Voices: No, you don’t have to stay friends with your ‘pro-life’ neighbor or family member

·4-min read

The overturn of Roe v Wade led to a proliferation of social media responses. Among the protests and the celebrations, one trend became clear: calls for neutrality. Bafflingly, people with anti-abortion views were urging those on the other side to stay their friends.

“If you want to unfriend me because I’m pro-life and glad Roe was overturned, please go ahead. I’m proud to be pro-life. But I’d still grieve our lost friendship. I’m still happy to be your friend, and you are always welcome back,” read one tweet, written by a person who claims to be a medical doctor. On the surface, that looks like a tolerant, understandable perspective. But it’s completely disingenuous. This tweet is bookended by several other tweets discussing religion and saying negative things about people with pro-choice stances, which this person insists is “a death cult”. One of those other tweets shows a statement of “correct” above a cartoon picture that says “they won’t stop with Roe,” suggesting that he hopes to see other rights rolled back by the Supreme Court and celebrates the idea of it. Another calls on fellow Christians to stop taking the “middle ground”.

Men who expect female friendship while supporting the rollback of women’s rights has become somewhat of a theme, according to other women on social media. “Men on Facebook appealing to me not to unfriend them because it’s ‘just their religion that says I should be subhuman, not them’ is a whole mood today,” wrote one woman who I follow on Twitter in the wake of the Roe decision.

While I haven’t had this exact experience, that tweet spoke to me because of something else that happened in my life a year ago. Back then, in a casual conversation with a man that quickly escalated, I learned that we took very different political positions on various human rights. Considering this, I told the man in question that I wasn’t interested in dating him. It was simply a matter of compatibility.

Unable to take no for an answer, the man in question became enraged and belligerent. He messaged me nonstop demanding that I take a “neutral” stance on his politics, and told me that I was wrong for not accepting his “difference of opinion”. He then sent me several messages variously calling me obscenities and demanding that I “give him a chance” until I eventually blocked them entirely. This bizarre combination of aggression and pleading took me aback. Asking me to accept that he believes women don’t deserve bodily autonomy is one thing; asking me to date him while he professes to believe that is another.

And yet, it goes on. One meme that’s going around right now is an image overlaid with the words:“I will never suggest that you unfriend me if we disagree. If you unfriend me, we were never real friends anyway.” Needless to say, such wording is manipulative and meant to guilt people into maintaining connections they might be better off casting aside. That particular meme is often deployed in relation to family disputes.

And then there’s this content, posted initially in 2018 but recirculating now on Facebook in response to discussions about Roe v Wade. It reads, in part: “​​For all of you who aren’t sure,

It is possible to be gay and Christian.

It’s also possible to believe in God and science.

It is possible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion.

…We are all walking contradictions of what ‘normal’ looks like.

Let humanity and love win.”

This moralistic puritanism combined with seemingly fuzzy, “I’m just a tolerant person”-speak is particularly popular among white liberals and conservatives who like to describe themselves as “moderate”. It’s also effectively a plea to shut down debate, to smile and nod even in the face of institutional prejudice. But having differences and boundaries are actually very healthy ways of being. Psychologists have proven that. And it should go without saying that you absolutely do not need to stay connected to someone you don’t want to — especially when the things you disagree on concern fundamental human rights.

Theologian, Nobel Peace Prize-winner and pro-choice advocate Desmond Tutu famously said, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have sided with the oppressor." Those battling with their fragility — and perhaps their guilty consciences — should bear that in mind today. Your ego isn’t important here. The bodies of people with uteruses who will suffer from this overturn have to take centerstage.

We don’t want your neutrality. We want your allyship to do the work to protect the people affected by this decision who are going to feel the pain the most. We need advocates. We don’t need to coddle you if you have a difference of opinion. And we do not owe you friendship when you don’t believe that we deserve basic human rights.

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