But You’re a Privileged White Woman!

“No uterus, no opinion.” Yeah, we’ve all heard that one before. I spent years training my male pro-life club members how to respond to the charge that men shouldn’t have an opinion about abortion. It came up in every single outreach we did; I’d overhear my co-president Joshua or male club members like Oscar having to defend why they should even be allowed to open their mouths about this controversial topic in the first place.

But then something happened that I never saw coming: pro-choice people started telling ME that I shouldn’t be allowed to have an opinion about abortion. Um, I’m a woman! I have a uterus!! It took me a little time and a lot of clarification questions to figure out what was going on. 

White lady who is upset

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

White Privilege

The idea of “white privilege” was popularized by women’s-studies scholar Peggy McIntosh in her 1988 paper “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies.” While most people have never read the whole paper, the excerpt “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” makes the rounds in college courses and anti-racism training sessions all the time. I probably learned about the “invisible knapsack” at least 10 times during my college years!

I am not here to debate whether white privilege exists or to what extent it affects my life. For the purposes of this article, I am just going to grant that it exists because the pro-choice people I’m talking to almost certainly think so. Whether or not you believe in white privilege or in how it’s currently being taught in academia, there is common ground you can find with that viewpoint. The situation in which I was born was certainly different from that of other people in our country, whether that be because of my socioeconomic status, where I lived, my race, my religion, my ability level, my gender, or anything else. I’m not saying that my situation was necessarily better or worse, just that it was unique. Certain doors were probably more easily opened for me because of my circumstances while other doors were not. That should be something we can all agree on! As the idea of white privilege has become more prevalent in light of Black Lives Matter activism, however, I’ve noticed the concept widening in scope and creeping into conversations about other topics too. 

So…How is This Relevant?

It’s pretty easy to understand where the “you’re a man” charge comes from. Men can’t get pregnant, and they therefore cannot fully understand what pregnancy is really like or what women who have an unplanned pregnancy are going through. Essentially, pro-choice people are arguing that those who can’t fully understand someone else’s experiences can’t judge them. And that is precisely where the idea of white privilege has recently entered the abortion debate. Since I am—in their view at least—a privileged white woman, I can’t fully understand the experiences of someone with less privilege. I can’t know what it’s like to be another race, for example. Sometimes, these pro-choice people would concede that I can have an opinion about someone exactly like me who is pregnant, but I certainly shouldn’t be judging the reproductive decisions of other privilege levels or, even worse, using my “privilege” to control their bodies.

In other words, the “you’re a man” charge goes something like this: 

P1: People who can’t fully understand someone else’s experiences shouldn’t be allowed to make moral judgements about their actions. 

P2: People without a uterus clearly can’t get pregnant or experience pregnancy, and therefore can’t fully understand pregnancy.

C: Therefore, people without a uterus shouldn’t be allowed to make moral judgements about abortion.

The “you’re a privileged white woman” charge is basically just an adaptation, saying:

P1: People who can’t fully understand someone else’s experiences shouldn’t be allowed to make moral judgements about their actions. 

P2: Privileged people can’t fully understand the experiences of those with less privilege.

C: Therefore, privileged people shouldn’t be allowed to make moral judgements about those with less privilege having an abortion.

Notice how P1 is the same in both charges! The difference really lies in how “someone else’s experiences” is being interpreted. For the “you’re a man” charge, the experience is pregnancy; men clearly can’t get pregnant, so they don’t get an opinion about pregnancy-related things. But for the latter charge, “experiences” is much broader; it’s something like the entire life experiences of what it’s like to be another race, religion, sexual orientation, or class. Every single person’s life experiences are going to be different from mine in some way, so the latter charge basically says that I can’t make a moral judgement about anyone doing anything at all. That is incredibly restrictive! For all practical purposes, it says that we can’t have laws against anything! It’s the classic “Who are YOU to judge?

My Response

The problem with this line of thinking is pretty obvious. Clearly there are some things that we should have laws against, so saying that I can’t make moral judgements about anyone else’s actions doesn’t make any sense if I can rightfully declare that rape is wrong regardless of your privilege level. It’s not a logical argument! But the way that I point out this problem is key to the pro-choice person actually taking me seriously. Blatantly ignoring the fact that you can’t understand the unique and difficult circumstances that women face in pregnancy is the fastest way to sabotage your own pro-life argument. 

