Conversations about abortion should include everyone — yes, even teenage boys

Last month, Mary Rogan wrote a column for CBC's Opinion page arguing that teenaged boys have no place at an anti-abortion rally. I disagree. This is why.

The Covington boys had as much a right as anyone to be at the annual March for Life

To suggest protecting one group's rights and value requires an attack on another group's rights or value is erroneous and only leads to further oppression and conflict, writes Katherine Williams. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

This is a response to a column published last month entitled: "Teenage boys should not be bused to a debate about women's reproductive rights." To read that column, click here

Last month, Mary Rogan wrote a column for CBC's Opinion page about the boys who were involved in an incident with an Indigenous elder in Washington. The teens were there on a school trip to attend the annual March for Life, which describes itself as a "march to end abortion and to share the vision of a culture of life."

Rogan argued the boys were asserting their "own agency over the rights of others" by their mere presence at the peaceful protest. She stated that there is no place in the education system to fund "religious beliefs" and that the boys never should have been at an anti-abortion rally in the first place.

In her column, Rogan also stated that the Catholic Church has always been against abortion. In this, she was correct; the church is against abortion and it always will because the church rightly recognizes that no one person's rights or value is any greater than another's. 

The child is no less deserving of compassion than the mother. The father is no less a parent than the mother. A middle-aged woman has no more, or less, value than a teenage boy or unborn child. All are deserving of respect. To suggest protecting one group's rights and value requires an attack on another group's rights or value is erroneous and only leads to further oppression and conflict.

Teaching morality

My Catholic education taught me to be a voice for the voiceless, to stand against oppression, and to honour the inherent dignity of every human life. Christianity teaches that we will know something, to be good or evil, by its fruits; I see only anger, pain, and hatred when we tell others that their voice only has value in certain circumstances.

Religious beliefs and prejudices aside, let us note that the real issue here is of moral correctness. While religions present moral concepts, morality is embedded in our human existence. It is about how we interact with each other. Moral rights and responsibilities may stand apart from religion.

All schools should be teaching morality. It is not a discredit to Catholics schools that they do so, only a chastisement to other systems that they do not. Yet, to establish that there is correct moral behaviour, we must first acknowledge that there is an objective truth to which we can measure right and wrong.

Merely making an action legal is no indication that the behaviour is morally just. There are many examples of oppressive regimes in history that have been legal. Slavery was legal. Abortion is legal.

Nor is a legal behaviour always healthy. We allow consumption of alcohol and cigarettes and only enforce consequences when one's decision in their use impacts others: drunk driving and smoking inside public spaces, for example.

When we apply this reasoning to abortion, which can also have detrimental health effects for women, we must consider that the woman is not only making a decision that affects her own body. She is also choosing an action that ends the life of her child. The idea that it is the woman's right to choose life or death for her child is strongly supported in our enlightened age, even when objective science clearly shows the child is genetically distinct from the mother from the moment of conception. The logic is inconsistent, as is our application of moral standards in law and in scientific fact.

How can women lose babies through miscarriage mourn and grieve if we, as a society, tell them  it is not actually a loss? Or, it's only a loss if you "want" the baby, and otherwise it's a celebration of freedom? How can we say that we are supporting women, when we are actually telling them that we won't help them be mothers, so their only choice is to navigate this huge life change alone- or end the life of their child? Abortion does not liberate a woman. It can subject her to a whole different type of trauma.

Rather than creating an unnecessary political dichotomy of "liberalism" and "right," as Rogan structures the case in her column, consider instead that we are all just people. People who should not discriminate based on age, race, or gender. People who accept responsibility for and consequences of our actions. People who support each other through difficult times and value the gift of every individual.

Each of us is indeed still a unique "collection of cells" with potential for great good: peace, unity, and just action. We should not be ruled by emotions or partisanship, so that we may hold a conversation instead of throwing insults. Those conversations should include everyone: women, men, and yes, even teenage boys.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.


Katherine Williams is a passionate advocate for justice and open communication.