When we first heard about Take Back the Night (TBTN), we were genuinely interested. We felt that a week devoted to protesting such universal women's issues such as rape, domestic violence and eating disorders would be informative and helpful for young women across campus. However, once we examined the schedule for the week, we were incredibly disturbed by one event. On Tuesday night, the Radcliffe Union of Students, along with Students for Choice, presented a "pro-choice dinner and activism workshop" as a part of TBTN.
According to a Take Back the Night flyer, "TBTN rallies and vigils protesting violence against women have taken place internationally for over twenty years. At Harvard, TBTN is an entire week's worth of events promoting awareness and action about women's issues." Abortion is not an issue of gender-based violence, nor do we believe that it should be considered simply as a "women's issue." The issue of abortion is a question of whether or not a human life is being lost, and the importance of the answer to that question transcends any claims of female empowerment. Furthermore, a "pro-choice dinner and activism workshop" does not promote abortion awareness, nor does it examine this fundamental question. It instead acts as a polemic designed to exclude women who do not support the abortion.
Each female undergraduate at Harvard is automatically a member of RUS because of her gender and consequently, a portion of her activity fees fund the group. According to the RUS website, the Radcliffe Union of Students "is the voice for all female undergraduates at Harvard" and "conducts panels, weekly discussion groups, and events such as Take Back the Night, to insure that the voices of all women at Harvard are heard." Unfortunately, including abortion activism as a component of TBTN does not ensure that the voices of all women at Harvard are heard. In fact, it serves to effectively silence and ignore those at Harvard who are anti-abortion or undecided about the issue. If RUS purports to speak for every female on campus, the group should not take official positions on any controversial political issue, including abortion.
Neither of us feels truly comfortable to labeling ourselves pro-abortion or anti-abortion; rather we are both struggling with the morality of abortion and we both are attempting to figure this tough issue out on an individual level. Out of respect for all women on campus, we would prefer that, in the future, abortion be excluded from the TBTN agenda and left as personal issue.
However, if it continues to be included, a more appropriate way for RUS and TBTN to address this issue would be to allow Harvard Students for Choice and Harvard Right to Life equal time to coordinate events during the week. The atmosphere at the recent panel about abortion at the Institute of Politics was incredibly thoughtful and respectful. RUS has the resources and stature plan a similar discussion instead of assuming, as they currently do, that a Harvard woman must be a pro-abortion woman.
Mattie J. Germer '03 is a government concentrator in Thayer Hall. Erin L. Sheley '02 is an English concentrator in Eliot House.