been proven that by educating women, you are promoting the development of an entire nation. It is known that it is through women that the passage of knowledge and values can take full effect, and thus, whole countries are able to move forward. And so, when we look at women’s education, we are immediately and undoubtedly looking at the progress of the entire world.
In 1894, American statesman, writer, and social reformer Frederick Douglass famously said, “there can be no freedom without education.” If we look back in history, one of the most important and common elements of totalitarian governments was the total control of the education system and the information such systems were imparting.
In March 2022, the Taliban announced that they were suspending education for women in Afghanistan; they did it because they knew that it was one of the most effective ways to subjugate the entire Afghan population. It was a radical and ideological decision. What is happening in Afghanistan is horrifying, but the truth is that we are not significantly different. The overturn of Roe vs. Wade can be viewed as the American version of what the Taliban did because it is an ideological and totalitarian decision based on the beliefs of a few that eliminates a right for all women. There is an undeniable truth: rights are democratic, and prohibition of rights is totalitarian. Rights are democratic because they allow you to choose. Prohibition of rights are totalitarian because they force you to comply with them. The right to abortion does not force you to have an abortion. It gives you the power to choose and the ability to make an educated decision. When you abolish a right, you impose your ideologies and beliefs on an entire population. That is being totalitarian. And totalitarianism stands at the opposite end of democracy.
I have always thought that to deal with complex issues, one must either try to look at them through an uncomplex glass or you should try to break them into the different elements that such issues consist of. And I choose to do the latter when analyzing a controversial and complicated subject like the overturn of Roe vs. Wade. One of the elements that conform to this topic is the ability of a woman to choose what can and will happen to her own body. Take away the ability to choose, and you are taking away one of the fundamental liberties stated by our founding fathers. You are stripping away something we hold very dear and a vital element that identifies us as the citizens of the land of the free. The fundamental right of personal choice is at the heart of freedom. In this country, no one is born with a natural right to rule over others without their consent. According to our Constitution and American values, each physical female body inhabiting this soil holds the power of consent in terms of what happens to her. If that is so, then Roe vs. Wade is defending one of the pillars this country was built on and one of the most essential rights of democracy. This overturn means a loss for all American women in terms of their fundamental rights and a loss for our country in terms of being an example in the fight for human rights globally.
Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta: As a man, I recognize that for decades, abortion has been slotted into the category of “women’s issues” next to other pregnancy-adjacent topics such as contraception access and paid parental leave. And let’s be totally transparent: many abortion rights advocates still become heated in contempt if men are involved in the debate. But most pregnancies require a man’s active participation—so it stands to reason that men have a place in the abortion conversation. As the future of abortion becomes even more uncertain, men need to be active and join the fight, but we first must acknowledge the complex and unjust roles men have played in the past.
In the anti-abortion movement, men feature prominently. Some anti-abortion groups have male presidents, but men are far less visible in the abortion-rights movement. In the mid-19th century, male physicians initially spearheaded the multi-decade campaign to criminalize abortion. And in a head-spinning turn-around, in the 1950s, physicians—still overwhelmingly male—began to push to decriminalize abortion so that doctors could safely practice it. Their efforts resulted in a patchwork of laws at different levels of government that regulated who could get abortions and when made in cooperation with politicians (also overwhelmingly male). Does that sound familiar?
So as men, we are already deep in the conversation over the right to choose. Nonetheless, our complicated relationship with abortion rights has been influenced by the fact that men don’t have to exist under the possibility of carrying a pregnancy for nine months. We don’t even have a legitimate fear of being roped into onerous child support payments. What we do have is a network of female family members, partners, coworkers, and friends. And that should be enough for all people, men, and women, to acknowledge past injustices but also shut up and start agitating through votes and positive debate on the right to choose.
This latest twist on removing the right to choose is comical in its hypocrisy. People who are adamant about restricting access to abortions declaim that they respect and save lives. With new state restrictions, we are now actually debasing life. Suppose society forces all women to give birth to all pregnancies. In that case, an important question needs to be asked about who will take care of these children and provide them with the education, opportunities, and love they deserve. Also, pregnancies are not danger-free; many complications risk the lives of women. Who is going to pay for this increased medical care? What happens to any loved ones, partners, and children left behind? Who takes care of them?
Let’s not insult each other by saying that, consequently, people should stop having sex or that governments will be there to help. Both ideas are ludicrous. Our oldest evidence of penetrative intercourse is about 385 million years old. It comes in the form of fossilized remains of the aptly named Microbrachius dicki (who knew armored shellfish could be so wild?). And from the “Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis” that criminalized adultery to the Arkansas law that mandates that educators stress abstinence, humans have tried and failed to legislate sex. So that is already a lost and ridiculous idea.
In addition, taxes used to increase government services are loathed in this country; hell, we kicked out King George III and the red coats because we hated being taxed. So, are we as a society willing to pay for the consequences of restricting choice? I sincerely doubt it.