Let’s go back to the “you’re a man” charge for a moment. It is certainly true that people without a uterus can’t fully understand pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, or the whole host of hormonal and physical changes that come along with those things. Thus, the very first thing that I teach pro-life men to do is affirm that fact! Demonstrating that you know that you can’t really understand how difficult an unplanned pregnancy is shows respect to the pro-choice person making this argument and to the real challenges that women face. If you skip this crucial step, the pro-choice person might infer that you think pregnancy is just a walk in the park! If you want the pro-choice person to hear your argument, take the time to acknowledge your limitations and how serious pregnancy really is. Then, we teach our students to Trot Out a Toddler, which demonstrates why we think that men should talk about abortion even though they can’t understand pregnancy. The whole interaction might sound something like this:

Yes, I am a man, and I know that means that I’ll never get pregnant. I can do my best to sympathize with women and their experiences, but I can never really fully understand what they’re going through. I can’t really understand the physical changes, the hormonal changes, childbirth, motherhood, postpartum depression—any of it!

Can I ask you kind of a weird question though? Bear with me.

Suppose that I’m sitting at the lake by myself, and I see a woman a bit further down the shore pushing her car into the lake. This is obviously a pretty odd scene, so I walk a bit closer until I spot a newborn in the backseat of the car. Now, I don’t know this woman’s situation at all. In fact, she has the kind of postpartum depression some women experience after childbirth, something that I’m incapable of experiencing myself. Regardless of her circumstances or my biological sex, it still seems incredibly obvious that I have a responsibility to try and save that child in the backseat. Of course, I should also try to get the woman the help she needs to recover from her depression in a way that doesn’t kill anybody. I’m not going to judge the woman; I can’t possibly understand what she’s going through! But I am going to try to help her and the newborn in the backseat.

I have this view; it might sound strange to you, but I think I have good arguments for it. My view is that a human embryo is just as valuable as that newborn in the backseat. I believe that they have the same moral status. IF I’m right about that view, then it seems like I have an obligation to try to help the unborn just like I have an obligation to try to save the newborn from drowning. I can’t truly understand what the woman has gone through in either scenario, but I still think I have an obligation to speak up against abortion just as I should try to save the newborn from certain death in the lake. What do you think?

A Simple Adaptation

While responding to the assertion that I, as a privileged white woman, shouldn’t have an opinion about abortion seemed frustrating at first, I realized that it’s really just a variation on the idea that men shouldn’t have an opinion on abortion either. So, I now go about responding to the charge in roughly the same format.

Step 1: Take time to affirm their concern about your privilege. You may not agree with the “white privilege” label they put on you, but you can agree with the idea that other people’s situations are different from yours. Demonstrate respect and empathy for women whose life experiences have been challenging in ways different from your own. Acknowledge your limitations; you can only truly understand your own experiences, so that does affect how you should or shouldn’t judge others. 

Step 2: Brace her for the weird question. Anytime the question of “white privilege” has entered the conversation, you can bet that the person you’re talking to has their passions running really high! You’re about to make an analogy, and you want her to actually hear you. Taking a moment to brace her for that analogy by saying something like “can I ask you kind of a weird question?” can make the difference between her storming off and the start of a productive dialogue.

Step 3: Create a parallel situation. Just like the “sitting at the lake story” for pro-life men, my simple adaptation focuses on the unique life experiences of a woman who would be considered by the “woke left” to be of less privilege than myself. It goes something like this:

Suppose that I’m sitting at the lake by myself, and I see a woman of color a bit further down the shore pushing her car into the lake. This is obviously a pretty odd scene, so I walk a bit closer until I spot a newborn in the backseat of the car. Now, I don’t know this woman’s situation at all. 

She’s a woman of color, and the car is in really bad shape. In fact, she’s a single mother whose boyfriend is wrongfully incarcerated, and she is struggling to make ends meet in a system that has made it very difficult for them to get ahead. Regardless of her circumstances or my privilege, it still seems incredibly obvious that I have a responsibility to try and save that child in the backseat. Of course, I should also try to get the woman and her boyfriend the help they need in a way that doesn’t kill anybody. As a matter of fact, it seems like I have an even greater responsibility to do that because of my privilege! Staying silent would be furthering the injustice that’s happened to that woman and her family. I’m certainly not going to judge the woman; I can’t possibly understand what she’s going through. But I am going to try to help her and the newborn in the backseat.

