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(Re)production is not ‘success’

| Thursday, April 24, 2014

I am writing in response to the article on the HHS mandate panel, published online on April 15 and in the paper on April 16.

Erin Stoyell-Mulholland, president of the Right to Life group on campus, was paraphrased as saying a woman’s true success is not achieved until her fertility is embraced.  I wish to contest this claim as wrong on several levels, when assessed from the moral standpoint of Catholic theology.

First, Catholicism cares not about the mere “success” of humans, but rather the human striving for virtue (including the virtue of justice, the first virtue of communities and political institutions).

Second, Catholicism does not define human beings, female or male, in terms of their (re)productive capabilities, but rather in terms of their fundamental and equal dignity as creatures made in the image of God.  Christians should respect a homeless woman in the street as much as a wealthy Wall Street trader with a large home and family; it is their humanity, not their (re)productivity, that defines their common dignity qua humans.

Third, while Catholicism does not preach a view of women as defined by their (re)productive “success,” American society in all its capitalistic crudeness certainly does so.  To say that women only achieve “true success” by embracing their fertility is to contradict basic moral principles of Christianity, as well as to reinforce the insidious norms of capitalism that lead many people to see and treat humans and other sentient beings as mere means to their economic and political ends, such as a more “productive” society.

Finally, I ask Stoyell-Mulholland and her group whether women, qua humans, have a right to life?  Many women need contraception, prescription drugs, medical procedures, and/or surgeries that treat or affect the reproductive system and its potential for fertility in order to maintain their health and therefore their lives. To borrow a metaphor from Pope Francis, the Affordable Care Act and the HHS mandate are a “big tent” under which all people in our country can find coverage for their basic human right to health care, and the fundamental human right to life itself.

 

Eileen Hunt Botting
Associate Professor
Department of Political Science

 

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • anymajordude

    Thank you for this reasoned and rational response. Couldn’t agree more!

  • WhatNow

    I agree wholeheartedly. Stoyell-Mulholland says that the HHS sends the message that women must give up their fertility in order to be successful while the Catholic perspective embraces the whole woman, including her fertility. Yet she offers no solutions for the difficulties that many women will face if they cannot use birth control. Where are all these women going to get the healthcare, childcare, and financial support needed to “embrace their fertility”?

    • Tim

      She’s not allowed to critique the HHS mandate without at the same time presenting a comprehensive alternative set of public policies, and to do all this at a panel where she is sitting beside a number of people far more qualified to make such policy recommendations? Don’t be absurd.

      • WhatNow

        You can’t just act like banning birth control will make women be their best, most fertile selves and nothing else will happen. You have to think of the overall picture, and not being able to use birth control obviously has huge side effects. It’s all fine and dandy until lots of women are having children they can’t adequately care for. Not using birth control might make a woman “her full self” now but in the immediate future it can hurt the children she can’t help but have.

        I don’t expect her to make a heavily researched strategic plan for how to handle all the resulting additional unplanned pregnancies. I do, however, expect that she have a basic understanding of the consequences of what she suggests.

        • Tim

          You have no reason, other than your own prejudices, to assume that Stoyell-Mulholland has not already considered these consequences.

  • B_2012

    It sounds like Professor Botting did not read (or chose to ignore) what Stoyell-Mulholland actually said according the April 15 article:

    Stoyell-Mulholland said the mandate from the Obama administration sends a message to women about success and health that is at odds with the Catholic perspective of women’s health and success.
    “Obama’s perspective implies that for a woman to be successful, she must suppress a significant aspect of who she is, her fertility,” she said. “Whereas the other, the Catholic perspective, fully embraces and integrates all aspects of a woman’s personhood.
    “Additionally, Obama’s perspective tends to level the playing field with men, and sameness is key, whereas the Catholic perspective sees women and men as equal in dignity but intrinsically different.”
    According to Obama and other supporters of the mandate, Stoyell-Mulholland said, contraception leads to women’s success.
    “So if a woman wants the opportunity to be successful or equal in the workforce, she must suppress her fertility,” she said. “Her fertility is viewed as a hindrance to her goals and to her ultimate fulfillment.”
    Stoyell-Mulholland said a woman’s true success is not achieved until her fertility is embraced.
    “We can’t just take the easy way out by providing free contraception and ignoring the underlying causes of how this mentality came about,” she said. “Women deserve better than that.”

    http://ndsmcobserver.com/2014/04/panel-discussion-reviews-hhs-mandate/

    I do not understand why the Observer paraphrased her as saying that a woman’s true success is not achieved until her fertility is embraced, given that she actually said the Catholic perspective “fully embraces and integrates all aspects of a woman’s personhood.” But I, like Professor Botting apparently, was not able to attend the panel.

    • Rawls

      The poor logic is the same, regardless of which quote you choose to unpack and expose as incompatible with Catholic moral theology.

