Commentary | Opting out is not conscientious objection

A response to the “Right to choose”

In response to Eleanor Vaughan’s piece “Right To Choose” (Commentary, February 3), I have to say that I find couching one’s decision to opt out of funding QPIRG in the language of reproductive rights and Vietnam War dissidence both absurd and repugnant.

Vaughan admits that “paying $3.75 a semester is not the same as going to war,” but this admission does not seem to interfere with her willingness to suggest a comparison between supporting a group devoted to anti-oppressive community activism, and supporting the sacrifice and wholesale slaughter of thousands of people in a meaningless war, or the legacy of denying women reproductive control.

So I am curious, if the author admits that these are different situations, on what basis is she invoking this language? Does it not occur to her that this might trivialize and disrespect the people she is comparing herself to – for the sake of a compelling but misleading analogy?

Honestly, I’m baffled. Is Vaughan really comfortable saying that her experience deciding to file a negligible amount of online paperwork in order not to support a campus organization is in some way comparable to that of someone who had to choose between participating in a war they believed was unjust or facing imprisonment as a consequence? Or that this is in some way equivalent to deciding to abandon one’s home, renounce one’s citizenship, and flee the country clandestinely? Or that her decision to opt out was met with resistance that resembled that against women who had to turn to illegal, often dangerous, medical procedures because no legal provision was made respecting their choice?

Seriously? I can’t take issue per se with claiming that one has a right to opt out, if one honestly disagrees with the type of work QPIRG does (although I would like to think that such a person has informed themselves about the nature of this work before making this decision).

This right already exists. You didn’t have to fight for it. You’re not going to go to jail for it. You’re not going to be expelled, or have your citizenship revoked for it. Your principled $3.75 is not the moral equivalent of reproductive choice.

So let’s just say I’m shocked. And that I cannot believe that anyone who takes seriously reproductive rights or conscientious objection could make an argument like this.

A “conscientious objector,” by the way, is someone who specifically refuses to bear arms for religious or ethical reasons, not anyone who makes a decision as an act of conscience. The “opt-out as symbolic conscientious objection” analogy is thus not merely offensive and self-aggrandizing, but a plainly false analogy. Just FYI.

Jonah Campbell is a first-year M.A. student in the Social Studies of Medicine. He can be reached at jonahdcampbell@gmail.com.


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