On rage and gentleness in the reproductive rights debate

There is a person dear to me with whom I disagree. She considers herself “pro-life.” I consider myself “pro-choice.” A few weeks back, I gave up my half-hearted media blackout and threw myself into advocating for women’s reproductive rights in the face of egregious attacks from the Virginia legislature. My Facebook posts became much more frequent, and charged with outrage. After a day or two, my friend emailed me and gently offered to share with me her thoughts “from the other side.” She did, and I shared my thoughts in return, as gently as I could, and we agreed to disagree. It was a difficult, important exchange, after which I hid most of my political posts from her news feed, realizing that they were probably driving her crazy.

During the weeks since then I have spent hours in the galleries of the House and Senate, watching elected officials legislate my rights away, bearing witness. I have attended demonstrations, watched armed police arrest my fellow peaceful protestors, read endless commentary and written some of my own. I have grown more and more angry, sorrowful, and determined to fight for what I consider to be all women’s basic rights to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

I have also, however, worked hard to not succumb to hatred and vitriol, to the US/THEM dichotomy which seems an inevitable outcome of the clash of passionate convictions, particularly in the public sphere. It’s incredibly difficult, this not succumbing. And it’s different from not feeling – I still wrestle daily, hourly, with generalized feelings of resentment and distress so profound they disrupt my work and wreak havoc with my sleep. But while I acknowledge the feelings and sometimes give voice to them, I can keep them from overrunning me because I have ballast. And that ballast is my friend.

She may not even know this, and we certainly haven’t talked about it since our initial exchange made it clear that neither of us could budge from our convictions. But she is what keeps me measured. Because I understand that her conviction that abortion kills (which, regardless of your position on choice, you must acknowledge to be true) and is thus inherently wrong, underlies everything else she thinks or says about the issue. She believes in the primacy of the potential life, of the unborn. All of her conclusions stem from that premise; all of her logic takes that as its starting point. And that point is radically different from mine, since I believe in the primacy of the living woman and her autonomy; I prioritize a woman’s ability to make decisions about her body and her life over the rights of her unborn fetus.

So when I want to rail against the illogical arguments used in favor of anti-choice legislation, I try to pause, and remember that those arguments appear illogical to me because they spring not from my premise, but from the pro-life position. I remember that my own logical conclusions, based on the pro-choice position, look just as bizarre to my friend. I remind myself that she finds my feelings, and my expressions of them on this issue, just as upsetting as I find hers. And while this does not eliminate my anger nor reduce my outrage, it tempers them; it makes me able to acknowledge the validity of her concern.

None of this brings me any closer to agreeing with her, to changing my position, or to finding a way to compromise on such polarized convictions as ours. But it helps me to understand her, and to try to keep my own arguments with anyone, in any public forum, as honest, measured, and compassionate as I would if I were talking with her in private. I know better than to hope for some miracle of mutual concession; I know we will each likely try to get as many like-minded people to the polls as we can. But knowing her thoughts, working to understand them, helps, paradoxically, to keep me from rage and utter despair.

Not sleeping

She needs to fling herself around the bed for a while, and hide behind the curtains, and chuckle a lot, before finally settling to sleep. I have lost track of her words. The other day she walked in a circle and said, “Rosie, Rosie, Rosie.”
She says “I miss…” Grandpa, or Papa, or Kat, or Granny, or Robby or James…or many others dear to us, when she has not seen them for a bit.
She asks for music, or to read books, or to swing. She eats mostly broccoli one day, only tortilla the next, then venison for two days straight. And always, “nursing?”.
I am, always, undone.