      • Aristotle

        Sorry, but a logical flaw would imply a problem with the structure of the argument which causes it to fail. No one here has said anything about the logical structure of the argument in question. Professor Botting argues that one of Stoyell-Mulholland’s premises is wrong, namely that her idea of “success” is incorrect, and she supports this assertion by claiming that this idea is inconsistent with Catholic teaching. If Botting is correct in this assertion, that would make Stoyell-Mulholland’s argument unsound, not illogical. An argument can be wrong without using poor logic.

        Also, it seems to me that Botting’s criticism leans heavily (in fact, entirely) on Stoyell-Mulholland’s supposed idea of success, which is only paraphrased in this article, and from the context, the point seems to be paraphrased poorly. It seems to me that a professor at a top 25 university should take the time to make sure that the argument she is publicly criticizing was actually expressed before attacking a student for expressing it.

        Finally, if you believe that something Stoyell-Mulholland actually said runs contrary to Church teaching, I invite you to enlighten us with an real argument, rather than an unsubstantiated claim.

  • SocrateaseRedux

    The key word in Professor Botting’s whole response is “paraphrased,” not “success.” The person against whom this entire screed was written never actually said what she would have us think she said. And a quick look at the article to which Botting refers shows that the speaker didn’t mean what Botting falsely represents her to have meant, either. What Botting is complaining about was actually an oddly and poorly worded summary of the speaker’s point, inserted by the author of the article. It’s quite sad that someone who holds the title of ‘Associate Professor’ at Notre Dame would not be able to judge whether a paraphrase is an adequate (re)presentation of another’s thought, especially when that thought is included in quotes not two lines above. When critiquing another’s position, one would do well first to look at what a person has actually said, rather than writing 5 paragraphs on the basis of poorly-worded hearsay. I wonder if Professor Botting quotes her undergraduates’ paraphrased summaries of primary sources rather than those sources themselves, when writing articles for journals?

    • Francis

      The points made by the student leader of Right to Life contradict Catholic moral theology, by defining women in terms of reproductive capability, regardless of whether they are directly quoted or reported indirectly by a journalist. The critique holds either way. Any other quote could have been used, in fact, most of the panelists fell into similar traps in making their views subjects for public debate.

      • Aristotle

        Here are the four direct quotes from Stoyell-Mulholland in the article:

        1. “Obama’s perspective implies that for a woman to be successful, she must suppress a significant aspect of who she is, her fertility,” she said. “Whereas the other, the Catholic perspective, fully embraces and integrates all aspects of a woman’s personhood.”

        2. “Additionally, Obama’s perspective tends to level the playing field with men, and sameness is key, whereas the Catholic perspective sees women and men as equal in dignity but intrinsically different.”

        3. “So if a woman wants the opportunity to be successful or equal in the workforce, she must suppress her fertility,” she said. “Her fertility is viewed as a hindrance to her goals and to her ultimate fulfillment.”

        4. “We can’t just take the easy way out by providing free contraception and ignoring the underlying causes of how this mentality came about,” she said. “Women deserve better than that.”

        I fail to see how any of these quotes define women in terms of their reproductive capability or contradict Catholic moral theology. The first quote directly contradicts that view, painting fertility as one aspect of the human person to be embraced along with many others rather than the defining aspect of a woman.

        The only line that could lead to this interpretation is paraphrased. Paraphrasing requires interpretation. The journalist interpreted Stoyell-Mulholland’s comments and attempted to convey their meaning in other words. The meaning the journalist conveys (or, at least the interpretation of the journalist’s words that you and Professor Botting embrace) contradicts direct quotes, which show that Stoyell-Mulholland does not define women solely in terms of their reproductive capability, as you and Professor Botting claim.

        I am not claiming that the journalist is incorrect. I was not there, so I have no way of knowing. Perhaps Stoyell-Mulholland mispoke, or perhaps her comments were mischaracterized or misunderstood. Either way, it is clear from the rest of her presentation that she does not define women in terms of their reproductive capability, and, frankly, to claim otherwise based on this article must result from willfully ignorance of her comments or a considerable lack of charity.

        • Joan of Arc

          From a Catholic point of view, I agree that “women deserve better.” They “deserve better” than to be defined in terms of either the suppression or non-suppression of fertility. They deserve to be regarded as humans, first and foremost, with the same rights and dignity as other humans, and the same access to health care as mandated by the federal government.

  • xuinkrbin

    Even if the rest of the piece were completely accurate, whether or not “American society in all its capitalistic crudeness certainly does [preach a view of women as defined by their (re)productive ‘success’]” is irrelevant to the legal question at hand. Meanwhile, the last paragraph ignores the fact Objectors seek not to deny contraceptives, regardless of purpose, to Women; the Objectors only take issue with the government’s preferred form of subsidization when forms which less burden religious exercise exists.

  • sheesh

    This is a great argument……..against tenure for this prof.