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On Feb. 8, Princeton Pro-Life penned a letter in The Daily Princetonian after marching in the 45th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. In the letter, the group promoted its anti-abortion, pro-life stance through the misleading rhetoric of “love.” Although I genuinely appreciate PPL’s attempt to support its pro-life perspective with empathy (rather than with misogyny or reactionary conservatism), the PPL letter’s rhetoric of love dangerously oversimplifies the complexity of the abortion debate.

Although I am decidedly pro-choice, I recognize that there are a multitude of thoughtful and worthwhile theological, political, feminist, and philosophical viewpoints on the issue of abortion. Nonetheless, in the United States women unambiguously have the right to an abortion, vis-à-vis the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade. If PPL, an organization that recently “protest[ed] the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade,” wants to have a legitimate voice in the national abortion debate, it must provide a more legally and morally nuanced argument than “[l]ove saves lives.” Such a phrase, which serves as the rhetorical catch-all of the PPL letter, reduces the abortion debate to abstract, flowery sentimentalism, thereby trivializing the often-difficult decisions women (and men, to a lesser extent) are forced to make amid unwanted or non-consensually conceived pregnancies. 

What’s more, the letter exploits the notion of love to make an overgeneralized and socially decontextualized argument relating to the supposed pro-life mission. This exploitation is particularly apparent in the letter’s fourth paragraph.

For example, the letter problematically associates — to some extent — the “fight [against] the evil of rape” with the deployment of love. The letter states that “[t]he goal [of the pro-life movement] should be to increase love, and the movement should be motivated by love.” The very next sentence maintains, “We [presumably the pro-life movement or anyone who supports the pro-life cause] can fight the evil of rape.” Hence, the letter seems to suggest that love can combat rape.

Such a sentiment would be noble if it weren’t contextualized within a decidedly anti-abortion document. Providing love and other forms of emotional support to survivors of sexual violence is unambiguously important, but survivors need more than just that — they need unfettered access to health care services, which necessarily includes access to medically safe and legally protected abortions. Consequently, the sloppy, incomplete association of rape prevention and love subtly (and perhaps inadvertently) undermines the moral, legal, and social necessity of abortion access for sexual assault victims who become pregnant after surviving rape.

Likewise, the letter states, “It is love alone that can change someone’s heart and make them see the good that can come from an unplanned pregnancy.” Here, the letter suggests to women that love can illuminate the benefits of unwanted pregnancy — that is, the benefits of not having an abortion should an unwanted pregnancy arise — without offering any specifics, such as a single benefit of unwanted pregnancy that “love alone” can make visible.

The letter further exploits the sentiment of love by arguing that “it is love alone that can heal the wounds of women who regret having an abortion and men who regret lost fatherhood.” On the surface, this sentence seems benign and rather banal. Of course, women and men who feel regret (or other forms of trauma) after they or their partner aborts their fetus deserve love and support. But women and men who are intimately affected by abortion feel a spectrum of emotions, ranging from regret and confusion to relief. These reactions, as well as others, should be deemed completely normal and healthy. In fact, by assuming regret, the letter may inadvertently compel women and men to artificially feel regretful after an abortion, because they believe they should.

All in all, even as someone who is pro-choice, I appreciate discussing abortion in conversational contexts that are oriented by facts rather than just empty moralistic rhetoric. In fact, thoroughly debating and examining abortion from all ideological angles is socially healthy and necessary. Thus, arguments that engage the issue of abortion in a nuanced, intellectually rich, and robust manner — no matter if they are pro-choice, pro-life, or somewhere in between — should be respected. Disappointingly, the argument made by PPL in its recent letter terribly misappropriates the notion of love for an anti-abortion cause and therefore fails to meet this argumentative standard.

Samuel Aftel is a sophomore from East Northport, N.Y. He can be reached at saftel@princeton.edu.

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