Occasionally my social justice advocacy spills over into meatspace, and when that happens, it is almost always at work. Over the years I’ve engaged in discussions of a variety of subjects with my co-workers, from the pernicious nature of religious beliefs in the United States to the gullibility of people when it comes to outrageous stories. I always try to engage with people in such a way that I don’t come across as patronizing or insulting, because the point is to share my opinions with others in an attempt to sway them, and the confrontational approach doesn’t always work in those situations. I recently found myself discussing abortion with J, a young woman I work with.
It was a slow day at work, and a handful of us were gathered around the host stand by the front door. Somehow the discussion shifted toward families and how some people love their families and others don’t. I pointed out that it can be more complicated than that, with some people disliking members of their families sometimes and not others, or people hating one family member, but not others. My overall point was that there is no reason that family members should automatically love one another. Although my interactions with my family members over the years are loving, and I don’t dislike any of my family, I know plenty of people who don’t. I know people who no longer speak to their siblings or people who have a complicated relationship with an alcoholic parent. I know people who have had their parents (biological or step) cut all ties with them because they’re transgender. Despite the notion that family members are supposed to love one another, the reality is the people in our families are people too, and there are always going to be people we don’t get along with or like, no matter our familial connections (or lack thereof). I think it can lead to a lot of stress forcing people to try and love brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers, cousins, etc if that love isn’t there. And let’s be honest: love doesn’t just spring forth simply bc someone shares a bloodline. We’ve erected this fantasy of love and how it works, but the reality is far messier and more complicated than that. Just like our associates, co-workers, or close friends, family members are subject to inclusion or exclusion in our lives based on any number of reasons.
In the discussion at work, J mentioned that she has a younger sister that she flat out doesn’t like, and an older sister that she didn’t like for 2 years. When I inquired as to why, she said that she and her younger sister simply don’t get along. Her older sister?
She got an abortion and J didn’t approve.
Now, as a feminist and a strong advocate for a woman’s unrestricted right to an abortion, this made me stand up and take notice. At the same time, we were at work, and I wasn’t sure if it was the right time to go into all the ways I felt she was wrong. I sat there for several seconds trying to figure out the best course of actions. Ultimately, I chose to discuss my views on abortion with her. I told J that I feel it is a woman’s right to choose because her body is her own and no one else’s. I shared with her the fact that so much opposition to abortion is due to religious reasons or the view that fetuses have souls or are people. At this point, most of the other employees had wandered off, but there was still one other person aside from J who was still present and he was listening. I told the both of them that a woman’s right to an abortion stems from her right to bodily autonomy. The same bodily autonomy that prevents me from demanding anyone’s kidney or blood transfusion, even if it is to save my life. No one can be forced to donate either. They can consent to the use of their body to save another, just as a pregnant woman can consent to allow a fetus to remain inside her. I ended on a note that no matter what anyone says, no human being has the right to use the body of another human without consent, and that includes a fetus using a pregnant woman’s body. Neither J nor A really responded, and I’m not sure what they were thinking, nor did I press the issue. I said what I wanted and walked away. I hope that my comments provided food for thought for both of them. I may never know, but at least I tried.