IT’S ABOUT RESPECT FOR BOUNDARIES
Mena Lombard: Another important aspect of this overturn is that it deals with essential boundaries. When we give someone else the power to decide for us, we are inevitably messing up the boundaries that hold society organized by setting clear start and end points to every right of every human being. Taking away the ability to choose blurs these boundaries. The golden rule that establishes that your right ends where mine begins loses value, power, and effect. When a group or entity takes away an individual right, like my ability to choose, it automatically throws away all we know and makes sense regarding boundaries and respect. This is because it means that such a group or entity and only, they have the power to make that choice. And more than that, that choice will only affect and concern me, not them. That not only feels abusive, but it also feels like a double standard.
Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta: The United States is a marvelous place, but nothing is perfect. We have repeatedly debated the importance of individual and societal rights like a merry-go-round on acid. We have a choice between a society where people respect the common good and make modest sacrifices to ensure its overall success or a more contentious society where groups selfishly protect their own benefits. Guess where we are now? The common good is a notion that originated over two thousand years ago in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. The common good consists primarily of having the social systems, institutions, and environments work to benefit all people. Examples include a decent public health care system, effective public safety, or a flourishing economic system that benefits both men and women. It also includes respect for individuals regardless of sex or color of skin. Unfortunately, since World War II, arguably the last time we as a country stopped whining and acted in enthusiastic concert for the common global good, there have been minority groups of self-interested Americans taking advantage of apathy and disinterest to gain an absolute advantage.
Our historical traditions place a high value on individual freedom, personal rights, and allowing each person to pursue their own goals and interests without interference from others. In the overturn of Roe vs. Wade, these sentiments are turned on their head. Apparently, while we still respect the right to bear arms, we no longer respect the right to make a personal decision on what to do with our bodies. In Roe, the Supreme Court held that the constitutional right to privacy includes a woman’s right to decide whether to have an abortion. And suddenly, four older white men and a white “handmaiden” to a Pentecostal protestant offshoot of the Catholic Church have decided, on our behalf, that this right to privacy should be taken away.
In a perfect world, each person should have the individual right to decide what to believe in and what to do on their own behalf. No one else should have that right over others. This self-determination is at the heart of the very definition of human existence. As is the case with all rights, there is a corresponding responsibility. There will be charlatans, scammers, and sincere people who will try to influence your beliefs, but ultimately you and you alone are responsible for the content of your own mind. You make the final decisions within the privacy of your thoughts and feelings.
What you believe in will guide you into friendships with those who are like-minded. You will evaluate new information based on how well it fits with your existing beliefs. And we make sense of the world in terms of how we as individuals consume the data and images that enter our lives. Of course, it is pretty humorous that everyone thinks their beliefs are excellent and, without a doubt, based on the truth.
How can anyone think differently from us? Most people in contemporary society take a lazy and convenient point of view; everyone else is wrong. This line of thinking is shallow and dangerous. Fundamentally, we should act on the hypothesis that people are trying their best and do not sincerely mean to harm others proactively. It would be a very dark and paranoid world if we thought the opposite. And having said that? It is imperative that personal beliefs be respected.
As you think about the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, it is crucial to have some intellectual humility. As individuals, we are not omniscient. We must be willing to learn new perspectives and carefully question if we need to change or improve our belief system. Beliefs evolve, and a tenet of respect is dialogue. We need to listen to each other more, not call each other grotesque names and have hissy fits.
Ultimately, we at Avessa believe that no one has a right to impose their beliefs on others. Why does Avessa take this view? Fashion has always been about a series of choices. In fashion, you are in direct control of how you want to present yourself to the world. Whatever you choose to wear also reflects who you are personally. Fashion choice allows people to express how they feel that day and how they want people to view them. We may encounter societal pressures, but only rarely in contemporary society have people been legislated on the type of clothes they wear. If our culture hesitates to legislate a relatively benign topic such as fashion, then why do we permit laws against personal choice over reproduction? Same-sex marriage is another example where there are double and triple standards. With almost no fanfare, same-sex marriage was quietly voted on in The U.S. House of Representatives. The House voted on July 19, 2022, to enshrine same-sex marriage into law with a bipartisan vote — all 220 Democratic representatives voted in favor, joined by 47 Republican colleagues. A similar move to enshrine the right to choose was summarily laughed at and thrown out onto the Capitol steps.
If your beliefs tell you same-sex marriage is wrong, then don’t do it. That is your choice. If you consider it more carefully, getting married to a same-sex partner is also a choice that men and women are permitted. However, it is not your job to make everyone else comply with your personal beliefs. Just as neither of us has a right to tell the other what to believe, neither of us has a right to tell the other how to live or impose our views. The loss of freedom for any one of us is the loss of freedom for all of us.
As you think about the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, it is crucial to have some intellectual humility.
As individuals, we are not omniscient. We must be willing to learn new perspectives and carefully question if we need to change or improve our belief system. Beliefs evolve, and a tenet of respect is dialogue.
We need to listen to each other more, not call each other grotesque names and have hissy fits.