Why Discussing Guns and Roe v Wade is Difficult, Even for BridgeUSA Students

Jessica Carpenter

It’s no secret that guns and abortion are two of — if not the — most contentious topics in our politics. Where other issues center primarily on statistics and what policies may create the best outcome, abortion and guns find themselves grouped into a larger, more intangible idea: morality. 

Morals are our understanding and perception of “right” and “wrong”. How we view morality is framed by various things, including how and where we are raised, what values we are taught, how we view relationships with family members and friends, and also our understanding of responsibility.

For this reason, when discussions that rely heavily on individual morals find themselves at the forefront of our politics, they are some of the most heated. Even for BridgeUSA students. How do we explain the value we each place on life? More importantly, how are we able to talk about these issues constructively?

On June 23, the Supreme Court struck down a proposed New York law that would’ve limited who could obtain a permit to carry a gun in public, stating that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense. This decision comes after a series of mass shootings in May forced both legislators and the American public to re-address their view of gun laws in the U.S.

On June 24, the Supreme Court also released its ruling on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, overturning Roe v Wade. The ruling, which previously deemed a women’s right to an abortion a constitutional right in 1973, will now leave the decision up to individual states. 

Both of these rulings undoubtedly have added to the continued debate on gun laws and abortion, and may make it seem like these issues are impossible to discuss. Not only are these discussions difficult, but they also require us to reflect on our personal morals and be more deliberate in how we express those beliefs. This might be where the problem lies altogether.

A crowd gathers outside the Supreme Court after a draft opinion leaks that judges are planning to overturn Roe v Wade (Kent Nishimura, Los Angeles Times. 2022)

The split in moral understanding is nothing new in the United States. As I said, there are many factors that help form our understanding of morality and what we deem “morally right”. Studies suggest the majority of that formation can be dependent on one’s childhood and one’s culture. 

The Moral Foundations Theory was first proposed in 2004 to understand why morality varies so much across cultures. From their review of earlier research, psychologists Jonathan Haidt, Craig Joseph and Jesse Graham suggested that all individuals possess “intuitive ethics” that guide their understanding of morals. They labeled these foundations: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal (Ingroup/Outgroup), Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation, with the latest addition including Liberty/Oppression – a nod to the influence of one’s political ideology on their perception of morality, as proposed by Haidt.

Each of these foundations centers on our perception of each group, and these understandings vary between groups of people, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

In 2009, Haidt and Graham proposed a new hypothesis to explain this difference between political groups. This theory suggested that “political liberals construct their moral systems primarily upon two psychological foundations—Harm/care and Fairness/reciprocity—whereas political conservatives construct moral systems more evenly upon the first five psychological foundations.”

If we take this theory and apply it to debates of abortion and gun laws today, it’s probable that many individuals on the left and right use the same measurements proposed in 2009 to dictate their stances. And this isn’t unique to just guns and abortion. According to the same study, American voters are also starting to use their values to guide their vote toward “their vision of a good society”. 

Now, just because our morals are formed through various means and experiences, this does not mean they are concrete, and studies show that our morals may change over time for various reasons. In fact, one of the main drivers of moral change is actually human interaction. 

According to Nature.com, when we associate with other people and share common goals, we extend empathy to them. As we begin to meet other people outside of our immediate social circles, our ‘moral circle’ also widens and we may begin to shift our stances within certain moral foundations. 

This is all interesting, but where does that leave us as far as having discussions about moral issues go, currently? Seemingly, at a standstill. Due to growing divisions within the country, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are less likely to engage with those outside of their political or social circles. However, just because it is difficult to discuss issues centered primarily around morality with others, it doesn’t mean it is impossible. 

There is no one right way to discuss topics grounded in morality, including guns or abortion. Luckily, I’ve been able to pick up a few tips during my experience in BridgeUSA.

  1. Don’t dive straight into the conversation at first
  2. Decide what you want out of the conversation and have patience throughout
  3. Seek to understand the other person – not change their mind
  4. Agreement on the broader picture is not always likely, and it’s important to also focus on where some of your beliefs may overlap
  5. Remember that your “opponents” are people too, no matter how much you may disagree

Hundreds of gun owners and enthusiasts attend a rally in Hartford, CT on Jan. 19 (Rick Hartford/MCT/Landov)

No one in our country has figured out the right approach to these topics, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As long as we’re still willing to engage each other and allow room for discussion and constructive disagreement on these topics, we can allow ourselves space to understand each other’s morals and still find ways to make change together.


One response to “Why Discussing Guns and Roe v Wade is Difficult, Even for BridgeUSA Students”

  1. Paula Laiewski Avatar

    Morality makes for a good start of the discussion understanding the why I believe what I believe

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Hailie Addison

(Perspective from the Left)

“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

This quote from Elmer Davis, the Director of the United States Office of War Information during World War II, quickly circulated around America, becoming a quote used by many to celebrate and honor those who have served in the United States military. 

It is used on days such as Memorial Day and July 4th, days we thank those who have given their time and sometimes, life to ensure the freedoms promised to us in the United States Constitution, freedoms promised to us by the highest powers in our country. 

