Mallory Carlberg, University of Oklahoma
For the most part, our Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) chapter at University of Oklahoma received positive feedback this semester. One person even said they liked being part of a group with “balls.” I, of course, corrected him and said we were a group with balls and ovaries. However, not everyone has enthusiastically supported us. Some groups fear working with us will alienate their pro-life members. A leader of one of these groups recently approached me about co-hosting an abortion debate. From previous experience as a student organizer, I know that debates about abortion are usually not a good idea. The debate tends to focus on religion and when life begins. In the process of debating, I have seen “pro-choice” groups lose sight of their original goal of supporting people with unplanned pregnancies.
Engaging in a pro-life/pro-choice style debate strays too far from the reproductive justice movement’s focus on ending reproductive oppression for my comfort. Instead of agreeing to an abortion debate with this group, I offered to discuss goals we can both work toward, such as comprehensive sex education, improved access to birth control, and improved maternal and infant health outcomes. This person was a proponent of abstinence until marriage and even suggested that some common forms of birth control were abortifactants. It was hard to find common ground, but I know there are other students who can look past LSRJ’s stance on abortion rights.
Since we are a new group, we’ve mostly focused on finding students who we consider our natural allies in the reproductive justice movement: feminists, progressives, people of color and LGBTQ-identified students. Next semester we want to co-sponsor events with groups who we might not initially consider as our natural allies: religious groups and conservative groups. We have to be strategic about what events we bring to campus. Organizing for reproductive justice in a conservative state means we must be careful to stay true to our beliefs, while, at the same time, not reinforcing the beliefs of students who have preconceived ideas of us as man-hating, baby-killing feminists. Sometimes we do the stereotypical thing (we’re excited to be the group handing out condoms on campus!), but sometimes we must decline invitations to cosponsor events because it will hurt our objectives rather than promote them.
Have you successfully organized with conservative groups on your campus? Please send your advice my way!