On Tuesday these flyers were posted around campus.
It’s the sort of thing that can almost make you lose faith in humanity. Then again, the large response from people on campus taking a stand against this message was incredibly encouraging.
Perhaps not surprisingly the student group responsible for this message feels profoundly misunderstood. Below is the text the posted in response to criticism of this image on Facebook:
What we’re finding is that there has been a lot of misinterpretation and misunderstanding of our intended message, and because of that, unfortunately some people’s feelings have been hurt. In light of Black History Month, our goal is to raise awareness of the fact that abortion and the industry that surrounds it disproportionately affects and harms the black community, including, but not limited to, its unborn members. (Check outtoomanyaborted.com for stats.) Those are the reasons we are currently focusing on abortions in the black community, not because we intend to attack or shame anyone. Obviously we believe that abortion is an equal injustice regardless of race. We want people to know that black lives matter, in the womb and out. We must fight factors like poverty, sexism, and racism, that drive women to abortion, and we at Purdue Students for Life work to love and support women of all races facing crisis pregnancies. This is not about shaming anyone. It’s about human equality and the fact that all human lives have dignity that cannot be taken away, be they black or white, male or female, born or preborn.
We will be publishing a letter soon with further information and clarification.
Purdue Students for Life
As several other very capable parties have already pointed out, the only misunderstanding here is on behalf of the Purdue Students for Life who clearly have very strong feelings about abortion but have not attempted to understand reproductive justice.
The idea implicit in the poster and the defense of it is that abortion is one of the more dangerous forces disproportionately affecting the black community. The only possible way that a person could come to this conclusion is to dismiss or be unaware of the real issues that face the black community in the United States such as mass incarceration and police brutality. It particularly ignores the challenges of being a black woman in this world. According to date from the National Women’s Law Center black women made 60.5 cents on for every dollar a white man made at the same job in 2014. Given that black men face a one in three possibility of being incarcerated in their lifetimes one in three black, heterosexual women will be deprived of the benefit of a dual income household to help support the children she chooses to bring to term.
Purdue Students for Life’s attempt to appropriate #blacklivesmatter and Hands Up, Don’t Shoot! to shame black women for making the reproductive decisions that work best for them is beyond deplorable. It is disgusting. Others have already written about that in ways far more nuanced than I could.
What I want to talk about is Jesus. The “Why I am Pro Life” section of their website reveals that at least some of the Purdue Students for Life identify as Christian. Several identify as religious. (On a separate note several seem to believe things patently false such as the idea that abortion is unnatural or wasn’t practiced for most of human history.)
As I continue to process these images and the justification from Purdue Students for Life I keep thinking about the biblical Jesus and his title as “Rabbi.” It means teacher, often of the law or religion (though there’s often significant overlap between those two things).
This is the one thing that Jesus and I have in common. We are both teachers who focus on the intersections of religion and law in daily life. As a teacher, I know that the thing that I most want my students to do is genuinely listen to other perspectives. I want my students to understand that there is not one prescription for behavior that works in all situations. Human life just doesn’t work that way. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows that Jesus was constantly trying to teach this lesson. He was constantly upsetting his disciples by refusing to abide by social norms or uphold prescriptive, legalistic behavior (just look at how he averted the stoning of an adultress–that’s probs my favorite example.) Jesus almost never told people what to do. Like any good teacher he gave the options and helped them understand the consequences of those actions so they could make their own decisions. (My favorite example of this is the rich young ruler. Jesus didn’t tell him to give up his money. He just said that it was harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.)
Like any good teacher, like Jesus, I’m not going to tell Purdue Students for Life that they have to support abortion. They don’t. However, before they tell black women what to do with their bodies they should take a moment to truly be students. Before arguing that the most dangerous place for black people is the womb they should check out #SayHerName and The Sentencing Project. They should at least engage the Spark Notes for The New Jim Crow. Before they even think about appropriating #blacklivesmatter and plastering it all over campus to lend legitimacy to their ignorance they should find out what the movement stands for.
In brief, if you want to truly honor your teacher, or rabbi, take an auditorium full of seats and learn before you speak.