The fight for individual freedoms is one that continues today, and it’s a fight that also exists outside of the United States military. Where the U.S. military fights everyday to keep this nation free, we must also not discredit the thousands of other Americans who have fought and continue to fight to ensure we have essential freedoms back home. 

So what is “freedom”? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, freedom is defined as, “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” In America, we are obviously not free to do whatever we want. We have laws and rules to ensure there is not total chaos and that we, as Americans, are safe and protected. 

The United States Constitution protects many of our rights, including free speech, the right to bear arms and the freedom from unlawful search and seizure. But, there are other freedoms people throughout history have worked to gain for Americans. One of these being reproductive rights. 

Women such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Margaret Sanger, Loretta J. Ross, Mary Calderone, and Grace Kodindo have spent their lives fighting for women’s reproductive rights. These women, as well as countless others, have been brave enough to stand up and fight for  equality, and a woman’s right to autonomy and to her body.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg taking the court oath from Chief Justice William Rehnquist on Aug. 10, 1993. (AP Photo)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for gender equality and women’s rights, becoming the director of the Women’s Rights Project, and winning five landmark cases on gender equality in the Supreme Court. She was a crucial player in passing the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. 

Margaret Sanger was a leader in the reproductive rights movement throughout the early 1900’s, most notably in the fight for birth control. She helped form the American Birth Control League, a predecessor of Planned Parenthood. 

Mary Calderone, was the medical director at the Planned Parenthood Federation in 1953 and founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council. Her work in the American Medical Association overturned a policy that dissuaded physicians from giving information about birth control to their patients. 

It is important to celebrate these individuals, just as important as it is to celebrate the ones fighting overseas. Especially, during times in this country that women will again have to fight for these freedoms. 

On June 24, 2022, the landmark Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade was overturned. According to the Washington Post, with this ruling twenty-two states have already banned or will ban abortions. It’s not hard to imagine an America without access to safe abortions because women have already lived in that America. 

Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortions were prohibited in 33 states and were only allowed in special circumstances in 13 others.

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, an estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed a year in the United States, PBS reported. Hundreds of women died every year from botched procedures. In New York City alone, abortion accounted for half of all childbirth-related death among non-white and Puerto Rican women. 

Byllye Avery, a health care activist in Florida, counseled many women in the 1970’s who had unwanted pregnancies. During this time, abortion was legal in New York or abroad so she would often give those options to women who wanted to terminate their pregnancies.

She herself had to travel to Puerto Rico to get an abortion. One of Avery’s patients did not have the means to travel to New York or abroad. A month or two later, the woman died of a self induced abortion. 

“You would either put yourself at risk by self-inflicting an abortion, using knitting needles, crochet needles, anything that could stop — take big black pills,” Avery told PBS. 

When abortion became legal on January 22, 1973, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the annual number of legal abortions doubled between 1973 and 1979. 

In 2020, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that 930,160 abortions took place in the United States. In 2022, women are being forced to fight the same battles that generations before them have already fought.

Not even a month after Roe v. Wade was overturned, a 10-year-old girl from Ohio had to cross state lines to get a safe abortion after she was raped. 

What if that girl did not have the financial support to cross state lines for a safe abortion? Would she have to carry a pregnancy that was in result of a rape? Would she get a backstreet abortion? Or maybe a self induced one? Would she still be alive? 

Abortions are not going to stop just because they are illegal. Illegal, unsafe abortions are going to rise, and with that, so will the death of women. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates are similar between countries where it is legal and illegal to receive an abortion. . However, in parts of the world where abortion is illegal, botched procedures cause 8% to 11% of all maternal deaths, about 30,000 deaths each year. 

This brings us back to Elmer Davis’ quote, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” 

We have seen how brave women can be; we have seen them fighting for their reproductive rights and freedoms since the 1950’s and 1960’s. It is time for us to be “the brave”. 

We must stand up for access to safe abortions, before more women die of unsafe abortions. We must stand up for the individual rights of women to choose their path in life, to choose what they feel is best for themselves. We must stand up to allow women to have a say in their healthcare, we must challenge the idea that women do not have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies. 

We must be as brave as the 10-year-old girl from Ohio who traveled to Indiana to get an abortion in 2022. 

We must be as brave Byllye Avery who traveled from Florida to Puerto Rico to get an abortion in the 1960’s. 

We must be as brave as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Margaret Sanger, Loretta J. Ross, Mary Calderone, and Grace Kodindo who spent their lives fighting for reproductive rights and freedoms. 

Fifty years later, we should not be fighting the same fights generations before us did. Fifty years later, women should not be told what they can and can’t do with their bodies. Fifty years later, women’s bodies should not be part of a political debate. 

It is a very scary time for women across the country. It is a time in our history that we once again must be brave enough to stand up for what we believe in and fight for our freedoms, the same way our grandmothers and great grandmothers did. We must embody their bravery and courage to combat what is to come and hopefully make America a safe place for the reproductive rights of our daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters. 


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