Viewpoints: Two students on abortion’s impact on women

Students for Life Miami president Anne-Marie Issa and member Randy Fitzgerald pose in front of the U statue on November 16, 2021.
Students for Life Miami president Anne-Marie Issa and member Randy Fitzgerald pose in front of the U statue on November 16, 2021. Photo credit: Allison Bliss

“Viewpoints is a series dedicated to sharing the roots of individuals’ beliefs on both the typically rightwing and leftwing side of issues. The goal is to promote understanding and encourage more nuanced debate.”

“I as a man will never know what it’s like to be a woman who is at the precipice of her life, at the precipice of her career … who suddenly finds herself in an unplanned pregnancy. But I do know what it’s like to be her son.”

Randy Fitzgerald, a first year law student at the University of Miami and member of Students for Life, sat with a cappuccino in front of him by Lake Osceola on a rainy day, chilly and windy by South Florida standards.

He thought back on his childhood and the story of his absent father, a story he only learned gradually as his mom and grandparents shared it as he grew old enough to cope.

His mom didn’t want Fitzgerald to look back on his life and feel that he was encouraged to dislike his biological dad. But over time, and from a distance, he understood the man his father was and what he had done to him and his mother.

His mom found out she was pregnant while she was in graduate school. Her friends and the man who got her pregnant urged her to get an abortion. He told her he would pay for it.

“I think a lot of men wrongly think, ‘Well, I’ll just pay for her to get the abortion. It’s a lot cheaper than paying child support,’” Fitzgerald said. “It’s the wrong position to put women in.”

After she decided not to terminate her pregnancy, Fitzgerald’s mom struggled financially as a single parent. His biological father refused to pay child support, so she was forced to take him to court while working two jobs and caring for their child. When he was ordered to provide for his son with payments, he continued to refuse. So she took him to court again.

“We have a culture in America and I think it’s borderline patriarchal, that men are not responsible for the consequences of their actions … that men should not be held responsible for getting people pregnant,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald believes many women get an abortion because they feel it’s their only option, because they feel trapped.

“I think a big part of that is a lack of financial support in caring for their baby, which starts with holding men accountable in a serious way, ” Fitzgerald said. “And not making it … such a hassle for pregnant women to get child support from dads.”

Anne-Marie Issa, the president of Students for Life Miami and a sophomore at UM majoring in international studies, history and political science, shares concerns with the issue of abortion.

“I know that I would be in a very desperate situation if this (pregnancy) happened to me,” Issa said, talking about how many young women end up pregnant.

Issa believes that men who get these women pregnant often abandon them. She wants society to provide more support for pregnant women because she believes they are made to feel abortion is their only option.

“It says a lot more about us as a society that women have to resort to abortions rather than having somewhere else to turn to for help that is not a Planned Parenthood or abortion facility than it says about them,” Issa said.

“The abortion industry specifically targets women in desperate circumstances for profit. The ‘my body, my choice’ argument sounds like a rallying cry for women’s bodily autonomy, but it’s more so an excuse men use to evade responsibility for their role in creating the child inside the woman’s womb.”

Issa worries about the emotional and physical toll abortion takes on women.

“We’re really having two different conversations,” Fitzgerald said. “People on one side of the issue see it as … you’re for women’s rights or you’re against women’s rights and the people on the other side of the issue see it as … you’re either supportive of human rights or you’re opposed to human rights.”

Fitzgerald said he’s disappointed by the lack of support for women, but he sees an unborn baby as valuable and doesn’t believe abortion advances women’s rights.

He also reflected on public fears of how abortion laws can affect pregnant women who suffer from life-threatening conditions: “I don’t believe in any restriction that would prevent a woman from surviving. Because that’s not pro-life.”

Issa echoed that sentiment, saying, “When the mother’s life is at risk, pro-lifers support any treatment for the mother’s life … (even if) that could potentially threaten the life of the child because it’s not a procedure that is directed toward killing (the child).”

Issa didn’t realize how controversial abortion was until the passing of the Human Life Protection Act of 2019 in Alabama, a bill to almost completely ban abortion in the state.

Issa, then 16, shared a post about the bill’s passage on Instagram with a simple caption along the lines “Pro-Life Generation” before climbing into bed for the night.

However, when she climbed out of bed the next morning and opened Instagram, she found Instagram story replies and responses from people on both sides of the debate. She saw division slicing through the Catholic community.

Issa and her peers didn’t talk much about politically-framed issues before then and, as she attended a Catholic school, she thought most of her classmates shared her values.

“I just felt in my heart a conviction that a baby was a life,” Issa said, reflecting on the emotional outpouring from both pro-lifers and pro-choicers that day.

She began pouring over research and arguments on both sides of the discussion. This led her to feel even more strongly about the pro-life movement than before.

“A lot of it was sitting down and thinking … it just starts to piece together … a slow realization of what you believe in,” Issa said.

Issa started to post more about her beliefs over the next year and a half. She watched her follower count go up and down as people turned for and against her. Eventually, she began checking her direct messages first thing in the morning, hoping to get the personal attacks and the anxiety they caused her out of the way.

Issa said she never had anxiety about sharing her faith because people generally recognize they can’t get away with attacking a person’s religion. Discussing abortion changed her experience.

“They attack you for (your religion) in the context of the abortion debate … they see the cross on my neck … they use it as a way to discredit my beliefs.”

Issa said that if a person has reflected on something and has conviction, it gives her hope, even if it runs counter to what she believes. She considers faith to be the greatest blessing of her life—next to family, but she said she’d never force it on anyone.

Issa added that many activist organizations act counterproductively, trying to intimidate women with things like graphic images when they should be offering compassion.

Issa said that if a woman who had had an abortion approached her while she was tabling for Students for Life, she would start by saying she’s sorry she went through that. She’d let her set the tone of the conversation and try to understand why she approached the Students for Life table to begin with.

“A lot of people wrongly want to … ostracize women who have had abortions.” Fitzgerald said. “The vast majority of people who have abortions, they don’t come to that conclusion with joy. They come to that conclusion because they feel that that is what they have to do.”

He said the narrative that pro-lifers don’t care about babies after they’re born is false and that Students for Life holds diaper and formula drives because they do care. He also doesn’t think it’s fair to assume all pro-lifers are against providing social services for struggling single moms.

In fact, Fitzgerald thinks social services should begin at conception because that’s when he believes life begins.

“Next year, I think we’re going to be hitting the ground hard with resources for women,” Issa said.

She wants Students for Life to be an organization that is there for women regardless of what they’re going through, and she wants women to know abortion isn’t their only option.