The Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (affectionately known as “WGSX”) held its 14th annual colloquium from Tuesday, March 19 through Thursday, March 21. This year’s colloquium, titled “Choices and Lives: Abortion After Roe v. Wade,” focused on the topic of abortion to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case which legalized abortion in all fifty states in 1972.
A one-woman theater piece, “The Uncertainty Principle,” opened the colloquium with a look at the nation’s “very complicated feelings about abortion while avoiding the labels of ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life,'” according to the play’s description in the colloquium’s program. Actress Diane Davis embodied the voices and feelings of four men and seven women with very different opinions of and experiences with abortion. An abortion survivor, a rabbi, a feminist whose son was conceived through rape, and a woman who found refuge in the clinic of late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller were just a few of the personalities who were explored in this hour and a half of moral ambiguities.
The show was a collaboration between Davis, who also wrote the play, and director Eliza Baldi, both of whom were on hand for discussion at the colloquium. When Davis herself was faced with an unplanned pregnancy (which eventually ended in a miscarriage), she thought about the issue of abortion and was inspired to create the show, for which she conducted interviews with people across the country.
Davis’ ideologically-balanced performance was appreciated by those in attendance. “I liked that we got both perspectives and that it wasn’t pushing any one side too much,” said first-year Leah Walker. “It was just real accounts or real sounding ones. And I thought [Davis] was really good at obviously changing characters each time so it was never confusing.”
The colloquium also featured lectures from three speakers. The ethical question of “procreative liberty and justice for all” was presented by feminist philosopher Alison M. Jaggar, the legal and constitutional history of abortion was analyzed by family law professor Joanna L. Grossman, and the practical aspects of running an organization that provides abortion services and sex education (as well as reproductive services for men, such as vasectomies) was explained by Jenny Black, who is the President and CEO of the Maryland branch of Planned Parenthood.
All three speakers, as well as Davis and Baldi, participated in the colloquium roundtable discussion moderated by Professor of History Christine Adams. Audience members were allowed to ask questions and sparked a thoroughly engaging dialogue about the issue of abortion.
The panel discussed, among many things, child support, the stigma of unmarried mothers, and responsibility of contraception as major aspects in the role of men in the decision to have or not have a child. Black suggsted the inclusion of child support laws as part of sex education, as a way to inform men about an oft-neglected consequence of sex and to help reduce unplanned pregnancies.
The emotional and rational language surrounding both sides of the debate was also analyzed. Black said that not combating emotionally-charged pro-life rhetoric, like using the word “murder,” actually helps choice activists gain support.
“Most people don’t line up behind the crazy [rhetoric], in terms of capturing the PR high ground,” she said. “We need to reframe the debate in more rational terms.” Jaggar added a moral layer to the use of the term “murder,” and said that one must consider abortion in terms of “wrongful and justified actions.”
Jaggar also described her model for an ideally just society, in which the reproductive choice to become a mother is just as feasible as having an abortion. According to Jaggar, a woman’s decision to have an abortion is based on whether she can “fulfill her responsibilities to the child.”
“When children are born, they should have entitlements to be cared for, to have health care, to have various kinds of support like child care,” she said. “If these were available to all citizens, that would really change a lot of the pressure to have an abortion.”
Grossman contributed another factor to the social and financial reasons that could pressure women to seek abortions. “A place to start would be a really stark look at our paid maternity leave,” she said, “and the plain lack of it in this country.”
Near the end of the discussion, Black summed up the core of the colloquium’s message. “The ability to make moral and informed choices, and to make conscious choices as opposed to just letting life happen to us [is essential],” she said. “You need to plan and educate yourself in order to take care of yourself.”
Sophomore Gwen Kokes, a student member of the WGSX Colloquium committee, was proud of all the hard work put into the event. “What I found truly inspiring,” she said, “is how we can come together, work as a team, and hold a colloquium that is informational, relevant, inspiring, and so much more.”