Please stop telling me I don’t exist.
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A week ago, five days before the Women’s March on Washington, a pro-life group got, rather publicly, removed as a partner from the march. There was outcry from feminists everywhere, about how you cannot be pro-life and adhere to feminism ― the right to an abortion is a key aspect of being a feminist, they claimed.

Media picked up on it. My Twitter was going insane. After the march, headlines were claiming “Pro-Life Women Excluded from March” and “Women’s March Shunning Pro-Life Participants”.

I was a bit frustrated. It felt like a small-ish issue was being blown apart for the sake of controversy. It felt exaggerated, and also untrue.

I’m a feminist.

I’m pro-life.

I marched on Saturday.

To be frank, I have a problem with ANYONE telling me there is only one, specific way to be a part of a belief system. Growing up in the church, these people were typically unhealthy, unchecked leaders. I’ve learned to be wary of them. Sure, there are a few things you need to believe to be a Christian ― like that Jesus existed. To believe in climate change, you have to acknowledge science is real. To be a feminist you… have to believe in equality.

There’s no abortion clause in the definition of feminism. There’s no one person who gets to decide who is a feminist and who is not a feminist based on their stance on reproductive rights. As Rachel Held Evans pointed out, across so many people, there’s going to be a lot of different views on abortion. We need to be okay with that.

Pro-life. Pro-choice. People were smart when they drew these battle lines. I used to get confused, growing up, as to which one I actually was because they both sound so positive. Obviously, there aren’t pro-death or pro-force, we don’t have anti-freedom or anti-babies groups. The lines were drawn strategically, but also problematically. We think it’s an either/or. What if I’m ...both?

I believe life starts at conception. I believe life - all life - should be valued and protected. I believe in birth control (and free access to it!) in order to help people attempt to plan and choose when or if they want to bring a child into this world; I believe in universal, proper education, universal access, and universal rights.

AND YET I believe the reality we live in. I believe there is unfair maternity leave (and nonexistent paternity leave) and disadvantages placed on pregnant women in the workplace. I believe we live in a society that assumes women should raise their children and that congratulates men for babysitting from time to time. I believe there is a gender pay gap that hurts working mothers even more. I believe welfare programs that only go so far, and I believe forcing someone to have an unwanted child they can’t provide for isn’t a solution for anyone.

I realize rape is far too common in our world and although pregnancy from rape isn’t as common, it’s still an issue on the table. I realize some pregnancies pose a risk to the mother’s life. I realize some pregnancies involve babies that, if carried to term, won’t survive their first full week ― and what an emotional, daunting task that must be for mothers.

I consider myself pro-life, yet that’s not enough. Aren’t we all for life? I’m not going to make an enemy out of the other side and pretend like they aren’t. Too many pro-lifers, sadly, seem far more concerned about protecting the lives of fetuses than the lives of those around them. That bothers me. To me, all life is important. To me, all lives should be protected.

I would also, in a way, consider myself pro-choice ― yet that isn’t enough, either. We all like choices, we all like freedom. No one likes being forced into something. Yet the pro-choicers seem bent on forcing me into a definition I don’t agree with: feminist and pro-choice, or pro-life and not. Doesn’t choice involve freedom to choose the best for ourselves?

I am pro-life in the sense that I am for the single mother with two kids, living on welfare. I am pro them receiving healthcare and aide and hopefully some neighborly support ― all those things are necessary for life. I am for the teenage girl who just found out she’s pregnant, who’s life is unfairly about to be impacted way more than her boyfriend’s, who has to make a decision much bigger than herself. I am for her regardless of the choice she makes. I am for the working woman who’s five year plan involved a promotion not a pregnancy. I am for the millions of girls worldwide whose access to education is limited, whose access to birth control is non existent, and whose lives are determined by the men in it. I am pro-life.

I am pro-choice in the sense that women should get a say in what happens with their own bodies, should get to decide what happens in their own lives. Men can decide if they want to be a father or walk away ― women are denied that choice. Morally, I don’t think abortion is the answer ― but I see the problem. I see the inequality. I also see the issues in simply reversing Roe v Wade or states making abortions harder to access and placing burdens on women. There’s no easy answers here, but, where possible, I am for women having choices. I am especially for women having a bigger say in the laws and processes that so intricately affect their lives, and very much against men making these decisions time after time.

And when is abortion ever someone’s first choice? It’s not a pro-abortion movement for a reason. Way less catchy, and also probably way less followers. Abortion isn’t the biggest part of the debate, and yet we make it seem so ― for it’s the one thing we disagree on.

We’re all pro-life and pro-choice; we all deeply care about life and choice and women and people. We simply differ on the abortion issue - when it’s allowed, what choices a women has, what timetable these choices need to be made on. I think that’s okay. I think we’re allowed to disagree. What isn’t okay is pushing people out, is picketing and yelling hateful comments, is turning our backs and refusing conversations.

I disagree with a lot of people on when life starts. I understand this shapes our whole understanding of abortion and our whole debate ― if I didn’t think non-viable life should be protected life, I wouldn’t have an issue with abortion, either. But I do. And I still see the people I’m talking to as people. I still value their lives and I still value their choices. I value their bodies and their freedoms and their hearts and their minds. I value their different belief system.

I saw pictures of women marching in burkas. To me, that seems like the opposite of feminism. To me, you can’t possibly be a feminist and subject yourself to a burka. Because of my religion and my beliefs, I disagree with them. But I don’t get to tell them they aren’t true feminists. I don’t get to decide who is in and who is out. I don’t get to police who belongs and who doesn’t. I am not the deciding voice. Neither are you.

There are so many beautiful ways to be a feminist and so many beautiful people who are feminists and so many beautiful belief systems that fall under feminism. I don’t agree with them all, and I’m okay with that. Feminism is bigger than me, and I’m okay with that. At a moment when we are so united, let’s not tear each other apart.

I’m a feminist.

I’m pro-life.

Please stop telling me I don’t exist.

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