Opinion: You are not our voice

By Kimberly Mueller , Amanda Godwin , Tayler Bradley and Sage DeFreitas | January 23, 2019 7:32pm
UP's Feminist Discussion Group speaks out.

“The University of Portland’s core values include fostering an environment that respects the differences and opinions of every student, faculty and staff member… As a place of higher learning, the University of Portland values free inquiry and academic discourse. We believe it is important to create an environment in which everyone in our community is able to exchange diverse ideas and viewpoints, question without fear of disrespect or discrimination and respond in constructive and peaceful ways.” - University of Portland Office of Public Affairs, sampled from a campus-wide email.

In response to the recent tabling and open letter by the Voice for Life group, as Feminist Discussion Group (FDG) leaders, we would like to address some major concerns regarding the silencing of student voices and the spreading of misinformation. 

Voice for Life’s tabling in front of the library was virtually unavoidable due to the large banners depicting intense and anatomically inaccurate images. Students have expressed to us that they felt threatened and uncomfortable and were unable to access vital campus resources. To that point, and in line with the  Life and Health Safety clause in the student handbook, we feel that tabling for potentially inflammatory issues needs to be handled with greater care and consideration. However, regarding Voice for Life’s right to table on campus, we understand that it was fully within their right to do so. 

What we are questioning is not their right to exist, but how they exist in comparison to how we exist. FDG, which was founded on this campus over 25 years ago, has a long history of being silenced by this institution on matters of reproductive health. As the administration currently stands, we are barred from tabling in the way that Voice for Life can. 

The Student Clubs and Organization section of the student handbook states that a “club’s purpose must be compatible with the University’s mission and Roman Catholic identity. No club or member of a club acting on its behalf may promote or participate in activity that is contrary to that mission or identity.” Because contraception, birth control and abortion are “contrary” to the Catholic mission, (although we know of Catholic groups that are pro-choice, such as Catholics for Choice) we are not able to participate in the “environment that respects the differences and opinions of every student” or “question without fear... of discrimination.”  

Regarding Voice for Life’s rhetoric, the education we have individually received at UP has given us the power to recognize unfounded and manipulated information. Within this limited space, we are going to speak to several examples of psychological and medical inaccuracies with the understanding that there are many other angles we could take. 

Voice for Life’s claims about the damaging psychological effects of abortion are false and unsupported by peer-reviewed research. The majority of “evidence” cited by pro-birth groups comes from research done by David Reardon’s Elliot Institute, which is among Voice for Life’s resources and Pricilla Coleman. Because such individuals and groups cannot find evidence from well-trusted scientific institutions like the American Psychological Association (APA) to prove what they believe, they conduct their own “research” full of methodological flaws without the usually required peer review. The scientific community, including the APA, rejects their process as invalid and leading to unreliable findings. Furthermore, the extensive research done by the APA and others consistently finds that “abortion is psychologically benign”. In fact, “most women report relief and happiness after an abortion,” and “severe negative reactions are rare and in line with those following other normal life stresses.” 

It should also be noted that given the “millions of women who have had abortions, if severe reactions were common, there would be an epidemic of women seeking treatment. There is no evidence of such an epidemic” (quotes from Nancy Adler, a representative for the APA). 

We would like to include a short personal response on this topic. 

Amanda is a senior psychology major:  

I am deeply concerned that spreading this false data as scientifically-accepted fact perpetuates a misunderstanding of mental health. Looking at the pamphlets and the many disorders they link to abortion, I see a complete misunderstanding of the complexities that go into psychological disorders, which I find offensive, misleading and dangerous. I am further concerned that while shame is not the typical reaction to having an abortion, the attitudes and policies of the resources that Voice for Life recommends may instill such feelings. I look with deep skepticism toward the people trying to “support” those who have had an abortion(s) while teaching them that what they did was wrong — if or when there is shame, I suggest this is where it comes from. 

Many of the studies and statistics that are cited by Voice for Life also contain misleading medical information, don’t represent the wider medical community and fail to provide an accurate picture of organizations such as Planned Parenthood.  For example, 47 percent of services that Planned Parenthood provides goes towards STI Testing and Treatment, while a mere 3 percent of their services are for abortion (Planned Parenthood 2016-2017 annual report). The claim that Planned Parenthood is unneeded based on 3 percent of its services ignores the fact that it provides life-saving services for individuals who may not have access to this kind of medical care elsewhere. 

Additionally, the ACOG and other scientific studies assert that while a fetus does react to a stimulus (such as sound or touch), it does not have the neurological ability to process what any stimulus, including pain  until after birth. (This does not acknowledge the philosophical arguments behind fetal development and personhood, which we do not have space to discuss here.) 

Furthermore, arguments (for pain or otherwise) are based on the assumption that abortions are being done at or after 20 weeks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 91.1 percent are done before 13 weeks of gestation. Only 1.3 percent are done at greater than 21 weeks, most of which are due to limited access or medical complications of wanted pregnancies. Thus, arguments based on fetal pain are not generally applicable. 

Again, we would like to include a short personal response. 

Kim is a senior nursing major: 

The messages dispersed by this group contradict what I have learned within the School of Nursing. There are several major themes that are emphasized: one, always provide accurate, evidence-based information to patients; two, provide all possible options for treatments, procedures, medications, etc.; and three, educate the patient about the benefits, risks, or side effects of each option. 

As a future healthcare professional, I am taught and obligated to help the patient make a choice that is best for them, regardless of my own religious or moral beliefs. The information that is spread by this club is not only medically and scientifically inaccurate, but it also goes against what I have been taught as a future nurse and aspiring Midwife, in how to support someone through a difficult medical decision. 

As student leaders at an institution that prides itself on its open student discourse, we feel we must share our experience of the lived hypocrisy of this community value. We feel that it is not only our duty to correct the factual misinformation that was spread on campus but to also validate the student voices that have been invalidated and silenced as a result. So, to those who walked past the booths, read the pamphlets  and felt alienated on this campus, we are with you. We want you to know that you have a voice and that it does not have to be their voice. 

Kim Mueller, Amanda Godwin, Tayler Bradley, and Sage DeFreitas are leaders for UP's Feminist Discussion Group. President Kim Mueller can be reached at muelleki18@up.edu.