Notice the ideas and buzz-words that I deliberately included in this story: woman of color, poverty, incarceration, “the system,” “silence is violence,” etc. Maybe you agree with all these things and maybe you don’t, but including them in the story is a powerful way to connect with average pro-choice people. Regardless of our disagreements about anything or everything else, stopping violence against innocent people should be something we can all agree on. Through the images that these buzz-words evoke, I am working to connect what the pro-choice person already strongly believes about injustice to the injustice of abortion.

Step 4: Pull back the curtain for them and describe your logic. The logic here and in the “you’re a man” case are exactly the same! If I’m right that the human embryo is just as valuable as that newborn in the backseat, then it seems like I have an obligation to speak up against abortion. Regardless of my “white privilege,” and I would even argue especially because of my “white privilege,” I need to speak up about egregious human rights violations! Of course, all of this hinges on whether or not I’m right that the human embryo and the newborn are equally valuable, which I argue for using the Equal Rights Argument.

So, Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About It

The first time someone asserted that I can’t have an opinion about abortion because of my white privilege, I was stunned, confused, and a little bit upset. If “no uterus, no opinion” was a slogan designed to stop half the world’s population from talking about abortion, it seemed like this new charge was just trying to make another huge dent in the allowed-to-talk-about-it group. It felt like a cheap and discriminatory trick! Maybe it is for some people, but every pro-choice person I’ve ever talked to brought up that charge from a place of genuine compassion and concern for the injustice they see all around us. Simply becoming aware that they see the world that way changed everything about how I respond to accusations about my white privilege.

While I disagree with their idea that people who can’t fully understand someone else’s experiences shouldn’t be allowed to make moral judgements about their actions, I can find genuine common ground and express compassion for people whose lives, for a variety of reasons, have been very different from my own. If someone tries to stop you from discussing abortion because of your “white privilege,” acknowledge your experiences and limitations while also demonstrating that it is still your responsibility to speak up about abortion. If abortion is truly what pro-lifers believe it to be, then it is my responsibility, your responsibility, and every person on the face of this earth’s responsibility to stand up against it.

Please tweet this article!

  • Tweet: But You’re a Privileged White Woman!
  • Tweet: Blatantly ignoring the fact that you can’t understand the unique and difficult circumstances that women face in pregnancy is the fastest way to sabotage your own pro-life argument.
  • Tweet: Demonstrating that you know that you can’t really understand how difficult an unplanned pregnancy is shows respect to the pro-choice person
  • Tweet: If abortion is truly what pro-lifers believe it to be, then it is my responsibility, your responsibility, and every person on the face of this earth’s responsibility to stand up against it.

The post But You’re a Privileged White Woman! originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”

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Speaker / Writer / Coach

Emily Albrecht is a speaker, writer, and coach with Equal Rights Institute. She is the former Co-President of Oles for Life at St. Olaf College, where she has worked to transform campus culture using ERI’s apologetics to foster respectful and productive dialogues about abortion. At ERI, she is using her educational background to write, develop curriculum, and teach pro-life advocates how to change minds, save lives, and promote a culture of life in their communities.

Emily is particularly passionate about reaching the youth of the pro-life movement. As a recent college freshman, she understands what it feels like to walk unprepared into a culture that is overwhelmingly pro-choice. Until she found ERI, she was faced daily with challenges to the pro-life position that she didn’t know how to answer, and she was afraid to speak out. She wants to equip pro-life students with the tools to intimately understand and articulate their pro-life convictions in a productive and compassionate manner. “The future of our movement lies with our youth. It is pro-life students who sit in classrooms daily with the very women who are most likely to seek an abortion. It is pro-life students who study philosophy, biology, and social justice in their coursework. It is pro-life students who can foster a culture of dialogue, respect, understanding, and intellectual-consistency in academia. I want to empower pro-life students to turn the caricature of the pro-life movement on its head, becoming known as the most loving, respectful, and logical students their campus has ever seen.”

Emily is also on the Board of Directors for Cradle of Hope, an organization that provides financial and material assistance to families and pregnant women. Cradle of Hope partners with over 180 agencies throughout Minnesota, including 7 of the 11 Minnesota Tribes, to prevent evictions and homelessness while giving families education and resources that empower them to choose life and care for their young children.

Emily graduated summa cum laude from St. Olaf College in 2021 with a B.M. in Vocal Music Education.

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