Commentary | Hyde Park: Taking the “violence” out of Choose Life

Even though personally I am vehemently pro-choice, I am very glad that Council decided to grant club status to Choose Life. Smothering the debate on the subject of abortion doesn’t do any good for either side, and SSMU would have established a dangerous precedent if it chose to empower itself as the arbitrator of what moral discussions or stances ought to be allowed on campus. We didn’t elect SSMU to do that, and to presume such a right would limit freedom of conscience and speech on campus.

However, I object to the use of the term “structural violence” in relation to pro-life groups, and the notion that such a stance is “inherently violent” toward women. Certainly, withholding practical access to abortion disproportionately affects women, and particularly women in vulnerable social positions like racial minorities and the economically disadvantaged. It severely impacts the social and economic options available to her for the rest of her life. Having increased control over fertility through access both to birth control options and to abortions is an essential part of body rights for women.

But the term “violence” does not belong in this discussion, and does nothing but sensationalize the issue by tying it to the important, tangentially related but ultimately separate issue of violence against women. In a cursory search, I could not find any definition of violence broad enough to incorporate this usage. The closest was “an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws,” but by that definition, SSMU choosing to deny this club interim status would have been using its power unjustly in an act of “violence.” In no way could this club – or even the Canadian pro-life movement – be seen as having the power necessary to fulfill the requirements of this already questionable definition of “violence.”

While I understand that this use is fashionable among the radical left, to me, it’s an attempt to morally hijack the conversation by using a value-laden term that people automatically associate with physical force. By implying that someone who believes life begins at conception is morally equivalent to a man who beats his wife, it ultimately diminishes the more important problem of violence against women by equating an opinion to an act. They are not, and to suggest this demonstrates intolerance toward a justifiable moral position simply because you do not share it.

I am a liberal feminist down to my core, but this is the kind of thing that makes people reluctant to declare themselves feminists today. The modern women’s rights movement has somehow alienated the very group it seeks to represent. We drive away our moderates both through this kind of sensationalism, and by equating sexual freedom with exhibitionism. Please don’t tell me that to be a feminist, I must be intolerant of religion and attend the annual Eve Ensler cult. Don’t we have bigger things to worry about?

Alexandra Swann is a U4 Political Science and Environmental Studies student. If you’re into this whole debate thing, you can reach her at alexandra.swann@mail.mcgill.ca.


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